It's a quarantine, baby
How to welcome new humans during this most unusual time? An old-fashioned gift.
I became an aunt today.
Not biologically, but close enough.
Before I tell you about the baby, some backstory.
That’s my friend Bobby on the far left in the top picture. I’m as close to Bobby as anyone in my blood family. He’s my oldest friend from elementary school. We went to college together, but our chosen siblingship solidified in the years that followed, when I had Julian and he entered his own adventure: traveling around the world to study plants and the people who love them.
My friendship with Bobblehead, as my kids call him, is at the center of an intertwined “framily” tree that brings together several families in some really beautiful and unexpected ways. (That’s him dressed as Mark Twain on the far right in fourth grade.) When we all get together, it feels as much like a family reunion as any I’ve experienced with my own kin.
Last year, we got a new member of that extended family: Tiffany, Bobby’s longtime girlfriend whom he was scheduled to marry at a big party in May at UC-Davis. COVID cancelled those plans, but they were already married and planning a big move to Missouri, where Bob got his dream job teaching science at a small town university.
She was also already pregnant.
In August, during that sweet lull in the coronavirus, the boys and I drove up to Missouri to see my mom, and we got to meet Tiffany at one of those framily reunion events that are so special.
All summer, I’d been working on a surprise for this sister-in-law of sorts whom I hadn’t met yet: A quilt that I had started some five years earlier but sat unfinished on a pile of almost-forgotten projects.
Last year was supposed to be the year I finally finished all these almost-done quilts. Before the quarantine began, I finished two quilts for two friends named Kandice, and then just after the quarantine started, I improvised another blue-and-maroon quilt for another new baby I still haven’t met yet thanks to this awful year that held so much change for so many.
Tiffany and Bobby’s quilt was next in the queue, and I had a firm deadline to finish it.
Like so many of my quilts, it’s an improvised block quilt made with an assortment of squares and rectangles made from solid colors picked up on Saturday afternoon trips to Joann’s, used fabric from friends who are cleaning out their sewing closets or much-loved pieces of clothing that I want to work into something else.
That’s how an old toddler shirt, a yellow polka dot dress and an old pair of Old Navy boxer shorts that I used to wear all the time in college wound up in this queen-sized, gem-colored quilt that would be my offering to the Johnson family.
Working on this large quilt, I remembered why I’d been sticking with baby quilts recently. Smaller and more manageable in size, baby quilts are faster to finish. You can knock out the quilting and binding — those last two painstaking but essential steps — in a day or two. With a full quilt, which I’d only made once before, you’re managing yards and yards of fabric, hoping to keep everything lined up and squared just right so that when the quilt lays on a bed, it doesn’t end up a lumpy, crooked mess.
On those afternoons when I was ironing, pinning, measuring and re-measuring, I was thinking about Tiffany and Bobby and their pending pumpkin. My old dog, Shiva, would sneak onto the quilt anytime I wasn’t looking. I thought about Rocky, Bobby’s four-legged best friend who was his constant companion for so many years. Shiva’s final days were nearing, and I remembered the sadness in Bobby’s voice when he told me he had to put Rock Dog down.
I remember the excitement in his voice when he told me that Tiffany was pregnant. Nobody was supposed to know yet, but this news was too much to contain. I remembered calling Bobby when I found out I was pregnant with Julian 14 years earlier. Excitement was in my voice then, but I know he also heard the fear. I wasn’t ready to be a mom yet, but there I was, telling my friend that I was choosing this path anyway.
Bob came to visit Austin when I was in my last month with Julian in utero. We had New Year’s Day tacos at Torchy’s when it was just a trailer on South First Street and climbed to the top of Enchanted Rock, third trimester belly and all.
He’s been a steady presence over the years as my kids have grown into young men. He made the effort to come to Austin when he could, and we went out of our way to see him when we went to Missouri. He’s earned “uncle” status, carving out a special relationship with each of them that makes them feel safe enough to be totally themselves when we are together.
You can see why the boys were just as excited as I was to see Bobby and meet Tiffany.
I put the last touches on the quilt just before we packed up the car and headed north. A few days later, we were pulling up to Tiffany and Bobby’s new place. She met us at the front door, already in her second trimester and beaming. She could not have been warmer and kinder, and I knew immediately why Bobby had fallen so hard for her.
Bobby had already intuited that I was making them a wedding/baby quilt (so much for the surprise!), but in these moment of meeting Tiffany, I realized the quilt was really for her. Maybe all the baby quilts I’ve ever made are really for the mamas as a way to welcome them into this wonderful new world.
Babies birth mothers, too.
“We got a good one,” our friend Sally told me that weekend about Tiffany, and she was right.
We got to spend two days with Bobby, Tiffany and the rest of our Missouri kin, camping just outside town, so she, Bob and their little pup Marley could go back to her bed at the end of each night.
For the next five months, Tiffany and Bobby would nest in that little house awaiting the birth of their little one. Bobby started his new job. Northern Missouri’s warm fall gave way to a brittle winter. COVID-19 carried on.
And then on one of the coldest days, our framily tree grew again.
A baby who already has a whole crew of cousins and aunts and uncles who are so eager to meet him. A little boy who will be so, so loved in this life. A child who will sleep on a homemade quilt. A kid who will likely know how to identify every mushroom in the forest by the age of 10. A teen who knows he has an auntie in Texas he can visit whenever he wants.
These are the ties that bind.