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Letters to Gabriel (three)

You wanted to play. After a six-hour flight and a string of ill-timed naps, you were wide awake. It didn't matter that it was 1 a.m. in the only time zone you'd ever known and 10 p.m. in this new time zone you weren't yet acquainted with. You'd spent the evening giggling and crawling on command for relatives, bribed with bits of strawberry and stuffed dinosaurs. Now, you were alone in a dark place you'd never been before. You looked up at a strange ceiling. Your favorite bicycle mobile, your stuffed horse, the quilt momma's friend made you—nowhere to be seen. Well, that was enough to trigger tears.

I took my time walking to your grandparent's bedroom, the designated nursery for the night. I tip-toed to the playpen. Then swiftly stuck the pacifier in its place. You spit it out and cried louder. It wasn't the paci you wanted. You wanted to play.

I gave in. Kind of. I scooped you up and carried you to Zeyda and Nani's bed. I sat on the edge and did my best to rock you to sleep. My best wasn't good enough. Most babies lay their heads on their mother's chest when they're being rocked in these sweet, quiet moments. Or so I'm told. But not you. You look up, down, left, right, up again, down again—eager to explore.

I kept gently returning the paci to its rightful place and you kept spitting it out. It was in the way of play. You sang. Then snatched my glasses. Then blew spit bubbles. Then clicked your tongue to the top of your mouth. Then formed an O with your slobbery lips to try to get a laugh out of me. Then spoke your favorite phrase—"da da da," referring to the man sleeping in the next room.

Still, I rocked you. And as I rocked, I thought about the last time I'd spent time in that room—my in-laws' bedroom. It was my wedding day, 10 years and 11 months earlier. My bridesmaids and I showed up five hours (maybe more) before the ceremony to get ourselves ready. They painted my face with more makeup than I'd ever attempt under normal circumstances and carefully drew on lipstick that was a brighter shade of pink than anyone has worn after 1989.

Your Great-grandma Borom and Great Aunt Shawnee burst into the room for hugs and photos. Your Nani, my soon-to-be mother-in-law, stepped in to help button up my dress and update us on what your dad and his groomsmen were up to. Sipping beer and playing bocce ball. Nani also hand-delivered a card your dad wrote me about how he was so looking forward to our life together. I still keep that card on my nightstand to remind me of the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of that day.

If someone would have told us then that a boy as funny and lovable and lively as you would one day make us a family, we wouldn't have believed them. How could we be so lucky?

As I rocked you, the moon reflected in that same makeup mirror that I'd looked into years earlier. I squeezed you tighter. Of course you wanted to play. You must've sensed that you were on sacred ground. A place where a pretty great thing got its start almost 11 years earlier.

[Photo by the talented Haley Bouffard]


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