Let me tell you a tale of two emotions. Okay, really, it’s a tale of many emotions.
Okay, really, it’s a tale of raging hormones. But I felt like you should know what was going on in your Mama’s brain when you felt those hormone surges in your peaceful little womb. You obviously heard one of the three moments, but the other two didn’t have much airtime – they were all in my head.
We’ll spend the most time with the happy hormones. Warning: this letter is a long one, so you might want to settle into a comfy chair with a warm beverage.
Yesterday morning, I had one of the most perfectly joyful experiences in recent memory: I walked around the corner to pick up library books. Yes, after seven months without a library, I signed up for a library card at the Trumansburg library and, the beauty of small towns, I didn’t even have to bring proof of address or anything. I reserved a bunch of books and, lo and behold, two of them were ready for me the following day. So, on a sunny morning in October, feeling very country-chic in my long teal dress, white turtleneck cable knit sweater, sheepskin vest (thrifted from a Lower East Side shop), ankle boots (size 11 ½ wide and, dare I say, roomy for my marshmallow feet), and quintessential maroon suede cap, I walked the five minutes around the block to the library to pick them up.
Libraries are a sacred space, little one. I can’t wait to explore them with you. We’ll be spending a lot of time at libraries, that’s for sure. You’ll grow up in a family of bibliophiles. The Wolffs literally have a room called the Library: wide, hand-sanded floorboards, a wood stove, and an entire wall of bookshelves built and painted by your Pops.
When I was young (and stuttering a lot), libraries were places of ritual, reverence, and selective speech. They were some of the safest places in my limited world. I didn’t have to talk much, and, when I read, I sounded like a grown-up, my words smooth and shiny and smart.
The crunch of the car wheels on gravel as we turned into the Trumansburg library driveway felt like hot cocoa filling my belly. The library is in a different building now, but the full circle isn’t lost on me.
“Looks quiet today,” Mama would say.
I liked it that way. I knew I was supposed to share, but I liked to think of this place as a “Members Only” area. Most kids didn’t appreciate the magic as much as I did.
Mama and I would swing hands as we walked inside to the excited old ladies behind the desk. The bright, high-ceilinged room smelled like wet wood, flowery perfume, musty paint, and well-loved paper. I would always breathe deeply so it seeped into me, reacquainting my cells with the familiar space.
I knew we had to make friendly chit-chat, so I would smile politely and glue myself to Mama, praying to be done quickly. The old ladies didn’t get much action here, and Mama could never be rude, so it became a whole thing. After what felt like about 20 years (not so long, but definitely too long for me), her hand would ever-so-slightly shift as she slowly extracted us.
It was time to walk down the mahogany stairs to the children’s section. The varnish had been worn off in the middle, where each stair bowed slightly in the shape of a footprint. I relished the way each one creaked “Hello!” as our parade of two passed by, and I imagined the listening crowd below perking up on their shelves, each one trying to stand a little taller than their neighbors to catch my eye. I had a few steady companions, but I wasn’t exclusive, so they leaned on optimism.
I would hold my breath as we turned the corner and let it out with glee: Whhhhooooooossshhhh. Empty. Just me and the books, alone together.
I knew exactly where to find my favorites, but I always started from the beginning. I knew that, someday, I would graduate to the shelves on the opposite wall, but, for now, this was my side: two rows of shelves, the perfect height for walking down and crawling back, slowly working my way from A to Z. The books whispered to me, a chorus of different voices and cadences, smooth and rough, quiet and loud. Every book had a different sound, a different song. Some songs felt cozy, like my poofy Little Mermaid blanket, and some felt itchy, like thin scratchy wool. Mama told me that it’s fun to try new things sometimes, but I liked what I liked.
My process was sacrosanct. I had my posse – Angelina Ballerina, the Arthur series, When the Sun Rose, The Napping House, and anything by Chris Van Allsburg – but I also tried to find at least one book I’ve never read before. One risk was usually enough.
I also looked for books with more words on the page, a move based on both appreciation and strategy. When Mama or Papa said “Choose two books to read before bed”, it was important to choose the longest ones possible – yet not so long that they decided that two books was one too many. It was a delicate balance.
Some books didn’t have as many words, but the illustrations were just so beauteous that time stood still when I looked at them. I wanted to look at them forever – which I could factor into reading time, so it was a win-win.
When a book made the final cut, I carried it ceremoniously to the round wooden table, like the Prince carrying Cinderella’s slipper. I held it close to me so it wouldn’t fall, but I didn’t set it down too carefully, because this was my favorite part: the soft thud of a book as I added it to my pile. The site of that pile made my entire body tingle.
The squeaky floorboards above me, the crinkle of plastic covers, the papery sound of a turning page, the gentle thud as I stack my chosen books: these sounds filled my belly, all warm and gooey like Mama’s freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
I still enjoyed the books when I wasn’t the only one in the children’s section, but it wasn’t the same. Other kids distracted me, and they usually disrespected the books. They were too loud, they left books lying around where they didn’t belong, and some of them actually played with the wooden toys. That was okay if they were really little and couldn’t read yet, but not if they were my age. This was a library, after all. If you weren’t here for the books, then why were you here? Explain yourself, and leave. Thank you very much.
Some kids were quiet and nice to the books. I didn’t really like that either, because then it was all about comparing and second-guessing my selections. Was I too old for Angelina Ballerina? Would they think The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes was stupid? I wanted to see which books they chose and if mine had more words in them.
