Jonah

I’m hyper aware of the little kids and parents I observe. At the Princeton Junction train station, the parent of a two-year-old asked him or her “how she/he felt about that.” “Happy,” the kid answered. I think they were talking about eating chips. With feeling words, I guess you have to start somewhere. I hope someday, many days, you tell me you are happy.
Then on our corner, a little boy named Jonah was terrified to cross the street. If a car was even on the street, he didn’t want to move. I found out later that before I had reached the corner, his mother had said hello to your father and then said, “Look, he has a stick like grandpa.” Of course, James being James did not correct her. I use correction sparingly myself, but he never uses it, thereby losing a lot of teaching moments. You will know it’s a cane. Anyway, Jonah’s mother asked him why he was scared to cross the street when he hadn’t been scared before, and he said he needed to get bigger. I pictured us there, waiting for years on the street corner while Jonah grew up. I would have my baby right behind him, the seasons would turn and turn, sort of like the movies, and you, too, would wait for Jonah to get big enough to stop fearing the cars. Jonah’s mother told him he was just fine the way he was, and he was almost four. Finally she urged him across, saying, “There’s a plane in the sky, but there are no cars.” When we crossed the street, the mother asked Jonah, without asking me first, whether he wanted to pet the dog. “He’s a special dog,” she explained. “He has really good eyes and helps the woman, because she can’t see very well.”
I know that visual impairment, not blindness, is the default assumption and explanation, and I have to smother my impulse to think people are sugar-coating every time they say I’m visually impaired. After all, she really had no idea. But wouldn’t it have been easier to tell the kid my eyes are broken?
Predictably, given his earlier fears, Jonah did not want to touch the dog. So we just said good-bye and walked our separate ways.

Little Boy on the Train–Written Before Tad and Harping

I met this cute little two-year-old boy on the train. He came over,
fascinated by Tad and was pointing out his different body parts, so I was
pointing them out with him. Sometimes he would say, “What’s that?” and I wouldn’t know what he was pointing at, so I would
talk to him about something else. But he didn’t seem to mind. I am
worried about when that question will come from you, because I will actually want to tell you whatever it is you’re fascinated by, to give you the thing’s name. We will have to learn to communicate verbally and tactually. Anyway, the kid was standing so I told him to sit on the seat (I was on a tripple) so he
wouldn’t fall. He climbed over the arm of the
seat instead of approaching the seat like an adult would. Then he got
a little bored With Tad and started jumping on the seat. I kept hold around him so he wouldn’t fall, and then his dad came and got him, but I was sort of fascinated by how well he balanced jumping on a moving
train seat. His agility was so youthful! I’m sure even when I was little I did not have his
balance. Tad remained calm. Actually he was
calmer on the train having a little kid to look at. I think he
sniffed the kid and probably licked him but let him touch him and pull
on his ears and everything. I also think the kid was relatively
gentle with Tad anyway. I knew Tad was fine with little people, but
it was still nice to witness that before you arrive.
The little boy was very trusting of me, maybe because I had a dog, maybe because I was pregnant. I have no idea. I know someday you will come into the world thinking everyone wants the best for you. I hope you always encounter such people.
I am listening to harp music, and I’m longing for a harp. I have not played the music on a speaker for you in utero yet, but I plan for your first song to be Grainne Hambly’s arrangement of “The Jointure and Jig.”

Harping

I sold my old harp, and, four months before I expected your arrival, I committed to buying a new harp. Unlike most harpmakers, (or, I would argue, most business people with good sense), this particular harpmaker does not require a deposit before the harp is made. He has a $100 a month “rent until you own” program and just requires that if you go on the smaller payment plan, he sees you before he relinquishes his harp. Then he says to try it out for a few weeks, see if you like it and if you don’t, you can return it. It’s amazing! This guy lives in Southern Maryland, which is not too far away in the grand scheme of things, but it’s far if you’re both a non-driver and pregnant. When I explained this he said, “Well, my daughter can drive it up to you.” Not only that, he has actually been recommended by all the harp instructors I know enough to email, so he’s not a pervert.
Anyway, it’s guilt-inducing to commit to pay $100 a month for a couple years when I’m expecting you in the world. But it’s not as crazy as blowing my entire savings. I should even still be able to maintain a savings.
So I’ve been thinking of you as a hearing baby and have been pondering the instruments of your life. When you’re a baby, both in and out of utero, it will be the harp. I must, out of necessity, hold the harp against my stomach, so as soon as I try out this harp, you’ll know. I can also get some harp music recordings going for you when you’re trying to sleep, and it might even help.
When you’re a toddler and younger child, it will be the piano. I have a lot of memories of the piano, even before piano lessons. Mom was never a lullaby singer, but during the day she would teach us songs, either singing them or playing them on the piano. When I was maybe three, she played me “The Little Drummer Boy,” and I climbed up on the piano bench beside her. (Speaking of climbing on the piano bench, there is an embarrassing video of me in the archives at my very first piano recital, climbing over the bench as if I’m about to straddle a horse, my skirt up and underwear showing. I’m jealous you won’t go through that). Back to the Drummer. At the end of every few measures, there was one high note played rhythmically, and I learned to play the note in the right spots in the song. When I was very slightly older, my sister taught me the names of all of the keys by their pitches one day, and I always knew them after that. I took piano lessons, and sometimes my mother and I would play duets. Whether you ultimately end up liking the piano or not, it’s a very accessible instrument for a kid, easy to understand compared to others … and not squeaky! I do intend for you to have toy instruments too, and I intend for myself to have some headache medication on hand when you’re playing them.
Then? When you’re older? I can’t imagine if you’ll want to play or what instrument(s) you’ll pick if you do. The trumpet? The guitar? All I know is that if you want to play the drums, like my younger nephew, I hope that, like my sister, I have a house with a basement by then! Not so you and I can be secluded from each other but so that if I’m working, you can play in peace.

