To Alma: Month Seven

Dear sweet girl, We’re near month eight, but instead of combining the two months I wanted to make sure this month received its own documentation. It’s been a big one. Two weeks ago, your father got a job. A job! It will pay him! It all happened very fast and right when we’d reached another end of the rope. The night before he got the offer, we were lying in bed, both feeling extremely despondent, but not saying so. The living situation was getting tough on everyone; since we’ve moved in one or more of the adults have been sick, and so the kids have been sick on and off too, and we’ve just been passing bugs around to one another, mutating them, and then sharing the new bug with the next victim. I don’t get sick very often, maybe once a year, and I’ve been carrying around this nagging cold/cough/grossness for nearly two weeks. I think my body had had enough. We needed to know that there was a light at the end, that we’d be able to move into our own place not just eventually, but very soon.

And he got an offer. Just like that, after two meetings that spanned over 4 days, he got a (good) offer. Both of us were quite in disbelief and unsure whether to trust anything. But it was real, he started today, and at the end of this week, we’re moving into our own place for the first time in almost eight months. HOO-RAY.

I woke up this morning and thought, it’s moving week, and I clicked my heels together and immediately started making a list of things we’ll need as soon as we move in, even before. Cleaning supplies! Toilet paper! Laundry detergent! Paper towels! I went online and ordered my little heart out. Over the course of the next several days we’ll receive bulk quantities of household necessities and I am going to pass out from the sheer joy of unpacking and organizing and using them! I even ordered you a new toy, because while your new home is extremely exciting for us, it’ll likely seem very bare, quiet and less colorful to you, less the two screaming cousins and the smattering of toys at your disposal.

Our new home is in Salem, MA. We’re moving in just in time for Halloween. I cannot speak for myself, but have heard, that it’ll be quite the rockin’ display of costumed folk between now and then, and you know what? Super. I have a camera and I like to use it.

The move is also coming at a perfect time because you’re not so interested in keeping quiet these days. Your napping time has also decreased and when you do nap, you won’t sleep through a fire alarm anymore, so the whole office/nursery/closet/dressing area combo we have going here isn’t cutting it. Especially now that your dad is trying to work from home, too, and that basically means we’re both vying for the same 10 square feet of space in which to work, which happens to be 2 square feet away from where you sleep and 2 feet from our own bed. I think I now know what it would be like to live in a Manhattan studio apartment, without the benefits of living in a Manhattan studio apartment.

Nevertheless, in five days, we’re moving into our new place and I consider it to be the beginning of the end of a very, very long road traveled and the start of a lighter, brighter chapter.

You’ve been hilarious this month. Your new favorite thing to do is growl. I don’t even know the appropriate metaphor, it’s not snarly like a dog and not quite as nasty as say, a tiger. But it’s a growl and you do it when you’re eating, when you disapprove of something (like me changing your diaper when the air is cold), or basically now, whenever you have an audience. It puts us in fits of laughter and strangers find you utterly charming, I’m sure.

Your two teeth growing in, plus the cold bug that’s been flying around the house, have turned your nose into a faucet. You’re sitting up fully on your own now and if you happen to topple over you know how to push yourself to your belly. Crawling isn’t quite in your repertoire just yet and my theory is that you’re going to skip it altogether, seeing as as soon as you get on your feet you nearly explode with joy and pride, so eager to step, step, step.

I can’t think of anything I don’t adore about you right now. I’m going to write that down and keep it under my pillow for when you’re a teenager. But you’re truly so sweet and fun and squishy; you’re a big, bright light and a constant reminder to be mindful. I can take you anywhere and you’re usually happy to just go along for the ride. Once in a while you’re reticent of strangers, but it doesn’t last too long and before we know it you’re growling at them straight in the face. You’re sweet but not so snuggly, when I hold you, I know you’re happy to be held but you like to keep your distance, too. And I fear that as soon as you can be on your own, you’re not going to welcome my squeezes very often. But they’ll be here.

The First Girl Will Always Be Alma

Last Friday, we got confirmation that the little being growing in my belly is indeed a girl (!). I had a feeling this would be the case, but it was nice (and scary) to have that confirmation. Like most girls, I’ve had my share of favorite names throughout the years. I remember the first name I liked was “Katrina” in the 3rd grade and that was TOTALLY going to be the name of my baby girl when I grew up to be an adult in one hundred years. I’ve had some real gem favorites along the way, ranging from cutesy to embarrassing to kitschy. But when I read one of my favorite books of all time, “The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss, I immediately threw all other name choices from the top of the list, as I would be naming my daughter Alma, after the narrator of the book and also the subject of the primary story (not the same person, both Almas). Alma means "soul" in Spanish, and in Italian. I think of this book almost daily and pull my copy out to flip through the dogeared pages now and then to read my favorite passages, always to a sigh, a smile, an ache or a goddam I wish I could write like that.

Those who know me best know that I claimed this name and now I’m being asked, "So, will she be an Alma?" I find myself hesitating. I suppose I’m both sad and excited to give the name away (so much as it is mine to give). Like your most favorite possession that holds unspeakable significance - that of discovering new, identifying, changing, fall in love, remembering old love, recognition, confirmation, and so much more - ah, the magic of a good book. There’s an element of reverence and attachment to both the book and the name, but how better to let it live than to give it to my own little girl?

This is a passage from the book that explains Alma, and just one of the reasons that I fell in love with her, the idea of her, and the book itself.

My mother used to read to me from The History of Love."The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma," she’d say, the Spanish book open on her lap while I lay in bed. This was when I was four or five, before Dad got sick and the book was put away on the shelf. "Maybe the first time you saw here you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and part of you resisted - wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and the self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Pleas don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.

"If you remember the first time you saw Alma, you also remember the last. She was shaking her head. Or disappearing across a field. Or through your window. Come back, Alma! you shouted. Come back! Come back!

"But she didn’t.

"And though you were grown up by then, you felt as lost as a child. And though your pride was broken, you felt as vast as your love for her. She was gone, and all that was left was the space where you’d grown around her, like a tree that grows around a fence.

"For a long time, it remained hollow. Years, maybe. And when at last it was filled again, you knew that the new love you felt for a woman would have been impossible without Alma. If it weren’t for her, there would never have been an empty space, or the need to fill it.

"Of course there are certain cases in which the boy in question refuses to stop shouting at the top of his lungs for Alma. Stages a hunger strike. Pleads. Fills a book with his love. Carries on until she has no choice but to come back. Every time she tries to leave, knowing what has to be done, the boy stops her, begging like a fool. And so she always returns, no matter how often she leaves or how far she goes, appearing soundlessly behind him and covering his eyes with her hands, spoiling for him anyone who could ever come after her."