Kenny and I bring Violet home to a 96-degree apartment that has been closed up, sweltering and musty in the San Diego September sunshine during my thirty-six hours of labor and delivery. Our swaddled six-pound bundle is screaming. Worried Violet might shrivel up inside of this heatwave, I beg her dad to call the pediatrician. He hesitates, unsure if our stuffy apartment warrants bothering our daughter’s new doctor.
“They said 68 to 72 degrees in that class we took,” I say. “Why did we pay for the class if we’re gonna ignore everything they told us?”
My panic irritates us. I don’t care.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Kenny pushes back. “Babies are born all over the world in places hotter than 96-degrees.”
I am not sure six-pound Violet will be fine. I wonder if anything will ever feel fine again.
Kenny reassures me. Our home, our apartment a thousand miles away from almost everything and everyone we know, is okay. But the heat feels like a childhood fever when I could hardly move or speak or even think, when all I could do was sip water and struggle to remember what it was like, once upon a time, to feel normal.
My head has been overheated for months, dizzy, spiraling around and around things that can go wrong in a pregnancy, in a baby, in life. This is no different. If 68 to 72 degrees is the right temperature for a sleeping newborn, then 96 degrees can’t be okay. A growl that sounds like labor escapes me as I order Kenny to make the call.
“No need to worry,” a nurse reassures.
Did I expect her to tell us to go to Rite Aid, to stand in an air-conditioned aisle with Violet, like I did when she was still inside me? Did I think she’d say move back home to the Pacific Northwest, right away, where the weather rarely approaches 96 degrees?
“So, we turn on the fan and the little AC unit, like I said.”
I avoid Kenny’s eyes as he speaks, resenting “like I said.” Sweat sticks everywhere. The room spins.
Kenny jokes we’ll have a story later. It took three minutes at home with our newborn before calling the pediatrician. My laughter is a cool breeze, his joke a wet cloth on my feverish mind. As the thermostat creeps down to 90, then 80, I begin to believe in things being okay. Until the next emergency.
Violet regurgitates her breastmilk. It drains down my chest. Again, and again. Kenny calls it “urping.” His mom says he used to urp. I struggle towards calm, but I’m frazzled by uncertainty as I place stacks of burp cloths on the arms of the davenport, the loveseat, the chair. The pediatrician says the urping is okay. I’m not sure I believe her.
I throw myself down the rabbit hole of the Facebook Moms group. I know better but I do it anyway. Other moms post: Is my baby going to be okay? Am I doing okay? Did we make a mistake? Will my boobs go back to normal? I almost never post. As other mothers’ fears compound with mine, I feel both more and less okay.
Violet grows and babbles and rolls. The apartment fights against me. Staying below 80 degrees is too hard. Baby sounds, giggling, and Violet’s gummy smile fill everything. I hope she remembers me laughing rather than slipping into panic.
I never stop talking during Violet’s first year of life. I point at things around us, trying to attach myself to the ground. Bird, Palm Tree, Ocean, Waves, Surfers, Blue, Flower, Doggies, Spider. My overheated mind threatens but words keep us safe. Talking is the best thing you can do for a baby. The things I’ve learned and read crash like waves against my skull. The number of words heard in the first years of life correlates with success in school and beyond. I talk and talk. A man in a thrift store laughs, asks if Violet understands the things I say.
“Maybe not yet, but she will.”
Violet and I walk on the beach, and I give her the words she’ll need one day to describe the beauty around us. But I stop and flinch when I see a mother holding her baby in the waves. In my head a tiny body is swept away. Tragedy. I wonder how people forget to worry?
We walk on the sidewalk across from Sunset Cliffs. A man parks a stroller at the edge, checks his phone. I see the stroller careen over the edge onto the rocks below as if it’s happening.
I want Kenny to remember to use the damn wrist strap when he’s walking down a steep hill with Violet in the stroller. If his hand slips, the stroller will either A) careen into traffic or B) fly across the street and off the cliff. I hear myself explain the importance of the wrist strap more than once.
How is loneliness possible when someone is almost always touching me, or drinking from my body? I don’t invite anyone into my brain as it begins to boil over.
Violet is almost one when Kenny hands me a piece of paper covered in bullet points and clip art of trees and forest critters. He says we should move home, his nerves palpable as he succinctly outlines his concerns – finances, distance from family and friends, our apartment, a yard for Violet. As Kenny’s mouth moves, my mind cools a degree. The cliffs across the street fade into calm. The Coronado Bridge disappears, stops taunting me for being too scared to drive us over it, no longer blocking my child from playing on the most beautiful beach in the city. Kenny’s plan halts my panic, over a decade too soon, about Violet one day sneaking across the border to Tijuana with her friends.
