The way Lux blew off my requests for help, and yelled at me in the park that evening. Then, when I explained there would be no ipad during quiet time tomorrow as a consequence, she said “you’ll forget you said that.” The way she didn’t blink when I then told her she was going to bed early. Joan, wide-eyed in the face of her audacity, but huffing and nodding her own disapproval at my decrees. How Lux had declined to use the bathroom fifteen minutes earlier but now she had to go, thus we couldn’t stay out in the golden light any longer.
I was annoyed at myself for once again taking her at her word that she didn’t need to go, and now the result that I had to pick Alma up off the green grass where she’d been lolling in the soft evening light, the sun casting just enough shadow over the side of her face.
I texted Joe that they would absolutely both be in bed by 6:30. So there! I said to myself. It’s so sad, we’ve worked hard, and yet, here look: raised such terrors, I said to myself. Dramatic texts are a trademark release of mine. After we got home, I asked them to help me tidy the apartment, they refused and I said they were welcome to sit in their room then. Behind their door I heard the contented murmurs of duplo-construction and shared blocks. I relaxed at bit in the silence and felt–perhaps they hadn’t been that bad? Thinking of my text to Joe, I realized I had probably exaggerated my case. When exactly had it started to feel like too much? 5pm on the dot? Nearly all of it was an ivy of reactions tethered to their fatigue, a tiredness I had been fully aware of, a soft vine working slowly across our day.
I remembered that morning unexpectedly seeing Lux flit by my door at 6am, nearly two hours before she’s usually up, already in a princess dress with a crown on her head. She was playing some game that involved secrecy and light steps, and I was only awake because Alma had woken up. Then Lux woke Joan up to join her, an hour or so before Joan would have woken up on her own. Soon I saw them both flitting by, Joan blurry and barely tracking what was going on, but devoted to the imaginary heist, dazed as she was.
I had left Alma on the bed next to Joe and went for a run in the perfectly cool morning air. The world for thirty minutes was cheerful running music and a steady chain of joggers keeping lines on the sidewalk along the river. I came back certain that the thing to do was for all of us to head straight outside. But it was two hours before we got out, between feeding Alma and doing the breakfast dishes, after they opened a package of saltines with their scissors, cheerfully munching and chatting like old friends at the golf club lunchroom, absentmindedly scattering half the contents in the form of crumbs on the floor—a ready picnic for the ants I’ve been trying to keep at bay.
Finally we got outside before lunch. Then everything was so beautiful and finally sunny after a week of rain, the park grass seemed cleaner and greener than ever—the gazebo, the coffee shop, the merry-go-round, the playground, everything beckoned—that we stayed out too long, deep into nap time.
On the walk home Joan sat down on the corner of an intersection and mumbled to the bricks that she couldn’t walk anymore. I smiled sympathetically and shrugged my shoulders at her, what I could I do? I couldn’t carry her. I sensed a message in the glances of the people skirting our scene: how’s she gonna handle this? She’s carrying a baby and now the little one is sitting on the ground. Naturally it did no good for me to repeat aloud that this was why I had said we shouldn’t go to the playground after all. Nonetheless I too murmured it to the bricks, and the girls looked at me, mystified at my evoking a conversation from an hour ago—nearly ancient history! If I had known that going in—why had I let it happen? Why hadn’t I insisted we head home when I knew the time was right? Because it was so beautiful out, Lux was begging to go, and I loved the idea of the girls running and climbing for just a few more minutes. Finally Joan hopped up and started walking again,and we made it back.
It seems I am the chosen jurist for everyone deliberating another child. Friendly moms I do not know sidle up to me. They’ve noted the two children, and now, the belly. They make small talk, then get to it: “yeah, so, how did you decide to go for that?” “What?” I ask innocently, “three?”
“I mean, we’re debating. We’ve been talking about it, over and over again. But you know—more kids means bigger car, bigger house, right? And the plane tickets! And what about hotel rooms? Do they let you bring three kids into a hotel room?”
I am truly the worst consultant they could resource this pro bono work to. I genuinely haven’t given thought to half the concerns they’re studiously mulling over. It wasn’t until I was 4 months into this pregnancy that my friend pointed out, to my surprise, that we wouldn’t all fit into a taxi anymore. “You think you can, and then you can’t,” she firmly said of families of five.