I also wanted to see how many books they left with. Some of them only left with one or two books, which made me a little sad. But not really, because it was often a result of the adult getting fed up because, once again, the kid missed the entire point of being there. Sometimes one or two books were chosen haphazardly in order to leave with anything. How careless. On the other hand, some kids left with 20 books, which felt selfish – but only because I wanted to make sure they didn’t take all the good ones.
I left with just the right amount: seven. I don’t know how Mama and I arrived at this number, but it was the perfect number: so many that I couldn’t carry them all myself, but just enough to cover three bedtimes without repetition, plus an “extra” one if I was really lucky. Mama and Papa were prepared to read every library book long enough for me to memorize every word, every vocal inflection, and exactly when to turn the pages – even if I couldn’t yet read the actual words.
As the librarians slowly checked out the books, I would double-check my memorization of their movements, the soothing order in which they opened a book – Crinkle – removed the sign-out card from the envelope – Swish – stamped it – Tap, tap, tap – replaced it with the Date Due card – Swish – closed the book – Crinkle – and placed it face-up on top of the previous book – Thud.
One of them would hand the books over to my care for the next three weeks, knowing that I would protect their words. I protected the words in those books because reading was salvation. Because of those books, I discovered not only the magic of words but the magic of fluency. Whether silently or aloud, reading smoothed my broken voice. I could speak without singing, and the words would come as I wanted them to.
So you see my love, libraries have a very special place in your Mama’s heart. And this library – my library for at least the next eight months – looks exactly like my dream library. It’s a small-ish brick building with a Greek Revival facade, complete with pedimented gable and four grand porch columns.
I passed two fellow library patrons on my way to the pick-up spot in back, each carrying two books in the crook of an arm, and walked up the glass-encased open doorway. I didn’t even have to pull out my new library card. (Side note: Is there anything better than a new library card?) I simply gave her my name, and she produced my two books – a book of personal essays by Laura Lippman that I saw on the library’s “New Releases” web page and The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. The latter was recommended by my sister, a rather surprising appreciator of the macabre. You know, some nice light reading as I hunker down in my Mama space.
I started by carrying the books in one hand, then intentionally moved them to the crook of my left arm. I wanted to breathe in that feeling of...school? Proud student? I remember settling into the school year by early October, excited for my classes while already looking forward to the long Columbus Day weekend.
Now here I was, in my favorite month of the year and my birth month, walking down a small-town street with two library books in the crook of my left arm, my right arm rubbing my huge pregnant belly, with no obligations whatsoever. No homework, no work, nada. And the sun was shining, and I was walking a mere five minutes home from the library. As I walked around the corner to our street, a gentle breath of wind inspired a quiet dance of leaves, their autumn hues catching the light and glowing all around me.
I was literally living my dream life, and those happy hormones were dancing around me and inside of me, which means they were dancing around and inside of you. Joy, peace, exhilaration, thankfulness, wonder, serenity, amusement...They were all there.
And then a mere two hours later, those hormones surged in the complete opposite direction. Your Papa and I finally received our absentee ballots, after two months of waiting and praying we would receive them for this most important election of our lives so far. Any mentally functional person would have turned the inner return envelopes over to make sure that we weren’t each assigned a particular ballot. They wouldn’t think, “Huh, I wonder how they know which ballot is whose...It must be encoded somewhere on the outer return envelopes.” No. Any mentally functional person would have looked at both sides of both envelopes before asking their husband to sign one of them.
Turns out, 50/50 worked against me: your Papa signed the back of the ballot return envelope with my name printed on the front of it. When I pointed it out to your Papa, he said, “Yeah...you’re going to have to get another one.”
I was so furious with myself that I literally started vibrating. Pounding my hands on the table. Shouting “WHY AM I SO STUPID?! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!”
I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO GET ANOTHER ONE! (Pardon my French here, baby) WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO?! I HAD SPENT SO MUCH ENERGY TRYING TO GET THESE BALLOTS TWICE, AND NOW I. COMPLETELY. FUCKED. UP. AHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
So that’s what happened there.
Then I had to drive your Papa to the U-Haul so he could pick up a moving truck to move us out of our finally-sold house on Long Island this week. As we drove, it occurred to me I was only sending him with a bag of cider donuts and the beef jerky that he bought – for his seven-hour drive during COVID times.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I SPENT THE MORNING DOING NOTHING INSTEAD OF, YOU KNOW, MAKING MY HUSBAND FOOD?! I WAS A TERRIBLE WIFE! AHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
I sat there in silence, fuming until my emotions weren’t quite sure what to do other than seep out in a few tears. So, yes, those jerky breathing movements you felt were your Mama trying to stifle sobs and get ahold of herself.
All I can say, Baby, is that you are probably going to be freaking brilliant because you are literally eating your Mama’s brain through that umbilical cord. It must all be with you.
Then again, to quote Anne Lamott:
“I think we’re all pretty crazy on this bus. I’m not sure I know anyone who’s got all the dots on his or her dice.”
And, you know, emotions are cyclical. We all have them, and we all vacillate between many on a regular basis. It’s just that every emotion feels turned up to volume 10 for me right now, so thank you for your patience as I try to move through them with grace – and, clearly, don’t always succeed.
Anyway, all is well again, and we are officially at 38 weeks!! Apparently, you are shedding your vernix and lanugo, which is very exciting...but you’re also ingesting it through the amniotic fluid, which is pretty disgusting. But that’s okay, Baby! It’s all part of the process, and you’re pretty much fully baked at this point.
Another week is done. We can’t wait to squeeze that wiggling tush, and I know you have your own timeline, but your Papa is on Long Island until Saturday, so stay put until at least then, okay? We appreciate it.
ps: Forgive any typos. I'm currently at my mental capacity, and this post is too damn long to read over yet one more time.
Love, Your Mama