Jalen: “Oh, sweet baby girl.”
Jalen: “You know, I don’t like your name much… Janie…”
Jalen: “But you’re adorable anyway!”
Your father took to you instantly, Janie darling. Even though he had been kept out of the exam room because of his… moderate anxiety… I think that his issue was more with the medical components of giving birth, rather than the reality of being a father. Either that, or he reconciled with his anxieties very quickly after you were born, because he just could not stop talking about how adorable you were. From the moment you came home.
Jalen: “She’s just the cutest baby. We did good, babe. We made a cute kid.”
Jane: “We did, didn’t we.”
Not that I was much better.
Although I was nearly immediately back to work (there’s not really such a thing as ‘maternity leave’ when you work from home), I made sure that you were always in eyesight. I wanted my eyes on your gorgeous face constantly.
Jane: “Such a cutie, aren’t you, my little ray of sunshine?”
Janie: *baby noises*
Those were such good days, Janie. Although you were certainly no picnic (what baby is), you were a good baby. You didn’t wake much during the night, you weren’t a fussy eater, and you did everything on a pretty consistent schedule. Though your father wasn’t around to do much of the heavy-lifting (he always seemed to be at work for your diaper changes), I had an easy time of it, as far as taking care of you went.
Jane: “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird-”
Jane: “And if that mocking bird don’t sing, mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”
Jane: “And if that diamond ring turns brass, mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.”
Jane: “Good night, baby girl.”
Jane: “I do wish your father was here.”
Jalen was working hard, of course. I didn’t want to minimize the hard work he was doing for his job. But, sometimes, I felt like perhaps he was slacking off at work. Sharing hard assignments with co-workers rather than taking them himself… and he still hadn’t been promoted. We weren’t as hard off as I was when I first started-we had far more than 7 simoleons in our bank account-but diapers and breast pumps and bottles and toys were expensive.
Even with my writing starting to really take off and bring in money, I needed to supplement our income. So, leaving you with a baby sitter for a few hours at a time, I returned to collecting.
Jane: “Maybe this will be enough for a teddy bear!”
There were no great finds-no god-send voodoo dolls. But I scrounged up enough objects to pawn that, between Jalen’s income and my own, I managed to upgrade our home a little.
Jane: “Real windows! We’ll have natural light in here!”
Jane: “No more air mattress for us! We’ve got a real bed now. And a KITCHEN!”
Though the real bed was certainly something to be excited about, I was truly ecstatic about the kitchen. I wanted to be a good mother so badly, and I was certain that I could not do that by cooking food in the park or feeding my child cereal. I would have to learn to cook.
Jane: “I’m doing it!”
Jane: “Look at me!”
Jane: “This actually looks… tasty?”
Jane: “Does doing dishes mean I’m a real adult now?”
I was actually decent at it! When I was in the right mood… but that was still some of the time. And, to this day, I have never set anything on fire, Jane darling. I count that as a significant accomplishment.
Unfortunately, as things were starting to improve financially, your father and I’s personal relationship began a bit of a decline. We had yet to start fighting-I started nothing because I didn’t want Jalen to leave; he started nothing because was afraid of confrontation. But, as I went about the house, taking care of you and making meals and learning to repair our constantly breaking plumbing (now that I was no longer pregnant, it was a little easier), I noticed that Jalen wasn’t quite… pitching in.
Jane: “Jalen… Whatcha doing, honey? You wanna hold Janie for a minute?”
I used to find it endearing, how childish he was at heart. He was fun to be around! He made me laugh, he kept things light and airy and delightful. He came at every experience with new eyes, innocent eyes, childlike eyes. And it was wonderful. But, when faced with responsibility… well, he much preferred to play with your toys than to, say, help me feed the baby.
Jalen: “Jalen, honey? She’s pretty much got me dry, but she’s still hungry. Could you bottle feed her for a few minutes?”
Jalen: “Nah, now’s not a good time, babe. I’m talking to Samuel.”
Samuel, as you know, is the name of your bear. The bear that I hope will be passed down the generations of the Newman family-to your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren. I hope they all play with Samuel. What you probably don’t know is that your father named the bear. Or rather, insisted that the bear told him that his name was Samuel, and that he would refuse to respond to anything else.
Jalen: “I’m busy. Can’t you see that we’re having a conversation??”
Though I could sense that we were growing more and more frustrated with another (me with his lack of participation in your life and in the household, and him with various things-my food wasn’t good enough, I bothered him too much), we shoved it down. Not the best plan, in retrospect. We should have been more communicative, more open. It perhaps would have been better for you, and better for our relationship in the long run. Perhaps we wouldn’t be in the place where we are now…
Instead, we put a band-aid over the top of all our woes, all our hurts, and pretended like everything was fine.
Sometimes, it was.
Jalen: “I love you babe.”
Jane: “I love you, too.”
It wasn’t all bad, after all. There were certainly good times and worse times.
But I have never been able to get over your father’s insistence on absence. His commital to distance from the household and from his family. Maybe you have a different perspective of him, Janie love. But, from where I was standing, he was hardly ever there.
Jane: “I miss your father, Janie dear. I really do.”
But, at the same time, I miss those days, Janie. Your father and I were so young. We had so much in front of us still, and you were just beginning. You still smelled like newborn baby, and the house smelled like baby powder-like new and fresh and life. I hope our house, right now, in this moment, smells like opportunity to you. But, to me, it smells like age. Like time misspent.
Those times, when your father and I still bothered to pretend we were happy, when we were so young, when you were so young, passed fleetingly. Before long, you were about to join the ranks of elementary school students. You were ready to take your first step out into the world, strong and brave and outgoing. I wasn’t ready to let you go.
Jane: “You look gorgeous, Janie! Are you ready for your first day of school?”
Janie: “I have to change my hair… and my clothes… and everything.”
Janie Newman, Elementary School Class Photo