But instead of bringing their debate to a reasonable well-researched person of able body and mind, they’ve unwittingly stumbled on an aging Irish Catholic grandmother in the body of a petite Midwestern thirty-year-old. “Well, it’s so much better for later in life.” I state with authority. “You know—more in-laws. More phone calls. More grandchildren.” Their eyes mist a bit and they’re tracking along with the pretty picture of a quiet cozy living room inundated with telephone calls.
Then I pull out one of my darker rationals: “Just think of the burden you’ll be on them if there’s only two.” They frown, with an absent look in their eyes. Perhaps my maniacal glint of hormone-fueled-procreation goes too far on that one. Though, I’ve found I am not the only one who leans towards the darker side of these discussions. “The way they’re dying these days, you should just keep going. I mean–those motorcycles!” remarked a retired nurse to me the other day (somewhat surreally, as the girls and I licked our ice cream cones in the sun).
Clearly these are two sides of the same trippy mental coin: to me, they seem overwrought with controlling their current circumstances in a way that won’t pay off: is life with two kids actually going to be magically easier? Didn’t they already exchange so much of “normal life” just by having those two? If their lives are better with two personalities, why wouldn’t they be exponentially better with three? I guess at root I doubt the accuracy of meticulously measuring out elements of their life.
And on the other side of the coin, I have built my daily outlook on a prediction for thirty years from now. I would be wise to remember that I might not even be around then, and zen to recall that it is THIS moment, the chaotic, daily, non-stop child-rearing one, is the one that matters most anyway.
The trouble for these folks is that they walked up to me in a state of uncertainty. I have many friends firmly in the only one camp or only two camp. I’ve listened carefully to their reasoning and admire their vision. I would never attempt to argue them out of their position, nor would I think my position offered them anything. Often I think of the Bible stories involving women begging God for just one child–take sweet, elderly Elizabeth and Zachariah for example. The gift of one life-changing child is not to be lightly brushed over. As kids, my sister and I relished joining in the relative peace of our neighbor’s home–a family of four. Things seemed calm and full of possibility over there, with lots of extra craft supplies and snacks to boot.
Where’s this all going? A medley makes the world go round. Just don’t ask the old Irish lady at the playground for advice.
In between forgetting to slather on sunscreen and forgetting to comb anyone’s hair, I can’t get this thought out of my head—how do you teach gratefulness?
I’m not expecting them to grab the spray bottle every morning and clean the floors but the four year old also doesn’t have any specific daily tasks assigned to her. More often it is a request to “run and grab your water bottle for me” or “help Joan move the chair over here” which she does very willingly.
I also ask Joan, the two-year old, to pick up things or put something back after she drags it out. Usually she frowns at me and says, “no…can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Still reading,” said while she stares vacantly off at a wall. “Mama do it.”
Her young knack of disregard, the blithe ease with which she shrugs off my request makes me half-smile for a second and then feel overwhelmed with annoyance.
Sample day of the girls’ last week: wake up, eat breakfast, and a friend comes over. Pull out all the dress-up stuff, play dress-up changing clothes every 15 minutes for a couple hours. Share mini-ice cream cones. Have lunch, share another mini-ice cream cone. Make art in the art room with washi tape and pastels. Have a quiet time where Joan naps and Lux gets to watch her favorite 25 minutes of Octonauts. Wake up, help mom make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, snacking all the while. Play in the living room alternating their fighting/sharing/loving/
complaining song-and-dance while mom makes more food and does all the dishes. Mom packs a picnic and head outside for the last couple hours of the day, armed with food, balls, and a picnic blanket. Come home, read stories, go to bed.
Are things getting too idyllic? Am I a flourishing event planner with a preschool speciality–a flare for the lighthearted and festive? This is not an exceptional day in the life of the Ringenberg girls. I could pull from any other day of that week and list the pleasures—activity, food, activity, game.
