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  • Everything at Once:Notes to My Son
  • Jonathan Hiskes (bio)


We returned from the hospital, our family, and immediately I shrugged the bags off my shoulder and set to work unpacking dirty clothes. I’ve always had this compulsion to unpack right away, always in a hurry to restore order. Then I turned to watch your mother. Unshowered, still exhausted from labor, she lifted you from the car seat into her arms. “This is our couch,” she whispered, walking softly. “This is our kitchen.”

You won’t comprehend any of this for months, you shriveled, squinting creature. You haven’t even learned to hold your eyes open. Yet Hannah paced the house, letting the familiar squeaks in the floor comfort herself, if not you. I stopped to watch—the laundry could wait. She showed you the nursery, the crib, the artwork still leaning against the wall where we meant to hang it. I have known her as lover, friend, traveling companion, comforter. As she opened the back door to introduce the garden, I saw her anew. I didn’t need another way to love her, but there it was. [End Page 125]


Four in the morning and you’re wide awake. In your two weeks of life these are the widest and brightest I have seen your eyes, gray-brown and less cloudy by the day. Your large pupils dart up, down, left, right, for a moment maybe locking into mine, perhaps a flash of recognition. But no, you stare with the same intensity at a blank spot on the ceiling.

You are swaddled in my lap, jostled by the bounce of an exercise ball, unfazed by the steady womblike motion. Go to sleep, my darling boy. You scrunch your brow into a pink ridge of concentration, like you’re thinking hard at some riddle I can’t fathom. You suck hungrily at my thumb. Swaddling, bouncing, sucking—the books say these things should calm you. So much for that. You’re wired and show no sign of slowing. I’m exhausted. I’m also content to cradle and bounce you forever.


I want to be in two places. The first is right where I am, sprawled in the backyard with my beloved and you, our drowsy child. We are lounging away the afternoon in the shade of a Japanese maple. You lay swaddled, your wispy brown hair catching flashes of sunlight between the leaves, your eyelids surrendering to the call of a nap. We’re fortunate to have this space behind our small rental home, enough room to spread a blanket between the maple and the wisteria vines. We’re even luckier to have this time of family leave from our jobs, a few holy weeks to focus on caring for you and little else.

Except I also want to be at my desk, tapping out a story I’ve wrestled with for years without knowing how to say it plain. Just lately I’ve begun to see how it coheres, and I’m impatient to get it down while I have this rare time to sit and write.

Everyone says to savor this time. Everyone says it flies by fast. Including my wise partner, who dangles a bookmark above you now that you’ve awakened, helping you learn to focus your wavering eyes. I am torn as usual. I jot in a notebook beside you, one eye on my family in the yard, one eye attending to memory and imagination. I’m trying to live in both the moment and the mystery, the body and the mind. [End Page 126]


I have heard people ask your mother a question several times lately, always with the same phrasing: “Do you like being a mommy?”

For a moment she struggles for an answer, then eventually says, “I like being Sam's mom.”

There are wiser voices than mine that can speak to the tangled web of gender, self, career, vocation, and motherhood. Yet I can’t help but say that I enjoy hearing Hannah’s answer. I like that she speaks not of abstractions but of you, the particular grunting person who has entered our home...


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pp. 125-133
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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