Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing here. This blog that gave me a place to put my heart and hands for five years became something I let sit on the back burner. I started writing my advice column to myself on Medium. I started working on a collection of tiny essays, on my laptop, in a complicated maze of half-written pages and broken thought.
Those other things are valid and have been good for me and I don’t begrudge them. But I have missed the gentle placement of my observations, here. Like a table where I set down a bag of fruit. My offering. My offering to the day, to the host – to ultimately, myself.
Before we moved, I said to my friend Macee, “Mace. I am scared. I am deeply scared that I am about to walk into one of the hardest periods of my life.” Moving to a new city — at a time that I didn’t feel prepared to move and I didn’t want to leave where I was. Moving to a new city with a toddler. Moving to a new city with a dog I have moved into ten houses in the eight years since I adopted her. She has barely claimed the patch of grass she pees in in the morning before I yank her leash and move her, once again. “I’m scared to stay home with Oliver until we find daycare and I’m scared of trusting another daycare and I’m scared of trusting neighbors and I’m scared of feeling alone.
And I did. I walked into one of the hardest periods of my entire life. The first six months here in Madison challenged me in ways I was not prepared to be challenged. I honestly felt hopeless for possibly the first time in my life. Macee took every angst-filled phone call I placed to her. God bless her.
But we’re in the ninth month and things have changed so much. Jobs settled into. A new apartment. Sustained exercise. Oliver enrolled in activities. The weather sitting in between two extremes. Friendships solidified. Falling into routines. And suddenly, I realized, I might feel happy. Again.
I also realized I am in the midst of some serious magic. Oliver is three and a half years old. Hard as shit. Like, no joke – parenting a three year old is hands-down, flat-out the Very Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done. I’M SO CONFUSED! ALL THE TIME! DOES HE LOVE ME DOES HE HATE ME DO I LOVE HIM DO I HATE HIM HOLY SHIT SOMEONE HELP ME!
But. He also still has little pockets of fat above the knuckles in his hand. His head still fits into the palm of my hand, and sometimes when he’s sleeping, I walk in, stand over his bed, and do just that. Move his head into the palm of my hand and kneel there. I made this little human. How I adore this little human.
And how this little human has forced me into magic.
On Monday night, we walked down the block to a bar. Me, Nic and Ollie. It was quiet where we walked in, and I thought maybe I had gotten something wrong. But then we turned the corner, into a big, weird, old room with a big, weird, old stage and a weird, older man on the stage with a guitar. And a pile of little kids in front of him – waving their arms, swaying their hips, opening their mouths, singing – free.
We sat next to the friends who had invited us there. Next to them and to their other friend, who quickly felt like our friend. We ordered beers and hamburgers (made of crushed walnuts bc this is Madison) and cheese curds (bc Madison) and settled in to watch our children tear up the floor — in a place where they were allowed and encouraged to tear up the floor. At one point, the man with the mic called out, “THERE IS A CHILD LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DANCE FLOOR ON HER BACK EATING A GRILLED CHEESE.” It was my friend’s daughter. She was FREE.
We were sitting, smack-dab, in the middle of magic. When else will we be able to sit and watch our little lovethings jam out in a bar while we sit and laugh and make fun of them with friends?
And that is what Madison has given us. Families with small children with whom we can sit and laugh and make fun of them with, while drinking a beer or a coffee or water or nothing. Call me in five years. This won’t be happening. Oliver will be eight and toddler dance time won’t be on our shortlist anymore. We’ll be home, ignoring him. Ignoring our friends.
Too depressing? Yes. Hopefully also untrue. But these magic toddler days won’t still be happening.
A few months ago, I was biking Oliver home from school and we decided to go a route I hadn’t ever gone and Ollie saw a park and yelled for me to please stop and let him play and I couldn’t rationalize not saying yes, so I stopped and then we wandered onto a stage, and I asked a man what was happening and he replied, ‘omg. you don’t know? it’s one of the coolest shows that exists! people show up here hours before it starts to put a blanket down to save their spot ((blankets were, yes, everywhere)) — and then he ran to his bag, pulled out a spare blanket, walked over to where I was standing, placed it on the ground and said — ‘here. now you and your son can watch the show when it starts.’
Yesterday, Ollie stayed home sick with me, and it was one of the sweetest days of my life. He was a little more subdued, but his heart was big and kind. We played the matching game, he ordered me to draw like 14 monster trucks for him, we took two walks together, I made him lunch that he didn’t eat, he asked me to sit by him while he watched a show (which is not the norm now. usually, I’ll saddle up on the couch next to him and he’ll look over, and sweetly say: “mom, can you please not touch me..?”)
And he took a nap. Not the kind of nap that I force him into. Not the kind that I make threats about and where I physically restrain him or hold the door shut or where he ends up crying. Probably the first nap of its kind. I said, ‘hey Ollie, it’s time for your nap,’ and he walked straight into his room and crawled into his bed. I would have done a celebratory lap around the house but I knew the only reason he did so was because he must have genuinely felt like shit so I kept my excitement down.
But there is something about your child napping in your vicinity – in the middle of a day -that is unlike anything else. The satisfaction of it. They are close by. They are quiet. They are safe. You are in the sun. You are quiet. You are safe. You will see them on the other side of sleep.
On our second walk yesterday, we went to Walgreens. I had to pick up a prescription. While waiting in line at the pharmacy, Oliver stood next to me, repeatedly opening not-one-but-two Jake the Pirate musical greeting cards. Imagine that. The sound. Two renditions of the song going, one a couple beats behind the other to make it extra aggravating, with the general store muzak sitting behind that. The people in the pharmacy area must be wildly annoyed, I thought. I looked towards the man, seated behind me, waiting to take a test. He was older, with a weathered face. It looked like life had been hard on him. Like it took a significant amount of muscle command to force his face into a smile. I immediately reached out to him, in apology. ‘Sorry if that is just horrendous; the sound,’ I said. He looked up at me and sort of shook his head, gently, as if he were coming out of something.
“I didn’t hear a thing. I honestly can’t hear any of the sound around me; I was so caught up watching him and remembering the time my daughter was the same age. How I loved that age. Is he three?”