Quick, before the baby cries. Before the dog asks to be let back out and let back in and out and in and out and in. Before the baby needs a bottle. Before the baby pees, shits, spits.
Quick, write something not about the baby. Not about the baby. Not about the baby or his new feeding schedule. Or his astonishing eyes. Or how you see his face in your face now.
Quick, write something. No, not about new motherhood, or how the late nights and lack of sleep are somehow triggering your body into memories and timelines and sensory neuro-hallways long forgotten: the summer you spent dancing to the Talking Heads cover band in downtown Wilmington; the little boy who sat next to you in fourth grade and stole your glass turtle; the shiny linoleum and urine smell of the nursing home where your grandmother volunteered and was later admitted. No, definitely do not write about new motherhood. Remember how you used to roll your eyes? Don’t be that woman on the internet, or in the group chat. Absolutely don’t be that writer. Don’t complain too much. Don’t oversell your joy. You can never write about how quiet domesticity might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. How extraordinary the ordinary—the windowsill, the bird feeder, the stained glass windows, the little toes, the neatly folded tiny socks, the dog snoozing next to the baby, and the baby, my god, the little baby is patting the dog’s slick fur—how extravagant it all seems now, how glorious. Don’t write about how, in Nana’s spare bedroom, as your pretend, you played ordinary adulthood. You imagined it as an apartment with a baby, and you counted the rain beads on the windowpane and felt utterly content in the dreary light. You’re doing it now instead of fucking writing.
Quick, write something before your grandmother dies, so she can read it. Wait, she’s already dead. Too late. You know what it is like to be late for something and forget it. No, regret it. The story and memory scattered down the hall, again. You lost it. Your urgent need to document paralyzes you, shames you. You want it so bad, you don’t do it. But he laughed in his sleep today, so write it. Write it now before your mother dies. Before your son grows up with a mother who used to be a writer. Before you have to go back to work and wish for the days when you had a newborn.
Brittany Hailer is an award-winning investigative journalist and educator based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant teaching professor of writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her memoir and poetry collection, Animal You’ll Surely Become, was published by Tolsun Books in 2018. More at brittanyhailer.com.
This essay is a Short Reads original.