Sun 30 Aug 2009
suddenly, it is cold.
there is an old adage here that after Old Home Week, the mid-August local exhibition/horserace/parade extravaganza, summer’s over. my mother likes to repeat these little kernels of local lore, intoning them like scripture, benedictions of wisdom our infidel ears might need to hear as we march round the calendar. i like to scoff in response, the taint of living away so many years bleeding through in my scorn for her small town liturgies.
but my mother must’ve paid off the weatherman this year, because after three weeks of unusually sweltering humidity the weather dropped ten degrees overnight the very day that Old Home Week ended. wham, bam, and goodbye and good luck, Madam Summer. the temperature’s continued to slide, until we’re left whiplashed and shivering in our suddenly unseasonal sandals.
i put away the kids’ summer clothes today, to make room for the woolies and long-sleeved things i’ve foraged for across town this week. Oscar was okay, mostly – he still has long-sleeved tshirts from last year, and sweaters that i bought a size too big, and his size 2 jeans are only just beginning to show signs of growing short. but Posey, my wee Posey, was suddenly looking distinctly urchin-like in her scanty little cotton frocks, chubby legs chilly and bare as the leaves hurry to turn.
she’s spent the summer in dresses. gingham and smocked and ruffled, all carrot-dribbled sweetness and light. they were mostly gifts and hand-me-downs, dainty things with puffed sleeves and tiny buttons down the back. i remember looking at them lined up in the wardrobe last fall, bafflingly voluminous for the six-pound baby bird in my arms, and wondering how i’d ever find enough occasions to dress up one little girl in so many fancy things.
Posey solved that problem for me by having the fattest little baby thigh known to humankind. with her stumpy dumpling legs and the mushroom bubble of her cloth diapers, she hasn’t fit into any of the pants she owns since, oh, April. so dresses it was, day after day. for the park or the beach or nowhere at all, they became, simply, her clothes. they were easy and cool, and my fierce, smiley girl was adorable in her rumpled finery.
this change of seasons has caught me off guard. a baby’s outgrown clothes are not so hard to leave behind; the baby him or herself makes it clear that these soft little things once washed and folded and exclaimed over with such anticipation are now done, finished. they have had their day. their time is past, and straining snaps and too-short sleeves and too-tight legs announce it unequivocally, no matter how mama may sniff and sigh.
but with these wee dresses, it is only time and the season getting away on us. they still fit. her body has not yet left them behind. their soft folds and eyelet trim speak of this summer, my daughter’s toddling, cruising, bruising first summer, and i am bereft, have to leave that behind so suddenly, with only a folk proverb for warning. i hung them fresh from the line in the closet last week, pleasantly oblivious to the fact that they will never again flounce around the dimples of her knees. i tried them with leotards, just to be sure; they looked like diaphonous hankies hanging above the wooly tights.
and next summer, when the weather finally warms again, they will be relics, too small, ridiculously so. i will hold them up and marvel that she was ever this tiny. and so today, i stroked them gently as i folded them away.
i have never been a fancy girl. i recently took to wearing mascara for the first time in my life; the black raccoon smudges it leaves are a novelty that makes me feel all womanly. but mostly i’m a no-makeup & jeans soul, the sort who always imagined her longed-for daughter not in dresses, but overalls.
still, i longed for that girl. there is another old adage, not so local this time, that once haunted me. one crow sorrow, it rhymes, two crow joy. three crow girl, four crow boy.
the first year we moved home, the city was maggoty with crows, like a neverending episode of Hitchcock’s The Birds. and three days before my water broke with Finn, too early, already leaking, Dave drove me to the hospital for an extra cautionary ultrasound. on the way, i caught sight of a crow alone on the stark April branches by the water. my brain remarked on it, on the oddity of seeing one of the legion all by his lonesome, and the old rhyme began to play in my head. then two more crows swooped up and landed next to him. three, i told myself, three.
at the hospital, my OB found nothing wrong, no sign of fluid loss. and she told me my baby was a girl.
i thought about that one crow after. adrift in grief’s magical thinking, i looked to the trees for portents of what another pregnancy might bring. to this day, i hate the sight of a single crow.
the day we drove to another hospital in another city for the ultrasound that eventually revealed Josephine’s gender was also a spring day. there were buds on the May trees, and as we pulled into the hospital i saw a dark flapping out of the corner of my eye, and turned my head. two crows, birds on a wire by the big tree at the front of the instition, the one i could see out my window during the long months i waited there for Oscar to be born.
i looked for a third. then, horrified by my greed, my stupid hubris, my silliness, my brain clamped down on my eyes like a vise and shut them, literally. two. joy. two. joy. i repeated the mantra all the way up to the seventh floor. one should not be cavalier with the luck one gets. joy meant a baby still kicking, a heart still beating, an amniotic sac still sound. i told myself i did not care about gender. i definitely did not care about dresses. i wanted the joy of continued hope, of a cervix that showed signs of holding.
and i also wanted a girl.
for once, i did not have to adjust my expectations; i got my three crow girl. wish fulfillment, random luck. i would’ve loved a boy, too, and deeply, but i got my heart’s desire. and with her a crateload of dresses, never looked for yet utterly perfect, girl-ness embodied. this summer, in the daily rotation of Posey’s little frocks, i lived my two crow joy in the tactile delight of tiny blue gingham dresses with apples embroidered on them, in pink confections with grosgrain ribbon. those days after days of little dresses were the physical embodiment of an old, deep dream, one that, after Finn, seemed too petty to even acknowledge.
it has healed something, this summer of silly frocks.
she has new striped leggings and little sweaters for fall, and hand-me-down long-sleeved onesies of her brother’s that i am happy to greet again, old friends from seasons long since committed to Rubbermaid storage. she will be a pint-sized tornado no matter she wears. but she looks taller in the little pants than she did in her dresses; she reminds me that these last vestiges of babyhood are slipping away from our house. Posey’s clothes will not go into storage, to be saved for the possibility of another child someday. she is my last baby.
so today, as i smoothed each dress, a mascara-riddled tear snaked blackly down my face, with the bittersweetness that is the flip side of two crow joy. but i am smiling.