There are small universes inhabiting each individual, and being a parent I’ve had the opportunity to learn (or perhaps re-learn) how to plumb these. Today my daughter looks over my shoulder while I’m online scrolling through some sewing pictures or some such thing; I absently ask her, “Did you brush your teeth yet?” She is pretty good at impassivity but I can tell by the merest flicker of her eyelashes that she has not in fact performed this morning ritual. It’s kind of crazy that every minute of the day I can know somebody so well, although I often don’t marvel on it.
Before our morning trip to do the things we want to do, we tell the kids they have to dress and clean themselves up then work with us on some household chores. Every day but Sunday Sophie walks down to pick up our mail at the PO Box, one of those errands I genuinely dislike and am glad to have a free-ranging kid to perform. After she returns home this morning the kids help us around the house happily enough for a while for a while (Nels in the kitchen with Ralph; Sophie accompanying me folding laundry, changing bedding, and sweeping); eventually though they are wailing through the torture of household work. It’s kind of funny, because my daughter’s desperate, dramatic sobs perfectly embody how I so often feel on the inside when I’m doing the same chores.
By noon I’m hungry and Ralph has the fridge torn apart to clean it. Even if it was easy to cook at home, I’m obsessing on Sweet and Sour Chicken at the local Chinese restaurant (a charming establishment still sporting 60’s Chinese American restaurant style decor). Yeah, so, Sweet and Sour Chicken is probably one of the only things I eat that I kind of feel bad about eating (especially as a humane chicken farmer). But damn, it’s just so good.
The kids are often annoyed by being forced to sit through restaurant meals (I think they get this from their father) and instead they want to go to the library. Now, it’s taken me a shockingly long time as a mom to realize I don’t like doing a certain amount of the things my children enjoy, and hey that’s okay, and what’s more, I don’t have to feel terrible if I don’t do everything possible to make it all work out for them. So instead of arguing with them about the order of business (“I need food!” I have tearfully whined on too many occasions before), or forcing them to sit through my meal, or dragging myself resentfully and famished to the library, I tell them I’ll walk them to the library and leave them there. I will continue on the block to eat at the diner, and their father will pick them and then myself up for grocery shopping when he’s done with the fridge.
I know this sounds like no big deal but if you have little kids you may recognize this is in fact a very big deal. A chapter in our day where everyone is getting their (different) needs met, without sacrifice on the parts of the other members of the family. I am still, truth be told, defragging from years of programming that tell me I need to be right next to my progeny, every minute of the day. I mean they might get abducted or dart in front of a bulldozer or (heaven forbid!) be loud enough to annoy some entitled, assholian grownup who truly subscribes to the “seen and not heard” adage. But let me tell you, having active, smart kids who can tackle the world on their own here and there? It’s just goddamned priceless – for all of us.
It’s a beautiful day for a walk: warm but with a cool breeze, the slightest wet kind of warmth that borders on the humid. Nels drops the two large slippery hardback books I’ve entrusted him to carry. One of them is a copy of the book Julie and Julia and seeing this, he exclaims “Mama! But you love this book!” (actually I’d really wanted to like it but found it decidedly un-gripping). I tell him well, I finished the book, and I’m going to read something else now. Specifically this is a copy of Moby-Dick, my latest book and film miniature obsession. Enjoying a meal and reading in the day time? By myself? Who’d have thought?
We continue down the broken sidewalks of my hometown (no seriously, these sidewalks are rough as hell) and on to the library. I leave them there and spend what ends up being a lovely lunch – the aforementioned chicken fresh hell accompanied by fried rice, vegetarian sub gum chow mein, hot tea and a cozy noodle soup – reading my Melville and feeling my humanity warming up my core, like the embers on a slow fire.