rip·ple (ˈripəl), v.t. [RIPPLED (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob. < rip, v. + -le, freq. suffix], 1. to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze. 2. to flow with such waves or movements on the surface. 3. a) to make a sound like that of rippling water. b) to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound. v.t. 1. to cause to ripple. 2. to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n. 1. a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water. 2. a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3. a sound like that of rippling water. 4. a small rapid. –SYN. see wave.
That summer, I attend aqua aerobics classes with a handful of elderly women, where I can float and swim with no crowds. Their soft, saggy upper arms wiggle as we raise plastic dumbbells overhead. I find childlike delight in the water. I wonder if you feel as buoyant in your amniotic fluid as I do in the pool. Sometimes I have to stop moving and stand still because the intermittent waves of morning sickness don’t combine well with the splashes and slaps of the water as we bounce up and down with our foam noodles.
My doctors are ultrasound crazy. I see you on the screen many times and imagine waves of sound moving around your body. At thirteen weeks, your tiny arms curl and uncurl on the screen, and I see that your vertebrae have unfurled down your spine with precision.
You travel to many places that summer. We circle the continent in our comings and goings, making loops back and forth between Houston and more beautiful places. Your father and I trace our history and at the same time turn outward to imagine our future, turning to places we’ve already been, and some we haven’t, wondering what travel and life will be like once you arrive.
In New Mexico, I sit on the edge of the hotel bathtub and run mountain-cold water over my dusty feet. The sand from my toes is carried down the tub drain by small ripples. I buy tiny, sweet strawberries at the Santa Fe farmer’s market. Miniscule seeds speckle their red flesh, beginning in a tight whorl at the tip of each berry and spiraling out into wider rings toward the stem. On the way to Taos, we stop at a state park. I stand and watch a small, clear stream running over its rocky bottom while your dad hikes up to a raging waterfall. He shows me a picture of it later, water pounding in a steady rage over a cliff.
In South Dakota, your dad and I walk deep into the woods behind Pactola Lake, following the course of Rapid Creek. He finds the biggest slate pieces he can lift and swings them into the moving water. They crash loudly on the stream’s surface before sinking to the bottom, the impact sending small circular waves toward the banks. I don’t know why he thinks this is so amusing. Ferns are unfurling themselves along the forest floor, tips tightly closed as they lean upward and unroll themselves toward the sun.
In Minnesota, I do the dishes when we visit my mom, your grandma. She’s only 56, but her dementia is moving quickly. Sometimes she will pick up the dishrag and dip it into and out of the soapy water, drops puddling back into the sink from the soaked rag. We visit the largest farmer’s market I’ve ever seen – stands of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and baked goods march onward in even rows.
In Oregon, we rise early, at low tide, and chase to the shore as I did fourteen years previous. The waves flatten on the wide beach. Each footstep in the shallow water makes a lovely splish-splash. I scan the beach for sand dollars, wanting to find them before the flat waves that brought them in carry them back out. Mesmerizing patterns cover the beach, ripples in the sand replicating the ripples of water that have disappeared. Rivulets begin to run into the tide pools as the morning moves toward noon.
In Pennsylvania, we baptize another godchild. She is dunked three times into the large metal font, water splashing up and beyond the lip, white towels already piled around the base. Their folds rise and fall along the floor. In less than a year, it will be your turn for this ancient immersion.
Your limbs move visibly across my stomach as you turn inside. Some women call their contractions waves. I suppose they do start slowly and then build in intensity as a wave does, and to me, they are as violent as the waves we saw pounding a rocky shore in Maine, water still pouring out of the clefts as each new wave came in. I wanted to use a tub for at least part of my labor, but medical interventions make that impossible. We watch the undulations of my contractions on the screen, another line below charting the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat. The two lines are not as synchronized as they should be. I wear a mask, oxygen flowing into my lungs, not for myself but to try to help you. They break my water, thinking it will speed labor. White towels are put out to catch the stream. A photo shows the doctor grasping you as you emerge, a circle of fluid radiating around your head.
You sleep next to me at home and little pools of milk spread out in circles on the sheets. You nurse and then rest, nurse and then rest, rhythmically swallowing. Blue-white milk streams down your chin and onto your neck.
Two weeks old, you relax visibly as the warm water I pour over your scalp trickles down your shoulders. Eighteen months later, you still want me pour water over you in the tub, protesting with a little grunt when I stop. You are mesmerized by the thin cascades of water running down your skin. You hold your hands under the hose as water sprays in a circle onto the perennials, wiggle your fingers in the dog’s water bowl. You pick up the bowl and dump it onto the floor into a huge spreading puddle if I don’t catch you in time.
Each month of your life expands my own, rings of experience and memory growing bigger with time, carrying the three of us forward just as the flattened waves in Oregon slide sand dollars out of the ocean depths and onto the level sand, into the wide open.
I wrote this essay a while back. It originally appeared here.