My brother Thomas was devoted to my older daughter from the day she was born. Willa arrived on a snowy day in January of 1998. I can remember laboring overnight as the snow fell through the glow of street lights, reminding me of the view from the hotel in Reykjavik where I stayed in February of 1994 after missing my connecting flight to New York City on my way home from our time living and teaching in Namibia. I have very fond memories of the quiet of the hotel, the room lined with beautiful wood veneers, the glow of the snow through the streetlights, and the curious selection of Icelandic liqueurs in the fridge that clanked in my carry-on bag the next day. Ever since then, I’ve loved the way that snow dampens sound and glows at night.
On the day Willa was born, Seattle was blanketed in snow, which limited movement around the city. Our doctor, Trish, made her way to the hospital on First Hill in her SUV, stranding her partner in a grocery store in West Seattle for eight hours waiting in vain for a taxi home. We didn’t have family members pacing the halls or hanging out in the waiting room for word of the baby’s arrival. It was just us. Willa was born at 3:00 in the afternoon but we had a rough delivery so it took a while for the doctors to finish resuscitating her, cleaning her and bundling her up. And then, not long after she was born and safely swaddled, Willa had her first visitors. My brother Thomas and his girlfriend BrynDel set out that afternoon on foot, walking through the snow because they had a feeling there might be a baby to see. We hadn’t called him; he just sensed it so they walked to the hospital to check on us all.
Tommy visited Willa often when she was a baby and toddler. He held her, napped with her, volunteered to babysit so that Greg and I could go out, took her to parties with his friends, and also for walks in our neighborhood, on Capitol Hill, or around Green Lake.
One time, when Willa was in preschool, Tommy took Willa on an outing to Capitol Hill and brought her home carrying a goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water. I thought we’d been clear that we were a pet-free household by choice so I gave him a hard time about the fish. Tommy explained that he couldn’t say “No” because she’d asked for the fish. “Oh really,” I said, “and where were you when she asked for a goldfish?” The pet store.
We kept the goldfish. She was the first pet in our household but not the last, despite our firm belief that we didn’t want to have any pets at all. The trouble with the goldfish was that she, like the fish in the movie Amelie, was somewhat suicidal.
And like Amelie’s high strung mother, I found her repeated leaps from the bowl unnerving. I hated scooping up her damp, slippery, and flopping body from the floor and plunking her back into her bowl. When she leapt, I flapped my hands around like Wallace and hoped that Greg would channel Gromit and remedy the situation.
I can always rely on Greg. And I can rely on Tommy to bring a box filled with holes to a little girl’s birthday party or offer, endlessly, to buy her a real pet.
Offering: Two fish bowls with colored pebbles, goldfish not included.