Tuesday, July 12, 2011
My son takes his first nap before we go out into the wintering street. The fridge is full of lunch options and I try to think up something that will be done before he gets up. The bright yellow leaves hanging from the wooden plant stand stops me in mid-motion before I quickly grab a container of water. I always forget to water the plant he gave me for my 29th birthday. I tried getting rid of it, but it was so full of life and beauty, and I felt the need to hold on to something that grew with time. Perhaps I’ve forgotten that the plant has a life and a history outside of our broken bond. It's clear to me that our relationship has turned into a dried up fruitless tree, but the feeling doesn't stick. With lunch simmering on the stovetop, I move onto the hallway and try to quietly pack his things into his favorite stroller. I am almost tempted to list all of the things I couldn't change about the past and post them on the fridge door, the wall behind the bed, and on the apartment exit door. I think about the many times I had to talk him into spending time with us. The former reluctant father and husband is now out there molding a new life, and I am struggling to remind myself that I too have to go back to that awful drawing board. I've decided that Saturdays will be my son's day. I start with him because I have to rethink my own gratification, and structured time with him relieves the guilt of my absence during the weekday. After an hour he is still sleeping, so I make myself a plate of quinoa and veggies, and pour myself a cold glass of apple cider. I carry the steaming plate and cold glass using one arm, and use the other to get through the safety gate and into the living room table. I sit down, give thanks, and eat. It will take some time before I forget the void. But for now, even the complex and noisy thoughts of one person seems too little to fill the still air of this apartment.
I remember when I had first put up the new dark red curtains and rolled out the matching large area rug in the living room floor. The kitchen was filled with new dinnerware, and the future spirit of a walking toddler ran inside my head. I wanted the new open space to reflect the warmth I felt inside. It was only weeks before he would fly in from California for his big move and be able to feel his unborn son kicking inside me. The living room now seems to occupy two spaces; a dimension of promise, paralleling one of despair. My son calls me from the bedroom and I walk in as he stands in his crib, smiling, with his hands reaching at me. "Tienes hambre?" I ask him. He rubs his eyes as I carry him out of the crib, and watches the hallway turn into the kitchen. "Pata!" he says, looking at the stovetop filled with cooked food. With him in my arm, I make a small serving in his bright orange plastic bowl, and mash the food with a fork. I feed us both with him on my lap, and try to keep him from tumbling empty cups and magazines from the table. Next to my own lament stands the gratuitous feeling that I won't have to raise my son in the chaos of the old household, the echo of my own childhood. I feel the sense of privilege my mother never had, to leave a failing marriage before it had failed my life, and my son's childhood. I try to go back to the drawing board, but all I can see is what's in front of me. He starts to push himself out of my lap and onto the ground towards his toys. I bring our plates into the kitchen sink and merely soak them in water.
"Nos vamos!" I blurt out at him.
"Mabo!" he shouts back.
I open the gate and he stomps giggling towards the bedroom. I dress him up, put on his coat, and strap him into his stroller. I put on my own coat and scarf, and as I open the door and push the stroller out, he shouts his more recent new phrase, "buh bye!"
I wake up at a weekday hour of 5am on a Sunday morning with the mental to-do list I had put together while I drifted off to sleep last night. The two week-old laundry, the papers needing feedback, and the cluttered apartment needing cleaning seemed too daunting of an agenda with a love-hungry toddler. I battle against the thought of calling to ask if he will come see his son today. Sunday is supposed to be his day, but I don't want to hear him say he's got too many things to do. I fight to keep myself from asking for his help. I turn to admire the gentle face and the rising and falling belly attached to the skinny light brown frame. Echoes of his high pitched babble and stomping feet across the wooden living room floor play in my mind as I place the top halves of his still feet, neatly onto the palm of my hand. I feel empty at the thought of being fractured each night I come home during the week, though the sight of his little hands lifted towards me when I walk in the door places the pieces of me back where they belong.
The world deposits all of its sin on the backs and shoulders of its youth. When I am done keeping my own demons buried all day, to battle those both unleashed and hidden among my students, I arrive, piece by piece, at my apartment door. I listen for the little voice, wondering if he's asleep, so I know how hard or soft I should turn the key. I give him all pieces of me so that my mother can close her eyes or go downstairs to smoke her cigarette. The first thing he asks for is my milk. We play peekaboo games with his eyes behind the backs of his hands while he nurses, and he smiles with my flesh still in his mouth and milk pooling a little at the top corner of his lips. We read baby books, and identify stuffed animals with their sounds. We play a chasing game or have tickle time at the couch. When I try to plan lessons or grade papers, he demands the attention I owe him by placing a book or a toy onto my keyboard or papers. I stopped taking work home, and instead, I do it with granola yogurt and coffee before the teachers and students arrive at school. Its a small price to pay for raising my son for a few of his waking hours on most days.
