I am holding a butter knife in my left hand, thinking I could use it to slice through the expectancy hovering in this kitchen.
My daughter, Lydia, drums her fingers on the breakfast bar, while her neglected oatmeal hardens on the edge of the bowl.
“I’ve got it!” She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose, declaring that she has found the perfect name for the newest member of our family. “Herbert! Yes, that’s it!”
I lower my eyebrows and twist my mouth into a crooked knot. “Herbert? Really?”
He should arrive this week, just in time for Mother’s Day. The bottles have been purchased. The nursery has been lined with straw. And when we get a phone call from a farmer across the county line, we’ll drive along gravel roads to fetch the newest addition to the farm: a newborn calf.
I spread grape jelly on wheat, and while I would prefer a name other than Herbert, I silently thank the good Lord that my daughter has scratched one name off the list of contenders: Sir Loin.
She’s still drumming fingers, staring off into that mystical space where she fetches daydreams. I pick up her spoon and put it between her fingers. “Eat your oatmeal, dear.”
She punctuates the air with her spoon, making it official. She lets the name roll off her tongue one more time: “Herbert. But if it’s a girl? Sherbert.”
For all practical purposes, Lydia will be the surrogate mother of a new calf. She will bottle-feed it, maintain its home, and train it to walk with a halter. By July, our girl will lead her calf by a rope around the show-ring of the county fair. She is hoping for a blue ribbon.
I watch her, while resting my chin on my knuckles. She stirs her oatmeal with one hand, and with the other, she shuffles papers printed off the Internet. She keeps her documents organized in a manila file, which she decorated with a crayon drawing of a calf. This stack of papers is, I think, a sort of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” for a first-time calf mother.
A casual observer might assume that, because she’s a farmer’s daughter, she would know how to care for a calf. But, no. We don’t raise cattle on this farm. So she studies. Watching her, I remember how I did the same thing when my belly was swollen with her, my firstborn. People assumed I knew how to be a mom, solely because I was female. Experienced mothers told me to stop worrying. They said my body would do the work, and that once the baby arrived, I would instinctively know what to do.
But I’ve never felt instinctive about anything. Until it happened, I knew none of it: the labor pains, the contractions, the way your own child’s first cry can make your arms ache, or how the whole planet stops spinning when a nurse hands you your baby.
All of it has felt new. Even now. Much of it has struck me, all at once, as scary and invigorating. Yes, motherhood is a ride down a hill without training wheels. It’s “Look-no-hands!” It’s a child’s first step into a giant yellow school bus. It’s a trip through the surgery door, and it’s a box of Band-aids. It’s your own silly songs, and it’s that wet cheek pressed into your shoulder at Grandpa’s funeral.
There’s no book for any of that.
I’m thinking of the truth about these things as I watch her, this daughter of mine, falling in love with another living creature that isn’t even born yet. Being a mom, it’s risky. Nothing is quite what you’ve planned. But quite often, it’s a whole lot more than you dreamed.
Just then, Lydia’s dad pokes his head in the kitchen door with the news. Herbert has been born. And, surprise: so has Sherbert.
We’ll buy another bottle, and tomorrow morning, we’ll bring those babies home.
(Reposting from the archive. I’m looking forward to spending Mother’s Day with Mama D. this weekend. Thinking of all of you who may feel lonely or sad this weekend, because you can’t be with your moms. Knowing that some of you don’t have your mothers anymore, I don’t take for granted the time I have with my mother.)