It’s late afternoon in Seattle. We’re here at my in-laws’ house and I just woke up, after apparently sleeping from 1:00 until almost 4:00. The house is silent. Aidan has been quietly removed from the pack ‘n’ play, where I last heard him chattering and playing instead of napping, presumably to accompany Harlan and his mother on an expedition that involves some combination of exchanging Christmas gifts and walking along a beautiful Seattle trail in the woods somewhere. There was talk earlier of these activities and I was theoretically going along, unless I had to make a work call involving a treatment I’m writing for my sister this week. Instead I woke up to a silent house. An email from my sister said the call hasn’t been arranged yet, she’ll let me know.
I can’t remember the last time I experienced such peace. Awakening at 4pm to total silence and calm. The cat ran through the house and watched me as I first settled at the dining room table with my computer. Now she’s tiptoed off again. Harlan’s father could be working silently in his room, but if that’s the case, he’s not yet revealed himself. Maybe he joined the others for his first outing since Aidan and I arrived on Wednesday. They will probably welcome some time with him away from the mommy he clings to.
It feels foreign for me to put fingers to keys just to write. Not an email, not a description of a commercial that my sister’s company will attempt to win the right to shoot, not an update on my status (all calm in Seattle). Just words spilling from my head through my fingers and onto a blank page. It is a process that has often calmed me, often excited me and one I have engaged in most of the days of my life, definitely since my twenties, more sporadically beforehand, but more recently the presence of a small energetic boy in my life has consumed the minutes and hours of my day in such a way that has left me with little time to indulge the habit that makes me feel relieved, calm, whole. He gives me those things in other ways (or at least the “whole” part, can’t say Aidan contributes to my sense of calm!). Otherwise, I try to squeeze in the rare bath once he’s sleeping or a yoga class in the morning if there’s room in the daycare at the gym. Or sometimes I just don’t get to feel those things, recognizing that this is a time in my life where chaos is more likely to reign, and that’s okay. I must be satisfied with dinner cooked by my husband eaten sleepily in front of Grey’s Anatomy or So You Think You Can Dance? Not really a calming experience, but a way to gel out and clear my brain nonetheless.
This afternoon feels like a gift.
Before coming to Seattle, we were at my parents’ house in Los Angeles. I didn’t have time to write there, either, but I did catch up on doctors’ appointments and visits with friends. My parents’ presence allowed me that luxury, as they were often available to watch Aidan so Harlan and I could have dinner with friends or I could run off to the dentist or chiropractor. Once we even snuck off to a movie in the middle of the afternoon. That, too, felt like a gift.
My second day back in town, I took Aidan to our old playdate at the playground at the beach by our house in Venice. Three other moms and kids showed up—Gretchen & Nona, Susan & Siona, Maia & Emi—and my friend Aimee who lives in the neighborhood dropped by to chat for a while. It felt just like old times, as they say. The kids played on the structures, while we talked about life, work, books, the kids, the future. It was very easy to be there, except for the fact that my little one is moving much more quickly these days and twice when my back was turned he fled—and I panicked. Once he’d exited the playground with a little toy shopping cart he was pushing through the gate that someone had left open (maddening), crossed the bike path and was 20 paces down the sand trotting toward the ocean by the time I caught up with him. He was gleeful, maybe at the prospect of the waves, maybe at having so skillfully ditched his mom. In any case, once my heart started beating again, I ran with him to the ocean’s edge and we giggled and shrieked together at the waves nipping at our sneakers before pushing his cart back up to the playground. The other moms apologized for not having paid attention. Gretchen said it never occurred to her to be quite so vigilant; Nona had never made a run for it like that. My little guy has always liked to take off—he’s a regular off-roader and a free-spirit—so I’m the one who should have been more vigilant. Another time I lost sight of him for 20 seconds and he scrambled up and over a hill, where with the help of a bigger kid, I found him in the parking lot of the beach police headquarters, pushing his little cart around the cars there. Clearly my days of lounging with the moms at playgroup are over.
In spite of these moments of panic, the afternoon was one of the most blissful I’ve had since we moved to Boston. It felt so good to be back on the beach, amongst moms with whom I feel comfortable and Aidan seemed so happy there running in the sand. Maybe that’s why he took the liberty to flee, because it was his home turf and he felt comfortable there. As the sun set over the Pacific, I froze. I’d been so excited about the 70 degree sunshine, I’d worn a skirt and flip-flops with only a light cotton sweater for warmth, and boo was barely any warmer. It was hard to pull myself away from the beauty, but eventually I did, only because I knew I had to get Aidan back to the warmth of the car.
I miss LA so much, my friends there, the calm, the physical beauty, catching a daily glimpse of the ocean. On the way back to the car, I discovered the only disadvantage I can identify of California living: I’d washed my hair earlier that day and when I caught my reflection in the window of a funky vintage shop on Windward it was a ball of frizz. A gentle halo of squiggly golden fly-aways covered my entire head, making me look like a tree-hugging hippie girl who probably grew up in Southern California spending her afternoons smoking too much pot and staring out at the Pacific dreaming of the future. And yet here I am, a 40-something-year-old mom, a wife, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, with a life, responsibilities, a home 3000 miles away that’s currently covered in snow.