Months ago, on one of the first afternoons this year hinting towards spring, Tim and I stood next to our car in a local community center parking lot, strapping Rocco into his stroller. “Remember all the days we walked up there?” I asked, tilting my chin up to the modern building in front of us and its second-story track. While I was pregnant, we must have walked that track a hundred times, discussing relational dynamics and pregnancy health questions over the shouts of adults’ aerobics classes or the bounce-bounce-thuds of kids shooting hoops in the open gym below. Holding a latte in one hand and pushing the stroller with the other, I rejoined reality as I followed Tim onto the paved path that loops from the parking lot into the park, where kids were screaming on the playground and toddlers were laughing on the swings. That quickly relived memory was just one example of a regular comparison we’ve been making in Rocco’s first year of life, ever talking about the differences between last year and this one.
On Valentine’s Day, it was remembering a quick overnight in Chattanooga while I was almost five months pregnant. In March, it was sighs in recounting an Alpharetta Babymoon. In April, we reminisced about last year’s exhibit at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, sampled up einkorn salad and sourdough bread to strangers and collapsing into our mountain bed and breakfast at night.
So of course, last weekend, on the first Saturday of May, sitting at a picnic table sharing kale salad with Rocco, I thought about last year’s first Saturday of May, when he was still in my belly, and about the side-view photo I took in Frothy Monkey’s bathroom, my blue floral dress billowing out and in front of my chest.
It’s just, how could we not, while pushing our two-toothed child around in his Britax, think of a year ago, rubbing my belly while we hiked through 12 South? Or, as the leaves turn green and flowers bud, this year alongside our baby boy pulling himself up on his crib railings and squawking for a bite of pizza crust, how could we not think of last spring, when we opened gifts at our baby shower and tried to imagine using that Nose Frida on an actual child?
Today, about six weeks to one year, Rocco crawls. The baby we talked about on all those afternoon walks now shouts. He eats kale. When I leave the room, he cries. When I come near him, he reaches out his arms. In the mornings, after his first meal, he says “mama” over and over again, sitting with me in the glider in his room.
On Sunday, a few feet away from me in his bouncer, he watched me clapping and then seriously, steadfastly met my gaze.
“Clap with me, buddy,” I invited him, the way I’ve done a dozen times before, demonstrating the rhythmic separating, bringing together, separating, bringing together of my two palms. Hesitantly, he lifted his hands. He brought them together. He watched our response.
“You did it!” Tim and I exclaimed to him in unison.
“Way to go, Rocco! You clapped!”
All around us, ever present, Life With a Baby is this obvious, nonignorable, demanding-our-attention reality from the moment we wake, with morning cries calling from the other room. It’s affected our schedules and our grocery routines and even the likelihood that we’ll both be able to be somewhere together at the same time. Our baby is different; we are different; life is different—but, it’s worth noting, not every thing’s changed. After all, even if our walking and talking on a warm day has added a third party, we’re still walking and talking just the same.
“So this guy on the radio was suggesting this idea for engaging teenage children,” I launched into discussion with Tim while we rounded a corner at Sevier Park. “At the dinner table, everyone has to go around and say what five things matter most to him or her. Like, ‘these are the things I value most in life.’ Nobody can eat until everybody answers. Then you’re supposed to use that to start some good talks.”
I laughed about it when I recounted the story, imagining how typical teenagers would react, and we started talking about something else as we rolled Rocco ahead of us, out of the park, onto neighborhood sidewalks. But a few days later, back at home, I remembered that original idea and circled back, asking, “Hey, I never found out, how would you answer that question, by the way? What would be your five things?” Tim answered. He asked me. While our first few answers were almost identical and our overall concepts the same, it was the nuances of how we thought through what matters that fascinated me.
In February or March, I checked out Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet from the library. In it, she describes a point in her life, her fortieth birthday, I believe, where she has received yet another rejection letter from yet another publisher, and, after so much working and so much trying, she decides maybe it’s time to listen to these experts that keep saying, “no thanks,” and give up. If everyone’s telling you you’re no good at something, and they keep telling you, at some point you have to listen, right? So she says she’s done being a writer. Clearly, she’s got no skill. She goes into the kitchen thinking about it and thinking about it and then, just like that, it hits her: even as she’s deciding not to write anymore, her mind is busy, strategizing, conceptualizing, working out a story with her very decision not to write as the plot. In this, she realizes she doesn’t write to be published, well, not just to be published. She writes because it was part of what she was made to do. It’s part of how she thinks. She feels about writing, maybe the way Eric Liddell describes feeling about running, who says it was God who made him fast and that, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” She writes because she can’t help it; she writes because she can’t not.
