In the Tarot, the Star card refers to an individual’s mission in life, the reason that the universe has caused that particular soul to exist. The Star points to our potential to create the divine, even in our day-to-day lives. It is a marker of our place in the cosmos and our contract with destiny.
She was born during the winter solstice, at a moment when the long darkness turns lighter and the year looks toward the renewal of life. Her name comes from the Latin word meaning “new” or “young,” but is more familiar as the astronomical term for a brightening star in space.
Nova arrived exactly a week after the tragic death of my brother, the first of his generation in our extended family to die. She comes when my own life is also changing dramatically, as old ways must finally be abandoned and new paths forward found. She is the first of the next generation for our family and the promise in her appearance was every bit like a new star appearing in a cold, clear winter sky, a sign of hope.
Just after Nova was born, I was standing in the delivery room listening to Scott, her father, telling me about the experience of seeing his first child come into the world. He said witnessing birth was like seeing the other side of death, and equally a mystery. In one case, you wonder where the person went. In the other, your breath is taken away by the question of where the person came from. I knew exactly what he meant. I had the same thoughts when each of my daughters appeared, new and utterly miraculous, in my arms. There is no other experience like it.
I am full of wonder as I watch my granddaughter’s first engagements with the world. She is a funny little thing who turns bright red from head to toe when she is angry at her own hunger. Once fed and calmed, she quietly explores the world through squinted eyes, looking, in turns, amazed, confused, and affronted by the stunning array of stimuli that she must learn to interpret.
Nova in utero, courtesy of sonogram. She is the firstborn of my firstborn. I am my mother’s firstborn. I think this is cosmic, even if it does sound like an old blues song
Though I know babies can recognize voices they knew in the womb, Nova is yet too young to make eye contact or discern a face, so she seems unaware that there are other creatures in her world and that we are the ones who feed, change, and comfort her. I am struck by the perceptual loneliness that must be an infant’s first experience.
Nova is not the tabula rasa she may seem, of course. Babies arrive as tight packages of DNA, drawn randomly from the combined gene pools of the mother and father. I can see that Nova’s eyes belong to her father and the shape of her mouth is my sister’s. But when that expression of mixed curiosity and contempt flits across her face, she looks so much like the great-aunts on my father’s side, I have to laugh. Her genes, as personality traits and bodily characteristics, will unfold through the future like time-release capsules, having a profound effect on who Nova is and how she lives.
At Providence’s Waterfire festival last summer, Caitlin, Scott, and I raised the blue star in the middle of this photo with wishes for a baby whose sex and name we did not yet know. Underneath are two luminaria, one dedicated to the memory of Scott’s father and the other to the memory of mine. At that moment, I thought it was a great blessing to launch this baby, whatever sex it might be, with the positive energies of these two good men.
Yet the practices of those families will also affect her. I find myself quoting my mother-in-law’s childcare tips, right along with my own mother’s, as Nova is diapered and fed and put to sleep. Much of my own parenting, though, was a reaction against the stern judgments and practices passed from my grandparents, through my mother and father, to me and my siblings. Of course, Nova’s mother will bring her own perspective, some of which will be a reaction to the way she was brought up. The same will be true of Nova’s father.
When I think of all these influences, genetic and practical, brought to bear on this moment, it is as if the history of family is pushing, crashing, through all of us who care for Nova and lifting her into the trajectory of her life. Yet Nova, as a unique composition of genetic material, as well as an individual spirit, ultimately will operate in a way largely independent of what we believe or want.
The path of this little star will be set by life choices uniquely hers to make. We can support and guide her, but the destiny is her own. I know this in my bones because I have been a parent. I learned, from hard experience, that a child is not a science experiment. No matter how you try to control for a preferred outcome, there are too many factors that can override your intentions. A child also is not an exercise in narcissism. No matter how much you may think of your daughter or son as an extension of yourself, they are always and forever who they really are (and will push back if you forget it).
Caitin calls this Nova’s 2001: A Space Odyssey picture. The Cocoonababy is a new invention for this generation of infants.
The ride can be rough, despite all efforts to protect our innocents. Unexpected and unwanted events will intrude upon the ideal story I might like Nova’s life to be. There will be deaths and accidents and recessions. And weird neighbors and stupid teachers and mean girlfriends. Her best protection will be learning to use her own strengths. She may be smart or creative or beautiful or athletic. She may have a strong moral compass or be blessed with a burning cause. These things will buoy her as she passes through the obstacle course that life inevitably presents. But the flight she maps with her talents, scruples, goals, and challenges will be her own individual journey.
I also know that this little person will be important to my life, a character in my narrative with a particular role to play, though I cannot envision that role now. Motherhood changed my life forever and, in the process, unexpectedly transformed me into a completely different person. That lesson taught me I cannot anticipate what Nova will mean for me, any more than I could ever have anticipated how profoundly important Caitlin and Eliza were to my life story.
Happy New Year to you all, from me—and from Nova.
So I am embracing Nova’s arrival as a harbinger of the new and the New Year, hoping for her future and my own, even though both are invisible to me at this moment. Somehow this little star lifts my spirits for the world, too, at a time when my country, especially, seems caught in the painful passage from the old ways to a new world. Tonight, we will all look into the starry sky of a winter night and hope to see our way to a brighter tomorrow.