2020, Baby

What a year to be alive, and what a year to be born.
by Hampton Williams Hofer

On the morning of September 29th, I did a hustling waddle through the Rex hospital parking lot in a misty rain. Somewhere in my overnight bag was a newborn outfit made of impossibly soft fabric, adorned with grinning bananas in gender-neutral yellow, ready for whomever we would meet.

Not long after, against a backdrop of fluorescently-lit blue scrubs and the unnerving sound of the vacuum that assisted her entrance, my new daughter screamed. Who could blame her? “It’s a girl,” my husband said, eyes pulled into a smile above his mask. A pair of gloved hands held her up, that tiny self, all red and quizzical and wrinkled with the mess of life.

The hospital was different for this one, my fourth and final child, the girl drawing the curtain closed behind her trail of older brothers. For their births, there had been flowers and balloons, the door to my hospital room revolving with cousins and godparents and my mom’s tennis partner. They brought Oreo milkshakes and stood by the window to get the best lighting for their close-ups with the new arrival.

This time it was quiet. The halls were empty. The note on the whiteboard under the TV reminded me to try to walk around, but not to forget my mask if I left the room. I looked at my daughter in those banana pajamas, sleeping after hours camped out at the breast, uninterrupted. All was calm. I looked at the closed door, the promise of peace, and leaned my head back to sleep.

That night was the first presidential debate, a bizarre spectacle that I watched on the corner-mounted hospital TV through bleary eyes, my baby to my chest, despite her newness to the world, already suckling wildly, desperate for being. The debate, viewed out of context by innocent eyes, might have seemed like a misunderstood parody of sorts, but in the context of 2020, it was just the bafflement we had come to expect this year.

There’s a scene in the Sex and the City movie when Charlotte, the worrier, stresses that things in her life are too good, that something bad is bound to happen. Carrie flashes her sly smile: “Sweetie,” she says, thinking back to the time Charlotte inadvertently drank contaminated water in Mexico, “you shit your pants this year. Maybe you’re done.” They all laugh. And Carrie was right about Charlotte. Shouldn’t she be right about us?

Shouldn’t we have been done after Australia caught on fire, after Kobe Bryant died, after Tiger King entered our homes and the coronavirus shut down our lives? Surely we should have been done after Harry and Meghan stepped down as senior royals, for heaven’s sake. But we weren’t. There came the threat of murder hornets, the real murder. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Hit after hit. We got to the point where a massive explosion in Beirut, one that displaced hundreds of thou- sands of people, was a mere blip, a brief eyebrow raise, a flick of the thumb as we scrolled.

This is the world my new baby found, but it won’t be the one she leaves. There is work to be done, my girl. And there is beauty to be found. There’s no quota on the bad stuff, sometimes it keeps hitting, but you are proof of good, of promise.

When your ten-year-old cousin first held you in his arms, he looked up and said, “I’ve caught fish bigger than this.”

All it took was eight pounds to redeem this year for us, to make it the best one we’ve known.

What power you have, just by living.