I also think I am most myself when I write. When Tim and I asked each other to name what five things we think matter most, meaningful communication was on my list. I work with words, think with words, show love with words, enjoy words, so it’s easier for me to tend towards relationships where words take center space. Maybe this is just me; maybe it’s not. Words are how we share ourselves with one another. They’re how we communicate. They’re part of relationship; you might even say they are relationship. Whether or not you are a person who loves words, words matter. To know one another, we have to, in some way or another, say something and respond.
Before we got married, we talked about love languages and about how mine’s words and Tim’s is not. It used to trouble me; if these are languages, what does it mean when we’re speaking different tongues? What if I can’t pick his up? What if he can’t learn mine? But, in the years since, here is something I have seen about words I didn’t know before: compliments are not the only way words love.
In marriage, before and after a baby came, I have seen that loving each other can mean, more than affirmation, using words to hash ideas out. It can be talking through memories about my beachball-belly and how it used to make me gasp. It can mean patiently explaining a new concept, responding to its challenges and not leaving the room as you do. It can be sharing conversation while you’re making dinner or in the living room, while you’re walking through a park or around an indoor track, asking, “What do you think?” and “Why?” Because words let us share ourselves with one another, words are a way to say, “Hi, here’s part of my soul; can I trust you with it?” and wait for a response. This, Tim and I do all day long. We did it while walking during pregnancy; we do it while we’re baking einkorn snickerdoodle cookies at night.
Since before Rocco was born, I’ve been telling people I can’t wait to hear him talk. “I want to know what he thinks!” I say.
Friends caution us, “Just wait. Once they start talking, they never stop.”
But, still, even though he may be noisy and silly and simple, even though my task-oriented personality will have to remind myself to stop to hear, I hope when Rocco knows what it means to speak, he’ll know, with us, at least, he’ll be heard. I hope that in the same ways his dad has loved me by listening, by talking while we’re baking cookies, by discussing good things and hard things and sad, we’ll be able to love him. I hope I’ll remember to keep trying to communicate—and to let him.
The word love comprises so much—it’s inspired poetry! caused great sacrifice! led to new humans being brought into this world!—but, among those things, also, at the very least, love must include this: to look one another in the eye, to be vulnerable, to listen, to use words to know.
Tim’s Einkorn Snickerdoodle Cookies
This recipe, which Tim adapted from the king-sized chocolate chip cookies in our book, The Einkorn Cookbook, is a recipe he’s made a handful of times over the last year or two, quickly whipping together ingredients and rolling balls of dough to bake. Because it uses cold butter, you can make it in minutes, and because you do it all in the food processor, there are minimal mixing utensils to clean up. The cookies themselves, which we baked again together last night in the first 20 or so minutes while the baby slept, are soft, slightly chewy, studded with crystallized sugar all around the outside. They’re bakery cookies you can make at home. And, for me, they’re a reminder that, when so much of life is (wonderfully!) different, some things are still (wonderfully!) the same.
Makes about a dozen cookies
6 tablespoons cold, cubed unsalted butter
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk (plant milk would work, too)
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (156g) all-purpose einkorn flour (the same weight of whole-grain flour or another all-purpose flour will also work)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine Himalayan sea salt
for the topping to roll them in:
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cup organic cane sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place butter, sugar, milk and almond extract in a food processor* and blend until creamy. Add egg yolk and combine again. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt, and mix until thoroughly combined, opening up the processor to scrape down the sides with a spoon or spatula once.
In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and cane sugar.
Scoop out tablespoon-sized lumps of dough, form into balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place on prepared baking sheets.
Bake cookies six or so to a sheet, for 13 to 15 minutes or until cracked and set but not hard. In our oven, we’ve found that baking sheets on the bottom rack yield firmer cookies; baking sheets on the top yield softer.
*Without a food processor, this recipe is a little messier, but no less delicious. Follow the same instructions, but blend everything with a mixer in a bowl.