As a stay-at-home mom in the city equipped with modern conveniences in my home, I am free to do this stuff with them. If we do laundry on the weekends, I clean for roughly thirty minutes of every day, and I cook for maybe an hour (but that’s by-myself-time in a good way). Are there so few demands on my schedule that I’m turning their daily lives into some kind of bucolic Disneyland? (Bucolic is the very word doesn’t apply though. They are not running in the fields picking wildflowers and chasing cow tails. They are gently fingering flowers grown in window boxes hanging over the sidewalk, reminded to touch, but not pick.)
But no matter how idyllic, I still have a four-year old who complains to me about her day. She asks “But mom, why can’t we go on the merry go round again?” “Why no lemonade/candy/ice cream today?” It must seem to her that we could do anything, if only I would just set my mind to it. And largely my explanations aren’t logical, they must seem almost whimsical to her—we aren’t having ice cream because we’re having dessert tonight. We don’t buy lemonade every day, only some days.
Isn’t her approach a little of what we encourage in Americans, especially American consumers? Ask for more, see what else you can get, fight for what you deserve–a refund in full, receipt be damned. I wonder how many times a day I model those values to the girls instead of Christian ones: love all, the last shall be first, put others before yourself, come humbly before God.
A few days ago, while washing dishes, I examined the contents of the sink and realized I could probably teach Lux to wash the morning load with a few tries. Later, when Joan was napping, I heralded it with trumpets as a new project and Lux took it on cheerfully. The floor was doused with soapy water and it took twenty more minutes than it would have taken me, but it was entirely successful.
But then I haven’t remembered to follow up and ask her to do it agin in the days since.
I dug out the letters my mom wrote to me on my birthday each year (I know! another post for another time), and found the one from when I turned four. She writes that my older brother and I were talking turns emptying the dishwasher and setting the table at that point. I was the second born so she had more time to figure it out, just as Joan has more expected of her than Lux did. (Mostly socially though—she’s expected to apologize, to share, to take turns. Things I didn’t ask of Lux at two.)
But gratefulness is such an undercurrent in a personal ocean. Its presence is so easily overpowered by the waves of needs and wants that lap steadily. It’s hard to feel its tug, even harder to distill it, and show it to another.
For awhile now Lux has told us of her fears. They weren’t there, and suddenly–snap–there they are. Or they were there, but she couldn’t articulate them quite as clearly as “That is scary to me.” They were initially almost comical in their tiny, specific scope: the sound of the water pipes in the bathroom, dried seaweed at the beach, tree roots that look oddly alive in the grass. They seem to pass over the weeks like overcast skies, never staying for long, just acknowledged, frowned at, and then quickly forgotten.
And yet they are sobering for me to hear from her, in the depth of consciousness they signify—the murky underlayer I will never truly know or predict or control. It reminds me of when I began to worry with my mom-friends if our infants were capable of having nightmares. Is it possible? we said to ourselves, when one of them had woken up crying furiously.
Lux continues to be mildly obsessed with skeletons in any form, mostly dinosaurs and human ones. (Hence the gift of a package of x-rays for her 3rd birthday.) And I’m all about those bones too. But she happened to fall in love with an idea that people take and twist. They pop-up randomly as we adventure around town: over-the-top halloween junk, a poster for a moody band, a book meant for twelve-year-olds not preschoolers, sci-fi magazines at the drug store. Gory, creepy, scary skeletons.
She likes the friendly ones and I get possessive when we encounter the scary ones, their articulation altered ever-so-slightly to ruin them. It was OUR skeleton and YOU PERSON ruined it. It WAS innocent and awesome, and YOU MARKETING OBSESSED NINJA blew it.
On top of her minor passing fears, there’s the ever-present concern not to transmit fears of mine to her.
I’m sure at one point in human history this was an important aspect of maternal education—watch out for cougar tracks as they will eat you. But these modern days it seems more important not to mention my personal fears. They will only slow her down. A girl afraid of snakes? Do we really need another one of those? I squashed a brown scaly spider crawling near Joan and went to scoop it up with a tissue. Lux said she wanted to do it. I was impressed, but also wanted to intervene–did she get the pinch-n-dump maneuver this situation was calling for? Did she see how crawly and weirdly dried up this thing was? I remained totally nonchalant and stepped back. “Sorry Mr. Spider, you can’t crawl near Joan” she said, and dropped him into the bin. She walked away and never mentioned it again.
