July is the month we say goodbye to writers who are aging out or moving on to new adventures, and this is Matt’s last post. He has been writing with us since August 2018.
You became a toddler during the pandemic.
The day after your first birthday, when you were still a baby, the world shut down.
You didn’t become a toddler all at once. You eventually started walking, then running. You made some indistinguishable sounds, learned to point and hug and clap and wave. It all seemed to take forever.
One day, though, I looked at a photo of you standing up and holding your mom’s hand, your hair tied in a little ponytail, and realized you were no longer a baby.
When I think back and remember these months of quarantine, I’ll remember that I was home for all of it, that I got to watch you become a toddler.
We watched Jeopardy every afternoon and Survivor every Wednesday night in the springtime. We took walks with you and Kevin, then fed you dinner: yogurt, vegetable purees, hot dogs. You grunted and whined through most dinners, but giiirl could you eat. After this, I’d bathe you, let you play with your rubber dogs in the tub, and pour water over your head, which you never seemed to mind.
After that we would sit in the rocking chair in your room together. We would read books that sometimes made me want to cry:
In case you ever wonder
In the busy of our days
Exactly how you’re loved by me
I think you’ll be amazed
Other times, I sped through the pages without even noticing because I had read them so many times:
Llama llama red pajama
Waiting waiting for his mama
(Giiirl, did you love your mama.)
I’d turn the noise maker on, take you to the window to say goodnight to the backyard, and lay you down gently on your back. I would notice your hair, a bit crazy from the hair ties, many of which I broke because you didn’t enjoy the process and, well, I didn’t inherit a great deal of patience. I would notice how your teeth were starting to come in, which I could see through the pink pacifier, though you didn’t show them too much. I’d notice how you started getting ticklish like me, how your eyes squint when you smile like mine.
Though I never enjoyed working from home before all this happened, I’ll always be thankful that I could be home during that time. Every morning, I’d head up the yellow stairs to my little office, in our dormer, through the narrow staircase. At least once a day mom would open the door to the upstairs area and you’d start crawl-climbing up those steps, one by one, big smile on your face. I would forget to close the stairs door after I finished work, which led to mom putting “CLOSE THE DOOR” post-it notes on the stairs for my benefit (but mostly yours).
We did get out a bit, for our own sanity. One day we took a long drive with you and it was really nice. I drove so little in those first few weeks that anytime I did get behind the wheel, I felt fourteen again.
Later on, the summer heat began to creep into our home. I remember feeling really tired in those weeks, probably because you wore me out but also because I missed seeing people. I rode my bike a few times a week for exercise and listened to audiobooks. It seemed like every book I listened to was placed there to teach me to slow down and embrace quiet, and I’ll always be thankful for that. We enjoyed simple weekend afternoons playing in your little pool outside and watching movies on Disney+. I’ll look back and think these moments were what saved us.
One day we will tell you how the Black Lives Matter movement re-gained steam during those months. Your mom and I wept when we saw a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, and we wept when we watched the news coverage that followed. We had conversations with family and friends, read articles, and tried to figure out what we could do to help. It was a terribly sad time, but if things are better when you’re an adult, we will know that this was one of the reasons why.
Slowly and with care, we did start to see people again. I will remember how your grandparents came to visit, how enthralled with you they were. We talked about everything under the sun, ate ice cream and grilled ribs, swam in the pool (you would put your face down in it and giggle), but mostly we just watched them as they watched you. It’s pretty special, watching your parents love your children. The amount of unrelenting joy and affection they have for you is one of the surest forms of the divine I have seen in this world.
It’s a dark and confusing time to be growing up, and to be perfectly honest, I’m thankful you won’t remember it. However, I am so incredibly grateful for the extra time with you the pandemic afforded me. I’m thankful for the small amounts of energy I did have, energy that I could use to garden, bike, play tennis, and write. I’ll remember these months as the last few of my twenties and will know with certainty that I did not take them for granted. None of us could afford to in those days. Mostly, I’ll remember my time with your mother and you, and I will smile.
Matt Cambridge (’12) is a new dad to Chloe, husband to the beautiful Kendahl, and a human resources professional at Boeing. He lives in St. Louis and enjoys eating Hershey’s kisses, riding roller coasters, and watching the latest stand-up specials on Netflix. You can read more of his work at laughcrythink.com.