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Thursday, October 25, 2012

In the arms of a stranger

There are no more days where I get to hold little boys in overalls. My littlest boy is six, and while he likes me to tickle him endlessly, he is not really a little boy. He reads books with words like veterinarian and consequently. He ties his own shoes. He likes spinach salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, just like his big brother. My big kid has reached an age where he rolls his eyes at me, rarely holds my hand, and finds making bruschetta and drawing maps much more interesting than reading Richard Scarry together. Thankfully both of my kids still like that I read to them before bed. We’re currently engrossed in “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

So since I no longer have little boys in overalls, yesterday was all that more wonderful and perplexing.

After school, a friend and I (and our combined four kids) acquired treats from a bakery in Hayes Valley and then wandered to a lovely San Francisco park across the street. A variety of kids and their families came and went while we relished the warm, breezeless October afternoon on benches adjacent to the play structure. The kids played tag. They climbed and swung. They tossed a coveted bottle cap and had elaborate rules to support their improvised games.

Maybe an hour into our adventure, a dad with his little boy arrived at the park. The little boy was in blue and white striped overalls—identical to ones R wore when he was about two years old. This little boy had curly blond wisps covering head and he ran and climbed as well as the bigger kids. Before we left, I hoisted myself into the rope structure so that my friend could take a couple of snapshots of me and my boys. The little boy in overalls wanted to be part of our photo. He hustled up the structure and directly into my lap.

His dad tried to retrieve him, but he clung to me. I said I didn’t mind if he was in our family picture, so he stayed perched on my lap. I was reminded of what it felt like to have a little boy. When the shots were taken, I peeled him off of my lap and handed him down to his dad. He reached for me like a child does when it seeks the attention of the other parent—both arms outstretched and body leaning towards the desired torso. I took him and he clung to me, a stranger. As I held him, I told him about how R used to have the same overalls that he was wearing. Then I said we had to leave and gave him back to his dad.

He took my hand and said he wanted to go with me. I said maybe we’d see him again at the park another day. He didn’t want to let go of my hand. When his dad tried to pick him up, he ran ahead yelling, “No, no, no. I go too.”

As lovely as it was to have a little boy’s body in my arms, clinging to me, wanting to hold my hand, sit on my lap, reminding me of something lost through the accumulation of time, I felt bad for the dad. I have no idea where his mom was, but I can’t help but wonder if he lives with her all the time or part of the time or none of the time. It made me think about my own kids. C was younger than that boy when my ex and I split, and even now, almost four years later, my kids still ask me why Dad and I had to get divorced.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Time machine

Have you ever had one of those moments that shifted the sense of time, so that you were somehow in your current world and also somehow decades away?

That happened to me yesterday. It was such an ordinary moment. I was at the carwash and the sun was oppressive. There was just one bench in the shade and two people already occupied it. But surely I could fit between them with my book and my purse and it would be fine for the next 15 minutes as we waited. I asked and they obliged, each edging to the outer sides of the bench and I maneuvered between them on that waffled metal bench.

I didn’t really look at either of them, but once I was seated the woman to my right spoke to her husband in their foreign language as he came to join us. The three of us moved over, making room for him as well. Their conversation in foreign nouns and verbs transported me to my childhood where I was somewhere, like Burger King, with Italian grandparents when I had no idea what they said to each other.

Her perfume and the thickness of her arm made me want to lean into her softness as tears welled behind my sunglasses. I ached for my grandmother and my childhood more three decades in my past. I wanted to lean into her. I wanted to talk to her and try to explain to her what I was feeling and I swear her husband said “lasagna” several times, even thought I’m certain they were speaking Russian or Czech and definitely not Italian. It was so real.

The man to my left got up to retrieve his car, and the older couple and I sat on that bench at the carwash while “Don’t Stop Believing” played softly from the speaker near the exit sign. I loved her thick old lady necklace and her near-white orthopedic open-toed sandals with the stockings. I loved her in that moment. She was my grandmother and I was four years old. I so wanted to hug her and for a moment be hugged by that woman. My own grandmother approaches 100 years. I haven't heard her speak Italian since my grandfather died more than 15 years ago, and I didn’t even recognize her last time I visited her. She was hunched in a wheelchair in the nursing home she now lives in. She was nothing like the grandmother who lives in my memories.

A few minutes later, the couple got up. As they walked away from me, more than thirty years were instantly added to my age and I was alone on the bench.