Let me set the scene: “Sleeping” on a mattress on the floor in a chilly New York apartment living room surrounded by a deflated unicorn, packed-and-ready double stroller, toddler kitchen set, playhouse, a bookshelf of shoes and outerwear, two scooters and a couple of toddler scooter toys, a cat who uses the night space as a Mario Andretti race track, and the next-room mother-in-law who dreams out loud and wakes up once or twice to pee.
At strange times throughout the night—11:41 p.m., 1:20 a.m., 3:03 a.m., 5:48 a.m. when my daughter wakes up, makes coffee, and prepares for work—I think about the partying teens on the corner, about why I bought, then ate, three Cadbury cream eggs, about whether or not I’ll buy a new camper van, about what it would be like to live in Kauai, about the troubling economy, about the best recipe for chia pudding, about organizing my storage unit when I get back, and all other topics related to The Meaning of Life.
Spanxed between love and chaos, I often find myself in this position when visiting my New York daughter and her wee ones. The environment and daily routines are predictable: Baby Zombies attack me soon after they wake up (about 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time) and continue grenading me with affection until bedtime, about 8 p.m. These two, Millie who turned 3 yesterday, and Hudson, 16 months old, are vibrant, passionate, can’t-wait-to-discover asteroids, easily enchanted by crazy grandma’s ear-tickling “I love you” whispers.
Always, somehow, electricity zaps my red-eye exhaustion and sky-launches me across the shedding-black-lab-mix-Charlie-floor as I vanish into the babies’ sparkly world of Playdoh and Elsa and squeaky Minnie Mouse rotary dial conversations and Lucky Charm snacks and watercolor afternoons with Baby Mozart.
I’ve been here a week. Monday, I fly back to the seals and occasional dolphins and the deck overlooking the sunsets and marina. Back to Monet, who’s being well cared for by a wonderful dog sitter who hangs out with her twice a day, and my homies who love her up before and after work. My new temporary home feels like home although nothing in the dwelling, except clothes and a couple of pillows, towels, kitchen supplies, belongs to me. Just like staying at my daughter’s apartment. I’m temporary.
So I dive into this world, like I dive into my world back “home”, with a sense of tip-toe respect and awe. I imagine what it would be like to live here or back at the Redondo Beach apartment full time. Overlooking the sea? Or overlooking Queens in some kind of NY apartment around the corner from my Baby Zombies. Because as I sit here in the dark, having relinquished any notion that I can go back to sleep before my daughter leaves for work in Manhattan, and contemplate getting up and making a second cup of coffee before the Zombies wakeup, I am aware that this feeling is a pattern I ping pong with all the time: The Great American Straddle. Neither fully here nor there. Even when settled, I’m not.
Remember how cold it is. My frozen fingers. My ruddy cheeks.
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. It’s what I do, along with taking mental Remember it all snapshots.
Remember how hot it was yesterday at the Bronx Zoo when we visited the giraffe exhibit. Remember my sweet three-year-old barely tall enough to see over the rail as the stretch-necked, patterned giant nuzzled a tree-high bucket of straw. How amazed we all were at his batting black eye lashes and bat-swinging neck. “I want to touch, I want to touch,” Millie declared, obviously reading all our minds.
Remember the little boy’s pudgy hand when he held mine, the dimple-grin I must work for, but gets easier as the days go on.
Remember the make-believe games with the “Encanto” figurines and birthday unicorns and teacups and play foods blending together in the new Melissa and Doug blender from “Papa”, and dress-up princess wear, and everything everywhere all at once, joy and exhaustion, jumping on grandma’s floor mattress and cat and dog hair on the bottom of socks, and scrambled eggs and oatmeal and parceled-out glasses of wine.
Absorb the details, the feelings. The sounds. The rumbling of early morning traffic. The sparrows tweeting on the bird-food embellished balcony, delighted it’s finally Spring. The budding yellow, white, and pink trees and the popping daffodils. Katie’s and my matching grey flannel dog pjs. The new pair of blue New Balance tennis shoes I Amazon-ed to save my wary walking feet and nagging knee that miraculously accommodates my cramped toes and sagging arch. I can see/walk for miles and miles and miles … .
Maybe a half marathon, like my daughter ran last Sunday, or a bike ride through Central Park, or maybe my goal of hiking in the Sierras in the Fall, when all the frenzy of summer trips and babes in California adventure are iPhoned and Summer of 2023 albumed.
This life is spinning. The kids are growing. The flowers are blooming. Yes, it’s still raining in California as I type and in a few hours, also here in New York. We’ll stroller to the Queens Library after lunch, notice Easter decorations and New York’s vastly-different-from-where-I -live neighborhoods. I’ll do my best to savor—while responding to the needs of snack-devouring little ones—the moment so I can cherish it when I’m gone. All the tiny, chaotic, noisy, quiet, endearing rituals like Daddy reading to his babies when they wake up and go to sleep, the goodnight songs, “You Are My Sunshine”, “Twinkle, Twinkle”, “Baby Beluga”, that lull this young canoeing, paddling family into blissful slumber.
As the sun rises and the glow of my laptop fades, I can see that this imperfect cocoon, that is so hard for me to sleep in, is this family’s filled-to-the-brim paradise.
This family offers me their floor, their space, even creep around me in the dark on the way to work, so that I can experience for myself this growing garden that won’t be tender and young and innocent all that much longer.
As I used to tell my 90-year-old dad, “There’s plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.” He would chuckle, then go back to his wheelchair snooze.
“No slumping,” I’d tease, handing him pen and paper so he could finish documenting his life story. There’s books to read and dances to dance and toes to tickle.
He never finished that story of his.
His life, while long, just wasn’t long enough. Still, he sits in the shadows next to me, reminding me to enjoy every moment, to love wildly, to look forward, not back, and “Be bold in your travels near and far.”
Here today, gone tomorrow, Dad used to say.
In a blink.
All at once.