Tad Witucki

The only one from your generation who currently shares your in-utero surname is a black Labrador with floppy ears who, unlike his entire breed, hates the water. He was born on March 7, 2004, and he came into my life on June 26, 2006. He has now spent more than half of his life with me.
My urge to portray him for you surprises me, because I can’t sit down and portray a human to you this way. Even Carolina, who died during the earlier stages of your forming, whom I regret you will never meet, I can’t portray to you somehow, though not for lack of wanting. The only way I can remember her to you, over a month after her death, is through Tad, a creature Carolina was sure had the love of Jesus in him. I’ve tried to separate out the relevant aspect of love from the less relevant—for me—aspect of Jesus, to pull love away from the character in order to understand what she was getting at. She would insist to me, as she came to Tad with a treat, that she was waiting to give it to him until he showed her love, so she knew he was not just there for food. No other treat giver has insisted on his giving something so impossibly intangible, and I’ve laughed at her saying, “Ok, he loves you, but he knows what you have and still wants it.” After she died, I sat upstairs in Tom’s house, a place which is more comfortable than but which is about as familiar as a hotel to me compared to the house in which I grew up, making the requisite phone calls to coworkers in my department, while Independence Day barbecuing was happening downstairs, and Tad sat in the doorway, perhaps longing to make a permanent exit toward the food but attending to my vigil. Once in a while, he would trot off, but he would return shortly after to sit there again, checking in. I wasn’t crying, but he knew.
Just as he knew that he needed to sniff around the tumor which was growing on Susan’s dog’s jaw the week before she died.
Or that when I was crying, in the aftermath of a difficult hospital visit, he should flop on his back in front of me in complete, goofy Tadness.
In our earliest days of getting to know each other, I cried in front of Tad, too, and that time, he walked around in circles crying along, then flopped into my lap. He has done this lap-flopping less over the years, which fills me with combined regret and relief, because I can’t hold 65 pounds of dog for very long. But his expressions of affection have not diminished; I have known two other dogs over my lifetime, but I never had such an expressive dog—or at least I never paid attention to their expressions before. Tad is usually a clown, even when he is completely earnest in his clowning.
His job is to be singularly attentive to me, unlike Jesus’s, of course, and he can but doesn’t always show that singular attention. As I was getting at to Carolina, he is not divine, or at least not only divine. He is a mere mortal with mortal yearnings. His passion for food cannot be rivaled, not even by his passion for attention. He has no enemies, except, perhaps, for dogs which surprise him on our walks. All humans are friends, and all friends are long lost kindred spirits. He does seem to have a different, deeper, more excited affection for those he knows, and he knows everyone. He’s the quiet extrovert, the kid who plays with everyone on the playground, who gets universally excited about everyone and shows it in small individual ways which are as varied as the individuals he meets. For me, he actually shows a calmer emotion than with other friends. If I reappear after being absent, he moves around wagging, but he never jumps on me or even near me. It’s almost as though he thinks, “Oh there she is,” instead of, “Look who’s here!” Reassurance instead of excitement? I’ll take it. When I returned from my first absence of a few days, he slept on my foot for hours.
In October, Tad had a gigantic scare. He has had little scares, of course, but this one was different. He was riding in a van with us when a part fell out from underneath it. It didn’t hurt anyone, but he began generalizing this panic to other vehicles. For months, I thought it would get better; then I gave in and called the Seeing Eye. They sent out an instructor who helped him recover at least 50% of his calm, if not more. Food bribery is particularly helpful in this situation as well. But the thought of his retiring to live with one of my friends, probably either Betty or Damien, fills me with dread. I’ve started and then postponed an argument with your father, which I hope you won’t hear someday in a few years, as I’ve told him that we can keep the old guide dog, the new guide dog and the kid or kids! No problem!
I’m excited that with the little boy on the train, Tad was so calm. I wonder what will happen when he meets you, and I hope someone in the room will have a camera on hand to visually document that meeting. Your Uncle Chet will drive up here to take him off my hands while I’m in labor, so that as it gets more painful and messy, Tad will not have to witness it. Legally, he is allowed to be everywhere with me, including in labor and delivery, but I feel as protective of him as I would of a toddler. I can’t show him that bloody unfurling, even though he has seen the entire range of my emotions, because his only fears reside in the physical.
My terms of endearment for Tad include: Tadli (spelled li instead of ley, because in Swiss German, li is a diminutive), Tadster, Thumper, Sniffer, Squeaker, Sneezer, Mister, Dog, Buddy, Boy, Goofy, Dork. Your father calls him Buddy Boy and Tadster. I wonder if I can adapt any of those terms of endearment for your arrival, but most of those words are related to action. While Tad’s actions will not change much over the course of his adult life, yours will change tremendously. You were “a real kicking dude” in another (unpublished) entry, but someday you’ll be walking and then running. And thinking and falling in and out of love and learning. So who knows how we will name each other in the years to come?