I think the appearance of fear really shakes parents because when do you grow out of fears, really? They stick with you; greasy fingerprints of something that passed by once. Your own subconscious murmur, representing the unpredictable things that got through to you. Later in life they help you empathize with others, they are one of the quickly-built bridges that can connect two strangers almost instantly. “Oh, I was afraid of those too!” goes the refrain.
I remember as a kid being deeply afraid that my parents didn’t have any money. I would tell myself that they way we had lived that day was a farce, and tomorrow they would tell us it was all over. These thoughts always occurred to me at night when I was falling asleep. My mom would come in and reassure me that it wasn’t the case. Looking back, I can see that this might have been an early predictor of my habit to get the “big picture” or step back from situations and see what I can solve before everyone else. I thought I knew more than everyone else around me about what was happening around us. I still often think that.
Lux is turning out to be a brave soul, Tolkien style. Mighty little, mighty ambitious. She seems to seek out frightening things until she understands them. “Mom, I like scary things,” she tells me constantly, as we read of Carabosse, the evil fairy in Sleeping Beauty, for the 30th time. As we read and re-read, different elements seem to step into her mental spotlight. They are examined, pivoted, and then they step away and something new steps in. I’ve always had a soft spot for writers who laud the value of fairy tales–Einstein, L’Engle, Chesterton, Neil Gaimon. I couldn’t do the true Grimm tales because of the incredibly unique violence they introduce (or just yet, at least? I do respect their place in the canon). But the wisdom of encountering malicious forces coming head-to-head with the common girl, that rings true.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned but I think it is particularly important to encounter these tales in their written form. That way your imagination can only take you as far as you’re ready. For me as a kid, all of Disney’s enemies were just a bit too much. A few treads too far on the sinister track.
Lately I’m more grateful to hear what Lux is afraid of. Now that I’ve seen the fears wave up and subside, I don’t have that panic of it’s my fault! I should never have…They give me glimpses of the odd discomforts that stuck in her brain, and they give me a chance to talk over something that might have happened too quickly. They are windows into what she is still thinking about from the days that seem to fly by us.
There are many ways November tells you you can’t do it, beginning with the election days. Find yourself attached to a small item on the ballot, just a flimsy thing that seemed like a good idea, only to find it scorned by most of your state. It’s passively discouraging.
There’s also something unfathomable about a shift in weather and we worry we can’t make the leap. I’m missing the confidence boost of a larder full of canned peaches, a pantry full of preserved honey, or blueberry jam gathered in August. I can’t look at my pantry of pickles, the wood pile in the backyard, and say: yes I’m ready. Certainly in the past this would have bolstered a homemaker peeking around for encouragement, no?
And if you haven’t yet flown lightly over a grey, long, freezing week with everyone still taking naps and not crying most of the time, you might wonder: can it be done? Perhaps this why fiercely persevering peer-encouraged challenges happen in November, like no-shave-month or write-a-novel-in-a-month (NaNoWriMo).
So many times in motherhood there’s a new corner up ahead and a voice appears like genie smoke in our mind whispering “you can’t do it.”.I can’t handle four days by myself..I can’t handle both of them sick at the same time..I could never do it if if we couldn’t go outside.
.I couldn’t do it if she started sleeping badly again.
I don’t know why we set these parameters for ourselves but they fall into place before we’ve even noticed and then we’re stuck dreading the next change. Naturally we end up arcing over these challenges like fillies in the mud, kicking up our heels. But the genie in your head will never tell you that.
In the face of this shark-toothed-month I have mayonnaise to keep me company. I will never, ever, relate to those food writers who say “I can’t understand why people buy mayonnaise it’s so easy to make!” I can’t understand why you would make mayonnaise, it’s so easy to buy! Hellman’s and the American flag are inextricably linked as our national anthem for me. Egg Salad, call me back girl. Tuna melts, comin’ attacha.
