“Pshhhhhew.” My daughter’s tiny hand soared slowly in front of my face as she mimicked the fireworks she was witnessing for the first time. I watched her, baffled by her absolute lack of fear.
She gets that from her father.
I wrapped my arms around her a little tighter and closed my eyes, the artillery boom of red and gold sounding in my ears. I missed him–her father. The way a wife misses her husband when it’s a few hours from midnight, a new year coming, and a thousand miles between them.
You see, we were a part of the Great Southwest Snafu of 2022. I’ll save you the lengthy, dime-a-dozen horror story. The gist looked like this: travelling alone with the baby, sleeping in an airport lactation room, $100 Uber rides, frostbite, hotel living with a toddler, and New Year’s alone.
Rah-rah, how’s that for a 2022 Christmas?
As I sat in my brother’s driveway with the baby on my lap, nieces and nephews spiraling sparklers through the warm Louisiana night air, I tried to look back on my year. But it felt like looking down the wrong end of a spyglass. It was like I couldn’t see it–or worse–like there wasn’t anything to see. It was as if nothing had happened to me at all that year, as though I was one of those little Australian frogs that buries itself for whole seasons at a time. Desperate to be wrong, I pulled out my phone. This time when my daughter’s little hand came reaching, I pushed it away from the blue light that’s already flirting with her dopamine receptors, and opened my photos. Scrubbing month by month, I looked for some evidence, some captured kind of jubilee that would give my year the gusto it seemed to be missing on inspection. There were a few close calls, but no real cigar anywhere. Just smoke.
A popper went off near my feet, pulling the fire alarm somewhere deep enough in my ear canal to bring me back to the driveway, the green camping chair where I sat, and all that eerie leftover Black Cat smoke that never seems to dissipate.
The next few days when everyone was busy sharing their 2023 “Word of the Year,” I couldn’t help but wonder what mine was for 2022. What does a frog have to say about her year spent in the dirt? They filled my travels home as we waited in TSA lines, at terminals, on runways, at baggage belts. I scrolled through them with apathetic thumbs: “calm,” “wealth,” “gratitude,” “decrease.” Finally, as I wheeled my caravan of luggage and stroller up to my husband’s car at the arrivals curb, the baby caught a glimpse of him through the passenger window. Her teeny little lungs let out a shriek so high it would have garnered applause from Mariah herself. She bounced about as he ran to undo her, her little body disappearing into his extra large coat. As he outstretched an arm to me, I let my tired body settle in. A wave of easy breath coursed through me, and somewhere, someone turned down the dimmer switch, filling every room in me with a warm, dozy kind of light. I relaxed the way that’s only possible when you’re finally home. When it’s quiet, and everything, I mean everything–the creak of the floorboards, the the crunch of the driveway, the groan of the pantry door, speaks love.
That was my word. Or words: Quiet love. 2022 was full of it. In the front window where I held the baby up to wave as Andrew left for work. In the million wipings of little fingers. In the onion chopping. In the late-night rocking. In the folding of ridiculously small socks. In the hushed couch conversations that happen after the baby is asleep. There wasn’t a day that went by in 2022 that didn’t ring with quiet love. I can’t think of another word I can say that about and have it be true.
I still don’t know what my word for 2023 is yet. But I pray it’s filled with this much dirt-work, where the quiet love happens.