Home – a place infected with strep throat and pneumonia and flu. Through the Washington winters, I used to dream of a 96-degree life. But San Diego has become too hot somehow. North is the new escape. Cooler world, cooler mind.
Facebook moms stop by the apartment to pick up baby gates, bottles, the swing, the bouncy chair, all the things Violet has stopped needing. I forget to enjoy the winter sun in the final month of our old life. I’m ready to quit the cliffs, the bridge, that heat.
Deep in the Washington woods, Violet grows brave and wild in a way she might not in an urban, apartment-dwelling kid life. She runs squealing across the yard towards a dandelion puffball. I reach for my phone to Google search, “How much weight can an eagle carry?” A bald eagle swooped down on my friend’s hen right after Violet was born. There is a picture of her rooster chasing as the eagle takes flight with its prey; the rooster’s beak is a wide-open human scream. In a Disney movie that rooster would’ve somehow saved that hen, even if the eagle managed to pull her all the way out beyond the clouds.
Best estimates put the lifting power of an eagle at four or five pounds.
I feel angry at myself for not being better. I wonder if I will ever be cool again as I close the browser, grab a puffball, and blow. Violet giggles.
“Again! Again! Again, Mama!”
Kenny and I struggle to figure out who we are now in a place throbbing with the weight of the past. I regret shrieking when Violet bends down to touch a mushroom or a bee. She runs with sticks and I rip apart inside. Long ago my brother and I were wild in these woods. Mom smoked Marlboros while talking on a phone attached to the kitchen wall by a cord I liked to wind around my finger. In the 1980s my curly haired counterpart and I built forts, swung from tree branches, sent leaf piles flying. We didn’t worry about bugs, or slugs, or dirt. No eagle carried me away.
“You let yourself get caught up in obsessive rumination,” Kenny says. He tells me in bullet points that he loves me, that he’s worried about how much I worry. I know better than to storm away, hot with irritation, but I do it anyway.
In the yard I look up at our trees and remind myself that Violet is not me, is not anyone but herself. My mom got pregnant in 1980 and smoked cigarettes in the car. By 1986 I’d locked myself alone in the bathroom and punctured my ear drum with Grandma’s hair pin, jumped off a swing and bit a hole through my lip. My brother ate a whole bottle of vitamins. A boy I loved fell asleep driving home from a party. I wish I knew which song was playing last, when he crashed into the tree. How am I supposed to believe everything is going to be okay?
My mother-in-law’s china cabinet towers over us. Violet runs across Grandma’s sitting room and her palms smack the glass. I dreamt it came crashing down in an earthquake. All the heirlooms shattered.
Violet giggles and spins and tantrums through life, a three-year-old with her very own wilderness. She dives down into the dirt and rolls. She points at a cluster of puffballs, slowly pulling apart in a gust of wind.
“Mama! Look! Puffballs going bonkers in the sun!”
Violet sprints down the path I cleared through our trees, wielding a stick. I remind her to be careful, to watch out for roots. My little brother and I ran with sticks. We fought with sticks. No eyes got gouged.
Violet squeals and grasps a fern frond. She trips on a root and gets back up.
“Mama! A bunny!”
Light brown and twitching, our wild friend is watching us. Violet and I twitch our noses like rabbits. Her eyes move more than her nose. Her smile is everything.
Violet whispers, “Hi Nicholas!”
Nicholas is her name for all the rabbits of our forest. She insists all Nicholas Bunnies are girls.
A second sandy-colored friend hops out from under a huckleberry bush. Nicholas and Nicholas eat dandelions and grass together.
The moment is beautiful. So perfect it forces my attention. A coolness flows through, bringing up goosebumps, rustling leaves. Fern fronds sprout from moss-covered tree trunks. From long dead stumps, new life emerges. Everything around us is a miracle. Violet’s face smooshes up into dimples and squinty eyes.
As my daughter and I lean into the breeze of our forest, I forget to worry.
Krisa Bruemmer is a former world traveler who used to speak multiple languages. She is now living mostly happily with her husband and 3-year-old daughter in the woods and the rain in Washington State, trying to be some kind of writer. She enjoys performing at Moth StorySLAMs and other storytelling events. Her work has been featured by Sammiches and Psych Meds, San Diego Writers’, Ink (A Year in Ink), So Say We All (VAMP), Olfactory Memoirs Project, San Diego Memoir Showcase, and Key Peninsula News. You can find her on twitter as @NeonKrisa.