Here’s a deliciously satisfying, nearly-evil snack, depending on your feelings about ms. mayo, that Joan and I eat whenever Lux is eating something boring like animal crackers. Chickpeas from a can, drained, rinsed and poured into a bowl. Dolloped with a spoonful of mayonnaise and sprinkled with garlic salt from the spice drawer. Microwaved for 15 seconds or so and stirred to a smooth sheen holding each chickpea within it. So satisfying and you’ll eat a whole 14 oz can this way.What else is helping, while we’re at it: a glass of wine with dinner prep even if it begins at 4:30pm in the pitch dark, smiling happily at the sun up so early in the morning, a Spotify station built on “What Else Can I Do” by Kat Edmunson, looking at homemade Christmas decorations on pinterest, this funny cop show from last year, Louisa May Alcott’s cozy Thanksgiving short story.
My friends, it was a wonderful summer in the city. It’s not just my projection: weatherfolks back me up to say that it was one of the most pleasant summers in a long time. With no pool membership to our name, I didn’t regret one day that hovered around 70 with a breeze. Loved each and every one.
There was still a heatwave the week of the girls’ birthdays, that second week of July. It appears to be an annual furnace week in Boston, no matter what the year. Forged in the fire of hot bricks and slate roofs, these girls.
I won’t tell you the mornings were quiet with the sound of birds chirping and rainbows percolating, no. Summer is high construction season in our neighborhood, these old stately homes being updated to all manner of modernity. I see the friendly contractors, bashful about their dust and clamoring, more than I see my own neighbors. Mornings began abruptly at 8am with the bang of jackhammers and the slam of dump trucks. And planes flying overhead whenever Logan needed to re-route, determined by an algorithm I don’t understand. But one day I will corner the right person on an airplane and she can explain it to me.
(note there I said SHE can explain it to me. As a mom of girls, I’m really working on my projected personal pronouns. All our stuffed animals have turned out to be male and I’m sick of it.)
Every now and then we’d peek out at a huge moon, or hear fireworks in the distance, or find the pink sunset sky too irresistible, and climb up to the roof to watch. From there we can see one of our friend’s patios. They have a huge framed rooftop patio, chock-a-block with boxes of plants. My friend says it took a long time for them to have a baby, a long time to eventually find a surrogate mother to carry their baby, and while she waited and waited for something to care for, she nourished these plants. Now their little boy has a babysitter while she is at work, and the babysitter is very good at watering the plants. All this to say that everything worked out in the end, and they ended up with a rooftop full of greenery to remember it all.
Once, we went over to this lush rooftop for dinner outside, with three other young children besides our own. All five children fought almost constantly, loud screaming wrestling battles with shoves and pulled hair. But the adults serenely drank glass after glass of wine, didn’t hover or apologize, did shifts to eat all of their dinner, and shrugged over the barbaric toddlers from the Empire of Shelfishdom. It was nice.
So many days ended with cool nights. All six of our windows on the left side of the apartment wide open, bedroom doors propped open, and wind blowing through. I am a certified insomniac of the mothering variety. Blame it on the wine, blame it on the midnight midsleep screech of Joan, owl-like and over even as I wake. I am startled and alert at odd hours. But I find the temperature has dropped even a few more glorious degrees and the wind is gusting from one side of the apartment out the other. Sometimes our pinned-up art has blown off the walls and onto the floor in the gusts. It’s dark but I can see everything by the lights of the city and I walk through quietly to poke around for a minute.
Plenty of stops for ice cream with sprinkles. Plenty of extra iced coffees when the day turned long. Still, flies-buzzing grouchy mornings followed by splashy baths in the tub to rinse hot-headed babes. Lux likes the water cold cold cold and I admire that.
I didn’t really expect Joan to start riding the carousel this summer. I don’t think we put Lux on it so young. Maybe we did? Without fail, Joan’s glee would attract the attention of bystanders, who would nonetheless look suspicious when I had to pin her screaming flailing child-tortured body to me after the ride ended. It was always worth it for that three minutes of joy.
We didn’t visit any museums and didn’t miss them. October can have them. Their long tiled hallways will seem to be fresh all-new territory. However the library received as many visits as ever. Lux is at this glorious, perfect moment where you can show her “the shelf about skeletons” and she’ll pull down every book and look through each one. Just as she hit this moment, Joan turned menace, sweet noisy menace, taking plastic animals from the children’s section and stuffing them into fiction shelves in the adult section, dumping whole carousels of books in the young adult sci-fi, screaming when I pull her away from the stacks of DVDs.
