The morning before the eclipse, all I think about is not blinding my 5-month-old baby. I drape his carrier in a blue swaddle and hustle him into my friend’s house like a body builder carrying a teetering log. I’m terrified that the cloth will slip and he’ll take a wayward, devastating glance at the sun.
Inside Emily laughs at me. “I don’t think the blinding part starts for a while. Want to watch them while I make lunch?”
“Sure,” I say and scoop up her newly mobile 7-month-old Elizabeth who’s already scooting her way toward the kitchen. Jackson whines under the mobile where I’ve laid him, and I pick him up in my other arm. He vomits on my jeans and the play mat.
“Everything in my house smells like curdled milk,” I say, putting them both down and reaching for a towel.
“I don’t even notice it anymore.”
I sit Elizabeth up and hand her a pink plastic cup. She drops it and crawls toward Jackson, reaching a damp hand into his hair and grabbing on.
“Gen-tle,” I say, uncurling her fingers one at a time as Jackson screams.
A crepe sizzles in the pan.
“He’s been constipated ever since he started solids a week ago. At least I think so. What’s their poop consistency supposed to be like at this age?”
“It shouldn’t be diarrhea, but I don’t think it should be as hard as an adult’s either.”
Jackson yawns and rubs his eyes, pinkening the delicate skin of his eyelids. He takes a slow, dizzy blink. I rub his back, put him down in a pack-n-play in Emily’s spare room, listen outside the door until, finally, his cries sputter to a stop.
We grab our cardboard, opaque-lensed glasses and head out onto the porch.
Dusk descends around us. Across the street a child perches in a fruit tree and stares into the hole he’s punched in a cereal box to watch the shadows of the eclipse. He glances backward at the sun before training his eyes again like a scientist down the barrel of a microscope. Emily’s dog Archie drops a slobbery rope chew toy at my feet, looks up expectantly.
The light turns rosy, like the light in Paris at twilight. Then red, like a storm is coming.
“12 years ago, I was in astronomy class in college, and I remember wondering where I’d be in 2017,” I say.
Back then I couldn’t conceive of such an outlandish date. At the time I’d struck a deal with the green-eyed singer-songwriter who sat beside me in lecture to meet up for the eclipse.
“You’re so urbane,” he said when he saw me walking across campus in a bright red pea coat. “I’m waiting for you to figure out how powerful you are.”
I laughed. “Are you scared I’m going to realize my potential one day and leave you all in the dust?”
“Terrified.” He was serious.
I’d pictured myself waking up in a New York loft each morning and walking to a light-flooded coffee shop with my laptop. I imagined myself straightening my blazer while an announcer at a bookstore listed my achievements. “And now, our keynote . . . “ he would say.
Emily adjusts Elizabeth’s floppy white hat, shielding her face from the sun. “Josh and I were already dating back then, so he wasn’t a surprise. The baby wasn’t really a surprise. But Nashville, I didn’t see that coming. I thought it was a flyover state.”
It’s largely the way I thought about new motherhood back then. A flyover state. A time I’d wade through while waiting to get back to the important stuff.
The neighborhood goes dim and still. The lawnmower puffs to a stop, the sounds of traffic fizzle. I can hear the children across the street shout and chatter. A ring of white light halos the sun, and we take off our glasses.
Emily’s serious face goes giddy. “This is actually incredible.” Elizabeth whimpers and squirms. “I know you’re tired, Baba,” she whispers, shifting the baby on her hip. “But something amazing is happening.”
Goosebumps crawl up my arm as I watch the white corona of the sun glow. A planet twinkles nearby.
I feel brazen and wild staring directly at the sun. I think about Jackson, snoozing in the guest bedroom with my phone making fuzzy white noise. I think about how he’ll be seven when the eclipse comes again, how I’ll be thirty-seven. Another age I can’t quite imagine.
My legs start to itch, and I swat a mosquito that’s come out to enjoy the cool, dim false night. The cicadas croak.
A sliver of blinding sun appears on the right side of the moon, and I have to will myself to look away. I glance back up for just a moment and then blink away the spots.
The neighborhood brightens.
“The light is different from before the eclipse. More hopeful, somehow,” says Emily.
Inside she puts Elizabeth down in the nursery and heats up the skillet again. We eat more crepes–strawberry Nutella this time.
“I was so looking forward to being fit again after I had the baby, but” she pauses, “these are good for the soul.”
I hear a whine from the direction of the guest room.
“I think that one’s yours,” she says.
Rested Jackson is happy, flirtatious. He beams at her, his jaw hinging fully open when he laughs.
“There’s that Jackson smile,” says Emily, and I feel myself swell with pride.
I hold him by the armpits and swing him up and down, and he chuckles and coos.
I pack him into his car seat, gather all of his lovies and spit-up rags and blankets. I think about how I’ve chosen to spend my brief time on earth tending to the basic needs of this human, pouring my life into his. Changing soggy diapers, anticipating his hunger and fatigue, matching tiny socks.
On my way out the door, I stop to smell his sweet, mild head. He sighs and grins at me and reaches for my chin, eyelashes ringing his stormy eyes.
“What have a I done to deserve such a spectacular baby?” I sing to him, clicking the car seat into place. He babbles and chirps and I run a hand along his silky fine hair. But when sit in the driver’s seat and close my eyes, I still see them: spots of light, afterimages of a different dream.
Top image: Bryan Minear via Unsplash