Parenting A Pregnancy, a Pandemic, and a Pear Tart
When I first discovered I was pregnant, we were deep into a very strange spring.
I line up my flour (all-purpose), salt (kosher), butter (cold), and ice water (even colder) on the kitchen counter, a row of mismatched soldiers standing ready beside my glass mixing bowls. The pears from the orchard wait quietly in their basket on the windowsill. An apricot-sized foot, having recently finished growing all of its toenails, nudges and prods at the inside of my belly. I smile. I measure the flour and salt into the largest bowl.
When I first discovered I was pregnant, we were deep into a very strange spring. It was May, and all of the buds outside our windows had already bloomed. A canopy of petals, quivering on their branches with impatience for the moment of release: when they could finally let go and move freely through the world, raining gleefully down onto our heads, our car hoods, our flowerbeds, our fence posts, our rooftops. We had all been, of course, trapped under those rooftops of ours since March. Our new objective in life was to protect our bodies and the bodies of others, by keeping them all apart (a challenge that only the most privileged among us would even be granted the space and the resources to meet). The idea of creating a new body, of shepherding it into the world and then loving it in the tidal and bottomless way in which I was loved by my body’s own creators, was hard to grasp. So, too, was the enormity of the gulf between my unearned ability to grow a family safely, and the suffering of so many others trying only to do the same—a gulf that would widen immeasurably as the virus spread.
I don’t have a pastry cutter, so I use two forks to cut in the chilled butter, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal. I spoon the ice water into the bowl, as the pieces come together into a dough. The baby kicks away as my dog wanders through the kitchen, weaving herself between my legs and sniffing hopefully at the tile, the way that sparrows, those white-throated little optimists, crowd the bird feeder in our yard even when it’s empty. I bend to scratch the dog’s head in apology for the absence of dropped crumbs, happy memories of which compel her to return again and again to the same old licked-clean spots.
As May softened into June, which then baked itself into July, I took myself and my new passenger, stowed safely away, on long walks and cold swims through the parts of Maine that had composed the whole world of my own barefooted, sunburnt childhood—Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot land. Fields of lupines and low-bush blueberries, sea-smoothed shells and pebbles underfoot, the smell of pine needles thrown onto campfires and the sounds of the gulls and chickadees calling overhead; all of it forced a return of my senses to the summers when I myself was carried on backs, and fed by hand, and taught to love the world.
I preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set to work slicing the pears. When the slices fill two cups, I pour them into a bowl, adding a drizzle of maple syrup.
The day I felt the first kick, faint and birdlike and just to the left of my navel, two million acres of forest had already burned. Friends on the West Coast were sending me photos of orange-dark skies. In states bordering theirs, infants separated from their mothers lay crying on foil blankets, their diapers unchanged and their faces unwashed and the wiring of their soft small brains already rearranging itself. The new sensation pulled me, wet-cheeked, from a news graphic mapping my county’s Covid-19 infection rates.
I remove the leaves from two sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle them onto the pears and the syrup.
In August, on a masked walk in the woods with my mother, I let her reach for my growing belly, her eyes filling with light as she placed both hands on the hill of her grandchild. It was the first time we had touched since March.
I roll the dough flat between two sheets of floured wax paper, until it’s ¼-inch thick. The rolling pin is unwieldy in my hands, loose and creaky-jointed, having inhabited musty cabinets and attics across generations of my family. I sprinkle cornmeal onto a baking sheet and carefully transfer the dough, mending the inevitable dents, rips, and tears my fingers make in the process.
September into October, a blur of cool nights and wood smoke. The yellow of the birches and the honey locusts melted seamlessly into the brilliant coppers and reds of the oaks and maples. My husband picked sunflowers, brought me wool socks to warm my feet when I was too exhausted to cross from the bed to the dresser, carved wooden spoons for the baby. We painted the nursery white, like the snow that would be falling outside its windows when we brought our child home. I lay awake each night, thinking of armed militias and starved polar bears and Senate hearings. Terrified of the world into which we were bringing this helpless new being.
I spoon the pears into the center of the dough and gather the edges up around the fruit. I fold the crust roughly toward the center, marveling at the asymmetry, at the lovely, raw, unfinished mess of my tart. I feel another flutter move diagonally across my belly as I slide the baking sheet into the oven.
Soon the tart will emerge, golden and bubbling. Soon it will be winter. Soon three of us will live here. A new body, a new set of small hands which will help to pick the pears, to roll the dough, to mark the seasons, to tell the stories.
To make something new.