The other day, I was walking to a meeting and passed by an old lady, maybe in her late 60s. She stared at me and looked shocked, as if she had seen a ghost, or a long-lost relative, or a stalker. She raised out one arm toward me. I looked around to see if she was gesturing at someone else, but there was no one. “Hi,” I said, going in for a very awkward handshake. “Uh, nice to meet you, ma’am,” I said. She pulled me closer and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Aw,” I said. “What was that for?” The lady didn’t speak much English. “I love,” she said in an accent that might have been Russian. She smiled. I thanked her and left. What a nice lady.
All right, baby updates. Jameelah and I went in for an ultrasound. I was so looking forward to seeing this baby unicorn in its tadpole phase. We were promised a heartbeat. For many parents, the heartbeat is when it hits them. They can see, and hear, for the first time, evidence that they created life, a beating, pulsating life form. This is the active heart of a being they will be able to hold and love and worry about and watch grow up. Many break down weeping at the magic of it all.
“Where the heck is it?” said the midwife as she held the ultrasound wand. “Hold on.” We moved closer to look at the tiny screen. “OK, see this little grey blob right here?” We held our breath. “Wait, wait, I accidentally moved my hand. All right, yes, here it is, this little greyish patch right here. That’s your baby.”
Button looked like a staticky grey blob. Jameelah and I looked at each other, wondering whether we should break down weeping. “Ah,” said the midwife, “you see this little blinking white dot? It’s blinking really fast. Right there next to this greyish thing. That’s the baby’s heartbeat!”
I am not sure if “grey blob” and “greyish thing” are medical terms and was starting to get offended at this good woman’s careless name-calling of our kid. But there it was, a rapid blip blip blip blip blip. Of course, you couldn’t hear it, since it was a visual of the sound waves bouncing off of the embryo’s heart. It was less magical than we were hoping, but more importantly, it was reassuring.
Jameelah has been excited. She spent several hours one day going to sites like morphthing.com, where you can put in pictures of two people’s faces, and the computer will combine them to see what their baby might look like. “It’s … so … creepy,” she said, showing me a picture of a weirdly familiar looking baby. “That’s a combination of your baby picture and mine.” Since this kid will be half-Vietnamese, a quarter Black and a quarter White, who knows what the heck it will look like.
It was weird to stare into the potential face of our unborn child.
Whatever Button will look like, we can’t wait to meet him or her. Still, sometimes I worry about what kind of world we are bringing our baby into. But recently I thought about the random old lady who gave me the kiss on the cheek that one day, and it gives me hope. I can’t wait to hold the baby and tell Button about that old lady.
“Button,” I would say, “The world may sometimes be awful, but there are good people too. Like that old lady. We could think she had dementia and confused your father for someone else. But isn’t it better to think she had so much love to give? If only we could all just ‘love.’ The lady didn’t say ‘I love you’ or ‘I love lanky Asian guys on their way to meetings.’ She said ‘I love,’ meaning there was no object to her affections. She said ‘I love’ as if she were saying ‘I breathe’ or ‘I live’ or ‘I exist.’ That’s the kind of world I wish for you.
“That’s why,” I would say, “when you encounter someone who is so full of love, who just wants to give you a quick kiss on the cheek … screw everything I just said. You run, Button, you run like hell.”
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