Month: February 2016

Beloved Strangers

Yesterday, because the sun was out, I took Stump, my three-year-old, to a park we don’t often visit. The playground area was overflowing with kids and parents, and so Stump and I were quick to move on. We moved to the sunny field for a while and then Stump pointed to the tennis courts. No one was actually playing tennis. There was just a sunny court, a few puddles, and a little girl, maybe five years old, whose mother was helping her learn to ride a bike. The moment I opened the tennis court gate, the little girl jumped off her bike and ran to us. For a moment I was confused. Was there someone behind us that she knew? Did she mistake my kid for someone else? But I didn’t have too much time to wonder, because she was already standing beside me, tickling the inside of Stump’s hand with her index finger, and Stump was tickling her back. They stood face-to-face. The little girl began tracing Stump’s forehead with her finger, and he reached up to trace hers as well. Their greeting was at once ceremonial and natural, as if they were beings from a faraway planet, one that had an intimate custom for meeting strangers.

The exchange went on for minutes as they stood there exploring each others’ faces, both of them captivated, smiling. The other mom and I stood on the sidelines laughing, not sure exactly what to do or say—I mean what do you do when your child has fallen so suddenly and utterly in love?

Eventually the little girl ushered Stump into the center of the court where she showed him her bike and invited him to check out her handlebar streamers, which were silver and purple and fluttering. She told him where he could stand while she practiced riding, and then after a few laps around the court, her mother told her it was time to go.

“I’m going to a birthday party,” she explained to my son. “Do you want to come too?”

“Yeah,” Stump said.

“That’s nice of you to invite him,” her mother said. “Do you want to tell your new friend goodbye?”

She embraced him. He returned her embrace. She kissed his cheek. He kissed her back. They were quiet and radiant, wide-eyed and giggling. They kissed each other quickly on the lips (the lips!) and then she stepped away and hopped on her bike. “Wow,” said the little girl’s mother. I shook my head in amazement. My eyes were wet and I could not stop laughing. When they were finally out of sight, Stump looked at me and said, “I want to go to that party.”

The night before, because I couldn’t sleep, I had been lying in bed considering the word beloved. I thought about who was beloved in my life, and a row of faces appeared to me. At first they were the faces you would expect—my children, my partner, my brother. But my pre-sleep brain kept going, kept presenting me with rows upon rows like a stadium, concentric circles of beloveds. I saw the faces of family and friends, colleagues and students, people I’d worked with behind a counter in my twenties, friends I’d made in summer camp and then drifted from. My waking brain was skeptical. Really? I asked myself. All of them?  Yes, all of them, my sleep brain replied. And then the rows of beloveds kept expanding until they included everyone on earth. Even Donald Trump? my waking brain asked. Even Donald Trump, sleep brain replied. It made so much sense at the time. Sleep brain took over and I finally drifted off.

There’s this moment in the book Fun Home where the narrator, Alison, is five years old and eating with her father in a diner. A woman—a stranger—walks in wearing a flannel shirt and short hair. She’s delivering boxes on a hand truck. She gets the waiter’s signature and leaves. This is the first butch woman that our narrator has ever seen and she describes the moment this way:

Like a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home—someone they’ve never spoken to, but know by sight—I recognized her with a surge of joy.

When the narrator says “I recognized her,” what she means is that she saw herself in that woman, that the very sight of her opened a door, gave her permission to become a self that she both feared and longed to be (in this case a woman who expresses gender on her own terms). On the next page, the narrator says: “the vision of the truck-driving bulldyke sustained me through the years.”

I keep pausing there. The vision of the bulldyke sustained her. It fed her and kept her alive until a moment in her adult life when she could finally own who she was.

I consider also the “surge of joy” she describes in that moment of recognition, and the surge of joy I felt vicariously for Stump when that young girl greeted him with a wide-open heart. She saw him. He saw her back. Their love filled a tennis court. It filled my whole weekend.

image credit: Sean Connors, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://www.flickr.com/

 

The Tyranny of Weekends

I have a confession to make. I hate Saturday mornings. I’ve been fooling myself for decades. I thought I loved Saturdays. I spend the workweek dreaming of them, thinking I will wake up rejuvenated and blissful, that I will relish every moment of not having to be somewhere.

Instead I stumble out of bed at six-thirty and feel uncertain. I make my morning tea and my to-do list starts pinging around in my brain. On Friday I was so optimistic. I packed a set of student papers in a folder thinking I could just casually sit around and grade them while my children played. I thought I’d crank out an essay that’s due in ten days. I thought that I would fold all the laundry, do five more loads, prepare my taxes, and defrost the freezer. Small goals, I told myself, and these were the goals I set. But on Saturday mornings I wake up not wanting to grade papers or fold laundry. I don’t want to engage with my to-do list, but to relax would require letting go of the list, and I can’t quite do that either. And so I spend all of Saturday morning trapped between these two places, unable to commit to doing, unable to commit to not-doing.

This week my compromise was to walk the dogs. I thought that the air and movement would help me, that I’d be performing a pleasant but useful task. I was already feeling brighter as I put on my boots; I was getting ready to cure myself. But then Wally, our younger dog jumped all over me with muddy paws and insisted on sniffing my crotch. And then Winnie, our older dog, was shedding his winter coat in giant fluffy tufts. When I bent over to gather some of loose fur, I noticed his coat was oily and matted. He was in dire need of a bath. When I got home, Kellie and I would spend the next two hours cleaning and brushing him—a large chore that neither of us had planned on. Meanwhile, as the children played inside the house, our refrigerator began dying an angry, loud death. The following would become the soundtrack to our weekend as we searched for working refrigerators on Craigslist and tried to deter Smoke and Stump from their usual habit of opening the fridge and just standing there for minutes on end. Listen:

I hope that this is not a woe-is-me post. I hope that this is a life-is-life post. The problem is not my stinky matted dog or my crazy-loud refrigerator or any other spontaneous challenge. The problem is the trouble I have in making space for these challenges. I crowd my weekend with expectations. I make the mistake of thinking I can tame these two days every week, and inside tameness I will find comfort. When the weekend proves untamable I’m mad at myself, and mad at life.

Sundays are often a little better. This morning I left the death-rattle of the refrigerator behind me and went for a run. The sun was out. I ran through the woods. I jumped over puddles and brooks—everything was wet from the rains we’ve had this week. It was nice to be outside, but dread still nestled in my sternum. On the last mile of my run, when I was back on the pavement, I spotted a tiny plastic dinosaur that some child must have dropped while on a walk. I backtracked to pick it up. I thought about bringing it home to my kids—because if there’s anything my household needs it’s one more tiny plastic toy. I had no pocket, and so as I ran, I held its tail between my thumb and forefinger.

Here’s a funny thing about that dinosaur. My mood instantly lifted. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re wearing green spandex and holding a tiny t-rex. The longer I ran with the t-rex in my hand, the more I saw him as the angst that had been ruling me, a tiny monster inside who thinks he’s more important that he is. Now that I held him in my hand, I could see him as a small and ridiculous thing. I could get some space, some vantage. I could put him on the shelf and walk away.

When I came home, both of my kids instantly noticed the dinosaur in my hand. “Is that mine?” Stump asked me. “No, it’s mine,” told him. “Can we have it?” Smoke wanted to know. I told them they couldn’t. I need it.