When I was pregnant, Leigh offered me a batch of clothes that her baby, Luna, had outgrown. She warned me to be selective, because hand-me-downs and presents would soon become an oppressive pile of mixed sizes and fiddly buttons. Tired mamas of waddlers would try to offload bags of frilly, poo-stained disasters on rookies like me, just to save a trip to Goodwill. I should take only what I liked and thought I needed.
But they made me greedy, those tiny striped union suits, rompers, and footie-pajamas; and the shoes, of course, the shoes: satin Mary Janes, red patent t-bars, glove-soft white ankle-straps, dove-gray booties. Pregnancy is a work of fiction, and these costumes brought my little character to life. I scooped up most of the clothes and all the shoes, six pairs, which Luna had never worn. We live in Oakland, where the babies dress down too.
In the late nights of late pregnancy, alone in my new house, I laid out outfits for Baby Tara. I cupped those tiny shoes and talked to her while she kicked corners into my round belly.
Tara arrived on her due date, eight pounds and 12 ounces of bright-eyed Californian confidence. The nurse who recorded her arrival had to reposition her feet three times to get them to fit within the borders of the footprints box. Her toes were elaborately knuckled and prehensile, and it has taken a few months of committed eating for her thigh rolls to balance those lovely flippers.
She’s three months old now, and likes to practice standing on my thighs. She stands wide-legged and reels slightly, like a stuntman on two horses, but she holds her head high. Her feet are grippy and strong, and I haven’t had the heart to stuff them into shoes, or to bundle her into pretty dresses that bind her as she rolls over on her mat. I thought I’d keep the shoes and dresses for special occasions.
It took me days to notice she had outgrown her diapers. The onesies for six-month-olds are only slightly baggy, and I’ve been micro-mourning some favorite outfits that I realize she’s already worn for the last time. She grows inexorably, glugging milk all day and stretching and plumping overnight. According to her last weigh-in at the doctor’s office, her mother’s ego is in the 97th percentile. Here in the Bay Area we quantify the self.
Late Friday night I pulled out those shoes, thinking we might dress up for the holiday weekend. I touched the red Mary Janes to her purple-pink soles, and realized it was too late. Only if I chewed off those toes—a real temptation—would they ever come close to fitting.
Now I have my own set of baby shoes, never worn, to pass along to the next baby in our tribe. And I’ve discovered that Papa Hemingway’s shortest story might be more joyful than poignant.