This summer we saw our first magician. He was billed as a pirate show on the flyer, but he showed up at our playground as a magician. Oh was I? He said to me. Well that’s my mistake. This show is more appropriate for this age group anyway. He warmed up slowly, with too many “this is how your parents look” jokes for two-year-olds who have young, hip parents. But anyway Lux was enthralled and after a few faux tricks that ended in kiddo titters, eventually he pulled out plastic flowers and a real live rabbit. They learned abracadabra and bippity boppity boo and chanted it back to him after every trick.
Six year anniversary for us this weekend! It’s much more satisfying to look back on a marriage and see how far you’ve come than to look back on oneself, and wonder why you were so annoying. I get a little flustered looking back at old me–gosh she was whiny! But looking back on our early marriage years well, things have come along way. I’ve always wondered if a marriage might end because people forget what it’s like to do things by all yourself–get an unexpected bill in the mail by yourself, arrive at a new airport when all the taxis are gone, by yourself. I don’t take those things for granted and I never mean to, but I can read this article about masters of marriage and know in a split second what he means by “little bids for one another’s attention.” They happen all day long and it’s easy to decide you’ll catch up later and explain yourself. Nope. It’s a challenge for me now and I imagine it will be challenge next year too; I know what I’m up against.
We only have one tradition and it’s a bottle of Veuve. : ) Easy, delicious, and no guess-work about reservations or the right gift. We caught the golden hour last night after lumping the girls into bed like quick-scrambled eggs and scooting up to the roof.
The muchy muchness of two knocked me totally on my back last week. I could not seem to refresh, no matter what I did. Conversation at the playground usually does it. Or sunshine. Maybe a podcast and a pastry treat on the way home. But not last week. Their needs seemed to be growing like basil on the windowsill—long, droopy tendrils reaching out to brush you, desperate for water every time I looked over. Joan is wrapped around my ankle as much as she can be. She’s having a tough month, and it means crying, lots of it. My shoulders would tighten in anticipation of her frustrated outbursts that seemed at random–in the stroller, on the ground, in the carrier, in the highchair, feeding, not feeding, napping, not napping.
She is weaning too, so the oxytocin I’ve been running on is easing its foot off the gas pedal and I’m putt putt putting down the road, gravel kicking up underneath. I’m craving chocolate, pasta, cheese, watermelon, pretzels. Constantly hungry but never appetized. Hormones, yes, and flavors too, rushing in to fill the empty tank.
I only ever bought one bottle. Plastic, BPA-free naturally. Used it for Lux, and Joan. A token bottle of formula, every week or so, for an evening out or to sooth a long car ride–wonderful. I’m indebted to that formula. It was a tough month or two with Joan back when she refused formula because I never felt confident leaving her for more than a couple hours. By the way, where were you the day BPA-free died? I was sitting in the park, chatting with a friend, who mentioned in a ohdidyouhear voice that BPA-free had been found to be worse than BPA itself. We have few confidences as modern parents, and that was one silly one that felt good to get right.
All my posts here should be headed with an italicized caveat of this is how I feel this week ONLY. Like that post about getting things done with two–it’s still true. But this is the flipside, and the flipside just flipped, with a vengeance. I do not have this figured out. I do not know the secret. I don’t know how to write an email when my children are talking to me. I don’t know how to talk on the phone when they are in the room. I don’t know what to do when I have no family nearby and all my friends are as equally and wonderfully yoked as I, and I am so. tired.
I think it was Tuesday when I told Joe I’d rather have an empty savings account than feel the way I do, and asked if I could get some help. How did I feel? Mean, angry, crazy. On the outside was one mom who could calmly handle cleaning peanut butter off the floor for the fifth time while one fussed in my ear like a buzzing fly and one jumped on and off my back. But on the inside was a bird about to fly the coop, for good. The bird was the trouble because the bird is a very real part of me that needs some time to shimmer in the sun. A couple hours to flick drops of water back onto my feathers and pick among the bushes for a red berry.