Toilet Training

One of my more trivial fears in raising you, which has turned into complete hilarity, is toilet training. I talked to Suzanne about it, and she said, “James will have to do it.”
Duh.
So that’s what Stacia meant when she described “impediments, anatomical and theoretical.”
Naturally, I informed Your father about his newly assigned duty. Naturally, it seemed he hadn’t fully considered this before. “I’ve never toilet trained before,” he told me honestly.
“That’s because you had girls,” I told him calmly. “But in a few years, you’re going to start.”
My coworker and friend, Judi, mother of two boys said, “Oh toilet training is a huge male bonding moment. There’s nothing for a little boy like the thrill of a father and son peeing together.”
My first reaction was surprised laughter, but I get it.
“Well,” Your father said philosophically when I relayed what she’d said, “I guess someone has to demonstrate.”
“I bet you never imagined you’d be doing something like this in your sixties,” I told him.
“No,” he answered, “I sure didn’t.”
I felt once again relieved for Stacia that she had been spared anatomical impediments when raising her child on her own. I felt relieved that I won’t be raising my boy by myself, at least in the beginning.

Navigator

Now that I’ve alerted my family and friends about my pregnancy, I’ve thought and thought about what, from my baby journal, (yes, from the day I found out, I’ve been keeping one), I could publish here. Some people are braver than I am and put it all out there. I can’t do that … yet. But here is one entry I feel relatively comfortable unearthing.

I am reminded of interviewing Elaine, a woman who is about my age and who was raised by blind parents. She said she constantly grew up with people being impressed by very ordinary things. It’s happening already while you’re in utero. I’m glad there is a small period when you’re immune to it. Even after birth, it will be a few years still until you fully understand what goes on for me every time I encounter random strangers. People either ignore me, which is sometimes preferable, sometimes not; try to help, whether I want the help or not; or ask weird questions. I am cringing about the days when you’ll have to witness one (or several)? Of these conversations.
During my first trimester sequential screening, which consisted of an ultrasound and a finger sticking, the Hispanic receptionist thought for a second I was in the wrong place. “How could she be pregnant?” She did not actually say this out loud. I think she just asked what I was doing there or something like that.
“I have an appointment,” I told her calmly. I could hear myself, the way I sometimes can in dreams, this calm, faraway self, asking her for assistance with yet more paperwork, telling her that yes, I’m employed and work fulltime in technical support. (This last is a slight exaggeration. I do help people with disabilities to use their technology, but there is a point of brokenness beyond which I can’t go). All of this happened in a sort of serenity I had not thought possible, but I can take something from my mother, a woman who is slow to anger and even slower to reveal her anger. If you’re calm, then you’re not starting anything, and if you’re not starting anything, chances are people will leave you alone. While I know that mindset won’t always work, that it didn’t for her and won’t for me, that there were times she had to advocate and not hide, just as I’ll have to, I can understand its benefits. If I’m calm, maybe no one will tell me I’m not allowed to raise you?
Anyway, I got into the ultrasound room, and the Caucasian tech said, “You get around pretty well, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. I never know how to answer that question. On that particular trip, the white cab driver dropped us off at the wrong building, so I had to ask for directions from a kind African-American receptionist in the main building. She promptly abandoned her post and walked with me to the right building, the right floor even. She didn’t ask why I wanted to be in the maternity area, and she disappeared tactfully after I thanked her without announcing to the entire room that she “brought” me there. I wished she could stay. She probably would not have almost said, “No, right?” after asking the employment question.
But my point is that I didn’t really travel well, or at least without help. Then again, I depend on people to read signs, even if I’m traveling alone, and some of them get it wrong, so that I have to undo, not only my mistakes, but theirs with the help of mistake undoers. There will be a point when you’re privy to these escapades. There might even be a point when you start reading signs for me at age six or seven, better than the adults around us. You will interrupt my asking of directions to point out that you know exactly how to get wherever, and you will actually be right. I do not want you to be ushered into the world just to be my reader, my navigator, and yet this might happen from time to time. I still want to be the parent, and I still want you to have a “normal” childhood. That won’t entirely happen, but I’ll cling to that dream as tenaciously as I can.