Dear Lily June,
I never noticed my arms feeling particularly empty before. They would strain under heavy grocery bags or laundry baskets, but once those items were put down, my arms returned to their default feeling of just being arms, no longer burdened or full.
Now, like a foot ascending the top of stairs thinking there’s one step left, only to meet with empty air and hover confused for a moment, the crooks of my arms know the pressure and weight you apply to them, and they feel unnaturally light when that weight is absent. In other words, when you aren’t there, my arms notice.
Your dad said as much to me on Monday when he’d gone to Ohio to be with your Granny Grandma Alison who was going into surgery for her legs. “My arms,” he intoned over the phone. “They feel like they’re missing something.”
It was a feeling that sunk in immediately, too, Lily.
It was day four in the hospital after a long and traumatic labor with you. Your dad and I were exhausted from having only caught, at best, what felt like nanoseconds of sleep across a 72-hour stretch. So when the nurses offered that if we needed a break, they could watch you for a moment, we practically begged to take them up on it.
They took you to their station and our eyelids snapped shut like the lids of heavy wooden toy chests. We were out instantly, our bodies not so much sleeping as in a state of consciousness collapse. And then, as quickly as we’d fallen, we sprung back to a state of waking, in a sudden panic for your not being in the room.
It was like magic, Lily: Your dad and I waking in exactly the same state at the exact same second. When we realized you weren’t with us, we hopped up (no easy feat for your mother whose abdomen had been sliced into only hours before and who could only brace herself to walk by pushing a pillow into her chest). Your dad holding me, we waddled slowly out to where nurses sat and asked frantically, “Where’s our baby?!”
They’d whisked you off to another floor for more audiology tests that you wouldn’t pass, despite, once we took you home, your being so capable of hearing that if there were a baby Olympics with a sport of startling, you’d have taken home the gold. We demanded they bring you back. It was the moment I knew the shift had taken place: We were officially your parents.
We interrogated the nurses, too, as to how long they’d negligently let us slip into a post-labor coma. Apparently, Lily, we’d been asleep all of one hour without you.
This Saturday, your dad and I tried to do our bucket list task: Go on a dad-based date without you. This should’ve meant monster movies and Mexican food. But when we went to leave the apartment, the monster, I say as affectionately as possible, Lily, was you.
Having been with no one but us or, on a few emergency occasions, your Granny Grandma Alison, for the past ten months, you weren’t prepared to let us go so easily. You did what babies with separation anxiety do: You screamed at a pitch that broke all the glass in the apartment and terrified every Chihuahua within a ten mile radius; you spit-up a steady stream of concentrated Similac, napalm and fire; and each strand of your beautiful hair turned into snakes that hissed venom.
We apologized profusely to the babysitter, a woman we call your LG (Local Grandma) who’s in her sixties and raised her own three babies and thus couldn’t have cared less about your meltdown, and we snuck out without you.
While some parents might feel giddy and temporarily free to be on their first post-baby-date, your dad and I felt queasy and ill at ease. We sat in the movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, holding hands while our arms felt empty. The film was about a woman trapped in an underground bunker with a man who claimed the world above had suffered a chemical attack. The feeling pervading each scene was one of claustrophia, both of the emotional and physical variety.
I became that mother, the one who continually checks her phone for updates in the theater only to be texted back by the babysitter “Relax.” She might as well have sent the same message to the character in the film trapped in the underground bunker. It was as if, just as in the movie’s trailer, we were subjected to a warped, slowed version of the 1967 pop hit, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
In the end, what should have been romantic and cosy was disconcerting and stifling. We agreed on the car ride home to just order Mexican in and check on you instead of eating out, Lily.
And what we found when we breathlessly rushed through the door of the apartment is every new parents’ irony: While we were panicked the whole time that you’d been attacked by Russians (not really), Martians, chemical or nuclear warfare, sandworms, or just a fit of the fussies with a very caring but to-you stranger, it turns out all you’d been hit by was a tired bomb.
You had slept the entire time we’d been gone while our arms had ached, empty.