My wife walks into our living room carrying a bowl of strawberries. Her face and arms are tanned. Her sandy, sun-lightened hair glows. Her five-months-pregnant belly precedes her into the room. The skin is rounded but still smooth and firm, taut from her morning exercise routine; unlike her face and arms, it wears the pinkish bloom of a mild sunburn.
She got back yesterday from Topsail Island. I’ve kept off the AC, which means it’s a slightly-unpleasant-feeling eighty-three degrees inside our house — which in turn means my wife’s in a sports bra and running shorts, shedding her tee-shirt to beat the heat.
Her belly button glows warning-light red. The piercing she wears through the ridge of skin above her belly button protrudes; soon, she’ll have to take it out.
She has learned, either through online research or word of mouth, that there are rubber spacers one can buy to preserve a piercing while pregnant. I wonder if she’ll decide she wants to buy one of these spacers. She has said she might, to preserve the piercing she had done in high school, as an expression of her sensibility.
Though it’s a bit of a stretch, I can’t help but think she sees a part of herself in that piercing.
“You’ve got a white ring around your belly button,” I tell her. And it’s true. A ring of white skin surrounds her navel, feathering gently back into sunburned pink an inch or so out.
“I know,” she says. “I put a sea shell over it.”
She’d gotten burned the first day on the beach, she tells me. She would have used the shell to further protect her heavily sun-screened skin from burning more.
I get a picture in mind of the shell: fan-shaped, a bone-white fringe above honey-streaked ridges. Her mother, a life-long shell-collector and a stickler for accuracy of facts, would know the name for such a shell. It would fit my wife’s palm perfectly. She might have picked it up during a walk along the edge where water meets sand. She would sit slouched in her chair afterward, and set the shell on the mound her belly makes so that it perches there.
I vaguely remember her telling me she used to do such a thing when as a teenager she visited the other beach — the beach an hour’s drive north of Topsail, where she and her family have spent one week of every summer for as long as she can remember, and where she learned to love the way the ocean could level her out, center her, help her rediscover the shape and size of her life. When she would lay on a towel, turning every twenty minutes or so, she used tiny sea shells to gauge how deeply her skin had tanned.
Now she used a shell to protect burned skin from sunlight.
It’s not a very large thing to ponder, but it is enough to make me think of what I did just the other night, after I’d fed our dog his dinner and was sitting in the middle of our living room floor, folding laundry.
Pausing while folding a tee-shirt, I made a cup of my left hand and a cradle of my right. I could feel the weight of the child we’re expecting in my hands, the shape of its head in the palm of my left hand, the lilt and tuck of its torso against my forearm. I could feel the way it would squirm. I could see the unfocused look of its deep-blue eyes, the whirl of awareness behind them.
It was as if the months between now and that moment’s actually happening had collapsed: my wife had delivered safely, and we’d brought our child home and got on with the business of becoming parents.
My wife’s belly rounds ever more by the day. As it grows, I’ve heard echoing in my head all the times people have told us to say goodbye, because a child will change us: change the course of our daily lives, change the nature of our relationship, change way we see ourselves. Change who we are.
I’ve worried about this. Feared it. Felt at times as though I shouldn’t have wished for parenthood.
Now, I think about that collapsing of time. I think of what it means. I wonder if it’s strange to find in it a lesson: we bring ourselves with us when we become parents. We’re changed, but the change isn’t a leaving-behind, it’s a layering. Who we might become settles over top who we’ve been. Things shake, settle. Some of the person we were shows through. The colorings mingle. The child’ll grow and mature in our company, pulling in our rules and hopes and fears but also parts of our younger selves we’ve managed to sustain.
“Did you really use a seashell like that?” I ask.
She gives me a look. Of course, the look says. Are you really all that surprised?
Image credit: Maciej Serafinowicz via Unsplash