Walking on the beach with two of my sisters. The sand squeaks beneath our toes, until we find the firmer ribbon, packed and damp, close to the water’s edge. We are mostly quiet.
My sister shines a flashlight on two people walking – we don’t know them. Crabs scuttle beneath our feet. At first we follow them with the light; eventually we decide not to know they are perilously close to our exposed toes. Our weak flashlight exposes a sandbar with a pole sticking out of the far end of it, several yards into the ocean. We walk along it to investigate. The pole is actually a crane, straight and still. We turn back, not wanting to disturb him. Her.
We pass two children with nets and a bucket, a green bucket with dozens of holes all around it. They are brutalizing a mound of sand, all vicious glee. We wonder that they have been allowed to frolic on the beach after dark, after 9:00 at night. My one sister reminds us that we are on the military base, a safer place. We were allowed a little more latitude when we were small children, in the years we lived on base. I think of Jack. I don’t know what on earth I’m doing, and I am most afraid and angry at my parenting mistakes when I feel that he may have an inkling of that truth. My most important role for him right now is the actor, pretending that the world is a settled and predictable place, and he need not fear it. We don’t live on a military base surrounded by fences and guards, but I want him to live in that idea of security.
The little man* in my life is curled up in his portable crib in one of the bedrooms, back at the cabin. My parents snooze on the couch in the front room while we three sisters walk beneath the moon and hazy, nearly starless sky. It is a sweet reality for me that though I move away from him through the sand, he is always behind my eyes. The scope of my love for him – . That is a sentence I couldn’t meaningfully finish. I think of my mother there in the cabin, her toes tucked under a blanket. It makes me uncomfortable to think of her loving me in this way. One day an adult Jack will say the same of me. I wonder if the new-ness of parenting ever wears off, this new way of looking at every relationship. As if I was the first to ever discover this. As if I he is the only beloved son in all the world, I the most loving mother.
Everywhere I look I see metaphors for my love for my son. The lighthouse beaming out into the night world. The ocean, endlessly breathing in and out, the ebb and flow of the moon-tide. The sand, in all its sparkle and infinity. It is easy to think in these pretty posey turns of phrase when he is asleep, and I am resting from the endless chores of caring for him. The truth is that the bulk of this parenting business is relentless, repetitive, arduous duty. I rest comfortably in that dichotomy: I exist now in the tension between the sweeping enormity and the daily grind of parenthood. The latter keeps me from dwelling too deeply on the former, and I think that makes me a better parent.
Before our walk, I took him into his room. I turned on his soft music, turned off the light, and held him (and his bear and his Cookie Monster and his binkit) and we rocked together. He tucked the top of his head under my chin, sucked his thumb contentedly. When I put him down, he went to sleep immediately. As I quietly pulled the door closed behind me, I listened to the lyrics of the song that was playing – an Ingrid Michaelson song about being breakable boys and girls. My eyes welled, and I sighed at how silly I have become. One thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was how raw and exposed parenthood would make me – how open to the world, its good and its bad. I cry at the dumbest things these days.
"I wonder how many miles out you can see the light?" one of my sisters asks, beneath the lighthouse. "I wonder if there’s a rule about that?" I muse aloud, but I am thinking about how to build the exchange into a story about my son. He finds his way into all of my stories. The narrative of my life spins out between his two dimpled, chubby hands.
When we get home, my parents are going to bed. My brother hasn’t yet returned from a trip out to town with his girlfriend. "Wake me when Randy gets home," says my mother, "I won’t sleep til he’s back." I smile, and I know.
June 22, 2009
*The big man is home, working, missed.