He starts to wiggle, feels for the pointy flesh and aims with an open mouth. I situate our bodies at the middle and outside edge of the bed. The inside edge is still empty and cool alongside the window. The sun hasn't yet shown it's face, and I beg the sky to stall. I compromise with myself and try to pick one doable task on my list. A short selection of people I know float in my mind, and are quickly erased. I can't bare to hear the unanswered text messages and the "I've got plans" when I call for help. The papers won't get done. I turn away from my snoozing son to look over at the scatter of shoes and other things I don't strain my eyes to make out on the dimly lit hallway floor. I try to remember what the rest of the apartment looks like. Much of our two and a half years in New York City was spent trying to get out of this noisy neighborhood, or at least this noisy street. I try to carve out a few new escape routes in my mind, with just the baby and I this time, but the images are foggy. A light sweep of the house sounds doable; anything more seems meaningless, knowing the place will look and feel just as drab. The stubborn sun is finding its way up in the sky, but the sky still tries by keeping a thick blanket of grey clouds in its path. I look over at the now illuminated overflowing laundry basket in the corner of the bedroom. I think about the week ahead of recycling socks, and mix and matching the same two outfits. I force myself to accept laundry as a necessity, and close my eyes.
The sun is climbing too fast, and I don't want my son to wake up before I'm done sinking inside myself. I think of all the seemingly right choices I've made throughout the course of my life, certain that I was growing in the right direction. The person that was so grounded and confident in who she was seems so naive and abstract in the context of time. It's hard to gauge now, when, over the past fifteen years I've gotten to really know myself. If this was all it took to bring me here, to topple me over, then there must have been something I missed along the way. I suddenly start to feel that I'm up against time, and there's an urgency within me to rush, except I don't know where I'm rushing to.
My son shifts his body from side to side and flips over face-down to abruptly push himself to sit up with knees bent under him. He rubs his eyes with his fists and looks to see if he is still stuck in a dream. I feel the muted smile on my face, and peel myself out of bed to grab a fresh diaper and some wipes. He lets me place his relaxed, small body face up on the warm bed. The wet wipes are cold against his privates, but he knows it will only last a few moments. With the little guy in my arms, I toss the heavy wet diaper onto the changing table, remembering the diaper bin in the bathroom needs to be emptied. I head to the kitchen, dust off the dried food crumbs from his high chair and set him in. I hand him a cooking spoon to bang the high chair table with, and he takes it, although he keeps his eyes focused between my face and what I'm grabbing around the kitchen. I peruse the fridge for a breakfast idea, and I remember his vitamins. I find the small bottle with liquid in it. I scoot behind him towards the kitchen organizer and grab the dropper among the scattered bottle and breast pump pieces. He watches as I suck the golden juice into the dropper and we both know what's coming. I hold his face with one hand to keep him still, and as the dropper approaches, he doesn't fight. He takes in the next two, just as easy. I'm back at the fridge, looking for something to reward his compliance with. I find an apple and grab a knife from the dish rack while rinsing the apple in the sink. The white juice bleeds along the cut, and my hands are cool and wet as I skin the side of the carved out slice. "Manzana!" I tell him as I place the slice in his carefully shaped small fingers. He brings the slice to his mouth with one hand and bangs the spoon against his table with the other. The sound breaks the silent air that had been standing like a large stone in the apartment. I wonder how many more Sundays will feel like this. I try to see a new kind of festive Sunday morning, complete with apple cinnamon pancakes and the warm sounds of a reggae bass rocking from the living room. But it is hard to picture a happy boy with a man that isn't his father. I quickly put some hot water to boil for coffee, and whip out some eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and spinach for some veggie scramble. I preheat the oven for some toast, and with a chewed up piece of apple on the side of his mouth my son says, "pata!" his baby word for food.
"Yes, mama's gonna make some scramble, and then we're going to your favorite place! Nos vamos!"
"Mabo!" he says, knowing now that we're going out on some adventure today, and not staying in again. The laundry can wait until after the sun goes down.