So bring on the avalanche of applications for the job from sweet, educated, athletic, thoughtful women. I’ve read almost twenty so far and I can tell you, this voting group is doing well. Thriving. There are lots of them. I can see in an instant that my girls’ lives would be enriched by hanging out with any of them, and yet deep in my heart, I am skeptical. It sounds a tad hypocritical doesn’t it? To self-identify as feeling crazy and hassled, and yet to believe that no one else can be trusted with your children.
I have a friend who gets a lot of help. So I asked her, it must take a lot scheduling to figure all that out? She shrugged. “It just takes a lot of ‘That isn’t how I would have done it, but oh well, it’s getting done.'” Ahhhh my handicap. Why I never would have made management, had I aspired. No one else will know how to handle a toddler, a stroller, a diaper bag, and a city street corner. No one can listen carefully to Lux and respond with the right mix of affirmation and information. No one else will remember to replace “good job!” with “look at all those things you did!” ….You see what I mean about the silly things it feels good to get right. Right by your definition, and important pretty much only to you. The girls would do well with a little of the un-devoted no-nonsense I see doled out on the playground by nannies.
What is that magic number of hours? Three hours a week? Six maybe? That’s what I’m hoping. Honestly all I want is enough time to walk away so I can enjoy walking back to them. And yes, I admit, enough time to write down a few sentences so I can remember all this at some future date that I’ve been promised will exist.
It’s easy to tack Brimfield dates onto a map of our marriage and recall the phases we were in at the time. How you shop together as a couple is always a relationship barometer. In the realm of your standard shopping trips–in which grocery shopping is probably the easiest category–there’s IKEA shopping. IKEA has a bad name, for reasons that I believe link back to the way they bait you into walking through their entire inventory. Then there’s clothes shopping, in which you always reveal more of yourself and your fears than you intended to, because you’re trying to ignore your fears and pretend they are not there with you in the dressing room. That’s a tough one too, but usually at least just one of you is making the decision, and the other one is trying not to stare at the clock in bewilderment.
But Brimfield has always meant shopping as a couple, making decisions as a couple, giving each other the side eye, as a couple.
First year: shopping as newly married, looking for a few pieces to prove we could buy things together and that our apartment had character. Second year: shopping as new business owners, hoping to find pieces that could frame our little market and bolster it. Third year: shopping as we were pregnant, hunting for the perfect old crib that would fit our tiny apartment, or the right artwork that would represent everything we hoped for the new babe. And so on, until what is now our sixth year, all so known as: yesterday.
We had something of an argument a few nights beforehand when we tried to lay out all the things we expected the other to do. I expected Joe to present me with things he didn’t actually really want, and wait for me to say why we didn’t need them. He expected me to be a naysayer, and talk us out everything, including the exact things we needed. I expected to feel overwhelmed by the options and revert to strictly window shopping, and then feel a wave of buyer’s remorse as we drove away. We hashed this all out and felt much better. It was very adult, and my, how much we know ourselves now don’t we?
But, as it turned out, this edition was much more about the fact that we were shopping, really and truly, with two kids. The children were not as taken with the affair as we expected—the big tents, their posts sunk into mud, their interiors filled with untouchables. The strange chilling breeze that alternated abruptly with a blazing May day sun. Joan hit her whining pitch early and stayed there, and I had no idea what was wrong and evidently, no satisfying solution. Lux was under-dressed for the cold breeze and curled up in the umbrella stroller like an unfurled butterfly, coldly staring back at cooing passerbys trying to say Hi. I saw things–gold bracelets! quirky watercolors! a rack of cardigans!–that I wanted to examine at leisure, but as soon as I paused, I felt the tug and whine to keep moving. Joe tried on a vintage plaid while Lux murmured complaints in the background at a dull roar. We looked at each other and muttered “mutiny.”
Had the threshhold been reached, I wondered. Were we ignorant to gaily attempt this affair–so blithely executed by the hipster couples toting antique tin wash boards back their cars (yes, I really saw them)–as a young family?
