Day 2 of potty training. It dawns on me that this task requires ALL of my attention, energy, presence. Once past the wailing resistance of the early morning hours, we reach an agreeable place, a sort-of fun game of turning off the timer and re-setting it. She says, “tick-tock, tick-tock.” The entire day is spent in 15-minute increments, conducive to little arts n’ crafts projects like cutting paper snowflakes while she paints, like pulling out the felt board, like finally cleaning out the toy closet in the den. It is not conducive to writing, submitting work, answering emails, or working on the photo albums I’ve procrastinated too long. It’s a day I find myself sitting on the bathroom floor in pajamas reading a Curious George book for the tenth time before resorting to blurry YouTube renditions of “Frosty the Snowman” on my phone to keep the kiddo on the potty. I have no idea what time it is, only that it’s 15 minutes from the last time I sat on the floor and read the book and watched the video. These are long days, my friends.
I think my baby has finally weaned. It hurts a little to write that, but I’m mostly okay with it. She only asked four times today. We may nurse again, we may not. It’s a slow letting go.
One of the things I love best about mothering is the way it hones instinct. Our natural response, that innate sense, is so often disrupted by the noise of modern life; being in tune with my child connects me to the truest part of myself, that deep knowing.
Coughing myself awake at 4:00 am means I can remember my dream (or parts of it anyway), and in it, I’m young, early twenties, and I can really feel it, the carefree wildness. It’s so strange the way everything was a lifetime ago and also two minutes ago and we keep all the pieces stored up in our bodies, our brains. There I was, here I am. And here’s the toddler who’s delighted I’m awake at this this dark and early hour. Cheerios for her, coffee for me. PBS cartoons, my crutch. I was going to type, “now let’s see how much I can write before 6:00 am,” but I’m already pouring more Cheerios and then getting the cats’ brushes because now is a good time for us to sit on the rug and brush out Buddha’s mats, or knots, or as my daughter says, “Does Buddha have snots? I’m trying to get his snots out.” That one makes me laugh so hard, I can’t bring myself to correct her. Her pronunciation has become so clear, I already miss the days she would say “fwuh-guh” for squirrel. I repotted a spider plant clipping my sister gave me ages ago, and now it sits on the table, my new writing companion. It’s amazing, the energy of one small plant. I opened an old Word doc this morning in my early-morning haziness, something I’d written back in May during the Spring workshop. I’d abandoned it back then. It seemed disjointed. I’d let the writing flow without worrying about where it would end up. I don’t remember much of the feedback, except the suggestion it was probably two different pieces. Reading it this morning, I was surprised at how much clarity I found within it. I can see where I was trying to go. A good reminder that you have to put things aside for a good while and return with fresh eyes. It takes time.
I used to wish I was from the Midwest, where people speak in gentler tones and kindly turns of phrase. When I was young, I thought it would be fun to be in TV commercials and wished we lived in California, preferably Hollywood. After spending a week in the waves on Block Island, I thought it would be romantic to live in an isolated community out in the middle of the sea. I was always dreaming of somewhere else.
Even now, I imagine different places, different lives. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you want to follow the path into the woods, turn to page 61. If you want to venture into the cave, turn to page 21.
And that’s as far as I got this morning when I began this post, before the day spooled out in ten different directions. Certain items on my list resist being checked-off, mainly those that require sustained attention, like writing my friend T a letter for her 40th birthday, which was a month and a half ago. Determined to finish and mail it, I wrote the letter in scraps of time throughout the day.
I started to write about our road trip, the one we’d always dreamed of as little girls. We played her dad’s 60s records, Joe Cocker, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and imagined driving out to California in a VW bus. As it turned out, we chugged along in her ’86 Volvo over the course of a month from New Mexico through Arizona to southern Cali, camped in Joshua Tree. In San Diego a friend took us across the border to Rosarita and Tijuana. Then we headed up through Cali. L.A., the Pacific Coast Highway, the Redwood Forest, Yosemite, Death Valley. Then we cut back in to Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah, past Shiprock and back home to Santa Fe.
I know, I’m listing all the places and skipping the stories. But anyway, I was writing memories to her like, remember when we drove away with the book of CDs on the roof of the car in Joshua Tree and lost all our music? Think about that for a minute. A month on the road, desolate highway stretches with no radio signal–and when I say signal I mean antenna. We had one cassette tape, a 70s disco mix from college, and damn if disco doesn’t still make me think of winding our way around the sharp curves of Pacific Coast Highway at night.
And then I wrote, remember how we read Barbara Kingsolver out loud in the tent at night by flashlight or in the car on those afternoons the road seemed to go on forever? We read Small Wonder, and I want to say we had The Bean Trees along with us, too. Or maybe I’m just remembering The Bean Trees because we both loved it so much as teenagers. Either way, I’d forgotten all about Kingsolver and reading aloud to each other until I began writing her that letter. That’s the funny–and magical–thing about writing. You can have an idea about what you’re going to say, an idea about what you think you remember, but when you set pen to paper, you will surprise yourself every time.
I swear I’m going to start doing yoga again. Nap time would be ideal, but that’s when I write. And yoga-with-toddler means I transform into a human jungle gym.
I’ve tried many different yoga routines and DVDs over the years, and I’ve practiced at various centers and studios. But my favorite, the one that dwells in my muscle memory, is Yoga Mind & Body, featuring the lovely Ali McGraw and guided by yoga master Erich Schiffman. It’s been uploaded to YouTube if you want to check it out.
