Here we are, in Chicago, waiting for the arrival of a very special baby girl. The phone rang last Tuesday afternoon, prompting a flurry of suitcases, phone calls, housesitter arrivals, ticket purchases, last-minute instructions, and general running around the house in small excited circles, like side-by-side triple axels with barely stuck landings. But we somehow managed to make it out of there just fine. Zing!
Arriving, we found that baby had decided to wait after all — very good baby!!! Once again we are waiting for a phone to ring, letting us know that she is here! It's Monday morning at Andy's parents' house. The house is incredibly quiet. Andy's parents both left for work early this morning and now Andy and I are here alone, goofing off and passing the time, fussing with the temporary mini-nursery, folding baby clothes, playing with the kitty, walking around the lake, bouncing on the yoga ball, daring each other to see what baby formula actually tastes like, setting up baby monitors and bottle sterilizers, knitting tiny heartwarmers, trying to figure out how the baby sling works, trying to figure out how the baby carrier works, trying to figure out how the television works, checking the phone again, talking about our hopes and dreams, sitting on the back deck watching geese fly overhead through the cold, crisp air. It was not too long ago that this subdivision was a farmer's field.
On the verge of motherhood, in some ways I feel like I am suddenly, ironically, back in my own childhood. The sky looks the same as it did then, and also like nowhere else I've lived. The leaves look the same, the bare trees look the same, the leaves smell the same. The color of the light from the streetlights is the same. Passing through Oak Park on the expressway the other night I cried in the car, thinking of my dad and missing him more than I could say, thinking of how he was always here, always, always at home. Before this past summer, the last time I had been in Chicago was ten years ago, shortly after he passed away. He died in Oregon, but that never seemed right. One afternoon during our visit here last month, I sat in the park across from my old house for several hours and stared at it, and it looked just like my dad to me, and it looked like me, and it looked like my family. I felt like I was looking at people. Our life was so thoroughly there, in that place. My parents lived on Forest Avenue for almost thirty years until they moved to Oregon in late 1998 to be nearer to my sister and me (we were already there). For several reasons, I wasn't able to come back then, that autumn when they were moving. The house is in a cul-de-sac. It was strange to have to sit like a stranger, across the street in the park where the swings used to be; it was the same point from which I had looked at my house a thousand times before, pumping my legs back and forth on the swings: house closer, now farther, now closer, now farther away. I didn't dare get too close this time. I felt like I could walk off the sidewalk and right up the front stairs into the past. But I didn't want that. I could hear acorns falling from the hundred-foot-tall trees. I walked a few blocks down Linden to Thatcher and the edge of the woods, my first woods, and looked in at them. My dad had dragged us there to go walking around all the time when we were growing up, and we had mostly hated it. Go figure. I was told never, ever to go into them alone. And so I didn't this time, either. But I missed him, and wished he were here now, for all of this.
Andy's parents live farther out of town now. The suburbs stretch farther than they did when we were kids, the neighborhoods out this way a strange mix of farm fields and gated communities. I love the prairie grasses and the cornfields and the cattails that line the sides of the road. I love the the bare, black oak tree branches against the blue sky, the way the downtown skyscrapers rise like mountains. I love the rusty El tracks overhead, the busty pigeons, the wide, wide sidewalks downtown and all of the people and buses and taxis. I love the museums, the planetarium, the Art Institute where my parents met, the fancy old apartment and office buildings. I used to work in one of them, on the corner of Michigan and Madison, but that was a long time ago; I'm a tourist now. I'm absolutely amazed at and intimidated by how many expressways there are, how many lanes of whooshing traffic, how many people and malls and stores, how many things to eat. Andy is sitting in his dad's recliner at this moment, reading a book about hot dogs and eating from a gigantic wax-paper bag of cheese-and-carmel popcorn from Garrett's, which he walked into the room carrying on one arm, like a baby.
We wait, and dink around the house, and pray, and wait.