Somehow it turned around. We went back to the car for our trusty larger stroller and popped Joan in it, with a bottle. I took off my sweater, put it on Lux, and zipped her up in the vest she had refused earlier. I revealed to her a few of the secrets that had kept me walking so far–the prospect of lemonade slush and a fresh crepe. Her eyes widened and she agreed to continue hunting. Once she was walking by my side and outside of the stroller, she and the shopkeepers struck up an easy relationship. They slipped her tokens from their tables and dug through their piles to find prints of dogs and cats. The fields were full of puddles from the morning’s downpour and she was wearing her rain boots. Joan was shielded from the sun and actually kicked with glee when she caught my eye. We found a bag of wooden bobbins, some clothespins to turn into little people, a small metal toolbox for craft supplies, and a large metal trunk from India to holding the steadily-growing pile of dress-up clothes in the girls’ room.
And I was so happy to have a child old enough to share my favorite foods. Brimfield is as much about the food stands—like a state fair, but with better food—as the antiques. It’s a vanity, perhaps a lunatic one, to pat yourself on the back that your child likes the same food as you when it’s fried dough and kettle corn. Nonetheless! There’s a thrill when you can nod with them and say “Right? It’s so good.”
Brimfield is an enormous antique fair in Western Mass that takes over grassy fields in the spring and fall. Here are a couple posts from others, with better photos than mine, if you’re curious for more: 1/ Design Sponge 2/ A Continuous Lean 3/ Soule Mama
Frequently on Saturdays I have to take two or three hours to pause and jump free, as a swimmer would into a pool, for a clean kicky dive with the bubbles rushing past. There have been book cuddles and hugs and kisses and infant fingers grasping my hair and trailing across my chest. Every time I do a downward dog, Lux clambers below my arched abdomen and shouts “tent tent!” Every time I stretch out my arms in child’s pose, she climbs onto my back and joyfully shouts, “I’m riding you like a horsey!”
I’m not a runner anymore but I will be someday soon. I spent a number of years pounding the pavement at all hours of the day, running miles upon miles in the hot and cold weather, in the dark on cold mornings or in the late afternoons as the bugs gathered near the trees. I imagine I’ll take it up again. Perhaps in my thirties, as I like to say. I’m not sure how much I’ll manage to do in my thirties but the list is rapidly lengthening. I’m a better long distance runner, meaning I pass more people if you give me more time. I’m good at the long game and good at coming up from behind.
But back to the children. A run would do it, but for me in the city, it’s very nice to drift away for a few hours and flip quickly down the sidewalk with both arms swinging freely at my sides and the sun in my eyes and a place to go in mind. It’s nice to slip narrowly through an opened shop door and weld your way delicately between display tables, no stroller wheels to mind, no chattering to acquiesce your mental space to.
Here’s a dreamy itinerary: take the train to Central Square. Stop by Piccante for a horchata. Walk down Inman Street, get a chill at the overgrown homes and the old fashioned Cambridge living happening before your eyes, and take a left to go to Dwelltime. Order a cappuccino that must take at least ten minutes to make by their standards, and a few of the delectable macaroons. If they are pink, it’s from the rosewater, or the strawberries. Stop in at the fabric store Gather Here, and think about women owning small businesses and how wonderful they make them. Continue on your walk to the Cambridge Public Library. Take a right inside and pick out every magazine you’ve wanted to read for the past month to page through. Find a seat in front of the enormous glass windows that frame the even larger sprawling lawn. Leaf through beauty tips to your heart’s content. Walk to Harvard Square. Stop for a tranquil moment at Oona’s and debate becoming a lady who only wears jackets from the ’20s, with heels. Stop at Follow the Honey and taste, in succession, several of the best honeys you’ve ever had. Get a text that the girls are up, and hop on the T, homeward bound. The funny amazing thing is that it takes me so little time to reset. I think that’s why parents talk about looking at photos of their kids when they are asleep. They already miss them, though it’s been just an hour or two.
This one is for the narrowest time slot: nestle into the open corner table at a coffee shop. I have four shops within walking distance so I can leave the apartment while the girls nap and still come back refreshed in time for the family to do something together. The coffee shops downtown have a speedy jive to them—so many people are passing through in a rush. When I take a table, with a book to read and mug in hand, I feel the envious eyes narrowing. Such simple thing, but you would think I’d set up a hammock with a side of strawberry daiquiri for the looks people rushing through give me. Get with the program and hurry on, they urge. No no, not me, I say. I’m doing something else here.