I love everything about Yoga Mind & Body: the series of poses and overall flow, the setting (I’m pretty sure it’s filmed at White Sands, New Mexico), Schiffman’s melodic voice, and the music. After completing the routine, you feel like you’re floating. It’s also where I learned ujjayi breathing, which I return whenever I’m searching for my center.
Once upon a time it was a dusty VHS tape at my mom’s house that I discovered during the summer of ’96, the summer I had mono and slept on the couch, didn’t eat for two months, and watched Mrs. Doubtfire five hundred times in sporadic moments of consciousness. To rebuild my strength, I practiced the yoga routine every day, sometimes twice a day, and I fell in love with how it made me feel both while I was performing the poses and afterward. It seems even more important to practice it now.
Anyone else out there with a favorite yoga routine and/or guide?
Pre-nostalgia. Some nights, like last night, when I am at the library, I get a text with a picture. And I am reminded that, no matter what challenges we’re feeling right now, we are also inside one of the sweetest moments in time. Pause. Look. Breathe.
My in-laws are in town for a visit and today we took Isabella to the aquarium. The place was teeming with families and summer campers. We made our way in, past the hoopla of a play area with a giant blow-up shark.
As we walked through the rooms of tanks, I felt submerged. It was dark and cool and somehow quiet, even with so many children everywhere. Peaceful and dream-like. Jellyfish and sharks and giant sea turtles.
Eventually we returned to the bright light, sea lions diving and then popping up, little snouts sniffing the air, to which Isabella said, “God bless you, sea lion!” Outside in the thick heat, we entered the butterfly exhibit. She was overwhelmed by the myriad wings fluttering all around us. Butterflies alighting on my arms and shoulders.
We made one more round through the dark and dreamy tanks before we left. Even on this day spent indoors, I am writing about water. It seems to reappear and repeat. So too, with my daughter. This project is supposed to be about me, but here she is again, always with me. If I was looking for a delineation of the border between us, I haven’t found it. I look for me, and I find us.
And I find happiness.
Yesterday I took this picture of myself. Every once in awhile, when I’m feeling invisible, submerged, I’ll snap a selfie. I never post it; it just sits in the vast archive on my phone. A record of me, visible. Toddler behind me in her car seat wondering why the heck I’m delayed in unbuckling her.
Hot, sticky August. A family reunion on my mom’s side, up north on a lake lined with pines, rocky outcroppings with rope swings. My mother’s people are genuine and kind. It’s all easy conversation and laughter.
Today everyone was in the water, splashing, playing games, paddle boarding, jumping off the dock. I swam with my little fish, and then swam way out by myself, and then again with my cousin Grace. Later we went out on the boat. Early evening sun beating low and strong. Music playing. Wind whipping our hair. My beautiful sisters sitting across from me. Pure happiness. We jumped off the boat into the deep water. I was in heaven.
And now I’m dead tired in that wonderful waterlogged way. My favorite day of summer so far.
One of the biggest shifts that’s occurred since the inception of this project: I no longer get trapped in regret. I had a habit of cycling through memory, ruminating about every wrong turn I’ve ever taken.
Tonight I thought, my eyes are ahead. And I remembered a song I used to listen to when I lived in the city, headphones on, the soles of my flats worn thin, my hand gripping a greasy subway pole, surfing the rhythm of a B train racing downtown, fearlessly barreling into the future.
On the heels of a 3-day migraine, toddler finally over the cranky rash-virus, no plans with friends, no additional children to care for, no essay due, no freelance project, just emails to answer. A blank white calendar square. The to-do list, half on paper, half in my head, is forgotten. Struggling to wean, big fat milk ducts bulging and achey. She naps briefly, then we head to the playground, where she races to the swings, cherub-cheeked smile under the brim of her hat, whooshing through the air. I capture the swing and say “1-2-3 blast off!” before releasing it. She laughs and laughs. Running, sliding, exploring. Her legs, longer now, climb with greater ease. My wobbly baby is suddenly surefooted. Suddenly, suddenly, that’s how they evolve. She scrambles up some steps and has her face in what appears to be poison ivy or sumac before I can reach her, so that decides it. We head home where I sit her on the counter and rub the last of the Tecnu soap all over her cheeks and arms while she says, “It’s okay, mommy, don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” And then for good measure, I put her in the bath. And after the bath I squirt breastmilk, cure-all, on her face and she laughs, “milk sprinkler!” We take a long walk in the hot sun with her new trike and she practices pedaling. Eventually, eventually, we arrive at the ice cream shop. I get chocolate and she gets vanilla and we share. The day’s delicious sweet spot. Both of us covered in sticky ice cream drips. When it’s time to go, she’d like to stay. Coaxing doesn’t work. I carry her a bit as she wails, then set her back down on the trike, where she continues to wail under the bright sun for the entire 30 or 40 minutes it takes to slowly walk home. And then it’s okay. We drink water. Her big brown eyes, they kill me. Her wispy hair. I kiss her cheeks and her neck, smell of baby and sweet sweat and ice cream. So in love, so in love with my girl.
That was the afternoon, lovely and exhausting. I wonder, does it sound like nothing? And then I think, who cares? I know if I read this three years from now, I’ll be grateful to my younger self for trying to the find the words, for taking the time to describe it, for capturing a slice of day in all its tiny glory.