Peculiar Graces: This Child’s Name Is Jonah


As you already know: Alli and I are expecting a child. This child’s name is Jonah. He does not speak yet, nor does he make any other sounds—because right now he breathes liquid goo, and you can’t huff and puff and scream when you’re breathing liquid goo—but he moves around, and he knows our voices: in fact, he moves toward my voice when I talk to him, which, yes, makes me emotional even just to think of it.

Jonah will be born in Pittsburgh. As my friend Derek says—no matter where he goes, or lives, for the rest of his life, he will always be a ‘Burgher. I hate this term, and wish it would die. Derek says he will buy Jonah a Steelers jersey, or a Terrible Towel for after his baths. But this will not do, says Alli, since Jonah comes from a long line of Chiefs fans, the greatest of these being his late great-grandmother Eileen Speik, who prayed for three things: her soul, her family, and the Chiefs. And Alli will be damned if she lets down Eileen by allowing Jonah to wear some crappy ‘Burgher jersey. As for me, I only like football for the finger foods and beer, so as long as m’boy, like his dad, hopes against hope when Ecuador plays in Copa America, and (for lack of consistent representation by our home country) for Brazil in the World Cup, I’m fine.

And then I reflect on these kinds of conversations—“As long as he…” and “He’ll be a…” and “If he…then I’ll be okay with him”—and, really, when we step back a moment, Alli and I notice the pressure already surrounding him. So, fine, okay, okay, in an attempt at raw honesty, let’s be open about our expectations for this kid: Jonah will be 6’ 3” tall, 190 lbs., great at soccer, a fantastic swimmer and surfer, have great hair and a philosopher’s care for making distinctions. He’ll be funny but not obnoxious. He’ll make eye contact when he shakes hands. He’ll read before he goes to bed. He’ll have good posture. And he’ll charm the heck out the ladies.

Or, by God, he’ll have one hell of a time making it through this family as a well-rounded, shame-free individual.

Jonah’s cousin, Taylor May Brady, was born July 2, 2007, just about three months before we expect Jonah to arrive. A few weeks earlier, on May 31, Grant Joseph Miller was born, the son of my best friend, Chad. Now among my friends and family, we have fantasized about the lives of our children together, about the possible friendships and camping trips and blood-brother pacts and tattletaling and little league fundraisers and picnics and so on…but none so much as with these two, Taylor and Grant, for their proximity in birth to Jonah, and for the closeness of his parents to theirs. I imagine Grant and Jonah learning how to surf together, and building lemonade stands, and Grant’s or Jonah’s first black eye (probably Grant’s first black eye: see above for the paragraph concerning my expectations of Jonah, and imagine what I will demand of his strength and physical prowess). I hope for the two of them a rich childhood full of good memories, and a beautiful, long friendship for many years afterwards. And then, Jonah’s cousin, little Taylor May, the daughter of his Aunt Ashley and Uncle Beau, well, I hope at least this for them: that Jonah will keep and eye on her, making sure the boys treat her right; and that because of Taylor’s popularity—which she’ll inherit from her mother, no question—he’ll get to know all the hot ladies.

Alli is 32 weeks pregnant now, and has entered one of the final stages of pregnancy, which presents itself as a paradox: She is big and uncomfortable. Jonah is smacking around all kinds of her nerve endings on the inside. He is kicking her ribs and alternately making a pillow and punching bag out of her bladder. She cannot move with very much ease from here to there. She asks me to climb the stairs for her to get her things, because climbing the stairs makes her tired. This is all very understandable. But now, here is the paradox, the joke God played on her: In addition to these aches and discomfort, she is nesting. This means that, seven months into the pregnancy, Alli’s instincts have forced her to clean, clean, clean, to prepare a proper place for her coming baby. She has no control over this desire, even though she has self-awareness of it. She is a victim. She looks around this house of ours—this relatively clean, well-taken-care-of house, any of our visitors will vouch for this—and she is disgusted by it, so much so that she doesn’t want to walk on the floor barefoot. So she must clean it. She must clean everything. Under things, on top of things, behind things. Yesterday, she waxed the floor under the couch. She’s lifting things and bending down. She can’t stop. She brings out oils and spray bottles and vacuum cleaners and dusters and mops and so on. I haven’t seen a person do so many consecutive loads of laundry in my life. I don’t even know what she’s washing anymore—I think she’s run out of things to throw in there, and is now just assured by the sound of the machine on Rinse. Right now, even as I type this, she’s at the store looking for a new carpet for the entryway of our house, because the old one wouldn’t do anymore; but five minutes before she left, she was laid out on the couch complaining of feeling sick and tired and uncomfortable, too uncomfortable to move.

It is one of nature’s cruel jokes, really. There is a certain species of moth Schopenhauer writes of, which emerges from its cocoon with full reproductive and digestive systems, yet has no mouth. The moth lays its eggs—it reproduces—and then, as its stomach dictates, it goes to find food. But, for lack of its mouth, it quickly starves to death. In my own observations, I find that Alli’s discomfort/nesting paradox is a similar nasty trick.

In case you are wondering, yes, as far as we can tell, our time in Pittsburgh is winding down. We plan to have one final school year here, which ends in late April, and move back to California. In light of this, I really should be writing my thesis right now, rather than you all, but this is more fun. By the time we wrap up finding me a job, and selling our house, and getting back across the country, Jonah will be about eight or nine months old. I will be thirty. Alli will be twenty-six. In dog years, Ray and Kenny will be in their early-to-mid twenties, ready to party. How did we get here? I wonder sometimes. Alli was only twenty when we first started dating, and there was no such person as Jonah, or Kenny, or Ray. Ten years ago I was running around my dorm, covered only in the suds from my shower, grunting like a monster, pretending to be the Abominable Soap Man. Nowadays, I don’t do that nearly as often as I used to. Back then, we celebrated the thirtieth birthday of my R.D. He was about the only real grown up I knew. And now, I am among them, among these grown ups. Eek. It is strange to see myself—and to see Alli—entering these brand new stages, returning home from a three-year journey with a child and two dogs in tow. It will happen very, very soon. How, I ask you, do these things happen?

I imagine I will ask these same questions, in new ways, again and again over the years—as I have been doing since I began driving stick shift (“When did I get to be so big that they trust me with all this?—I could kill someone pretty easily, if I wanted to. Just yesterday it seems I was learning to cross the street, and now, look!”). Anyhow, it is a strange thing to reflect on, I’m sure you understand. Alli and I are feeling very proud and excited; we are building a family, and love, and we can’t wait to get home again to do it with you.

We love and miss you very much.

Carlos & Alli

One thought on “Peculiar Graces: This Child’s Name Is Jonah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s