Goodbye, Hello

On a Monday morning not long ago, I had trouble waking up.  I missed my usual morning workout, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the temperature shot up past 70 degrees that afternoon, so I dropped everything I had planned for the 90 minutes the kids attend After School Care and bolted for the Embarcadero the minute I left work.

The promenade was alive with sun-seekers, nannies and mommies with strollers, dogs, all moving at different speeds.  I set my sights on Mission Creek.

There is a playground near the ballpark, a blink-and-you’ll miss it little fenced-in spot designed exclusively for the wobbler set.  Low walls and tiny tunnels, a small sandbox.  The tallest structure is no higher than my head.

LittleMan took his first steps in this playground, one foggy October morning in 2009.  I remember him standing on the edge of the sandbox in his corduroy zip-up hi-tops and a yellow sweater, contemplating his next (his first) move.  Two or three steps and then a tumble, me hollering with joy.  I met a dear friend at this playground a month later.  During the few months I didn’t work, when LittleMan was just a year old, we came here every morning, built a small community of friends and lunch dates, and we held onto it well into Babygirl’s life, LittleMan balancing on the walls with her cruising along at his feet.

This park bores them now.  They have moved on to the big, glossy playgrounds in Dolores Park, or in Pacific Heights, with massive twisting slides and vertiginous climbing walls adorned with ropes and webs.  They climb and I panic, and they assure me they’ll be fine.  They jump from higher and higher platforms.  They risk, and I watch, wait, soothe if necessary.

Anyway, as I charged along the waterfront and approached the ballpark, I recognized the moms, out for the Post-Nap Activity, grateful for the first of the longer spring-summer days, administering snacks and bottles before settling into park time.  While the children toddle and dig, the moms would talk about how naptime went, what they are making for dinner, if their husbands are working late.

The pang of nostalgia hit me as passed.  I wanted like to stop and talk to them, tell them to pay attention, because it’s fleeting, this quiet moment at the Bay-side playground.  Soon their babies will boldly climb ladders so high they won’t be able to reach them, will leave them to stand below, biting their lips, hoping for the best.

But I also knew (know) they’re tired of hearing it, tired of being told to “enjoy every moment” of this exhausting, baffling, food-throwing, nap-defying age.  And they really don’t want to hear it from someone like me, enjoying as I was that most elusive of luxuries: a run, alone, at 4pm on a sunny Monday.  What’s next?  Some vintage shopping and a glass of champagne?  A manicure?

Oh, I remember.

But if there is proof of God, surely it is that over time the harshest edges of parenthood become dull and fade, while the softest, tenderest ones grow sharper, piercing the heart and the memory suddenly and without warning.  Those long, sleepless first nights, pacing and rocking and marking the hours by the gong of the church bell a few blocks away: looking back now, I remember the impossible weight of the tiny body, the quiet breathing, the fluttering of eyelashes against my chest.  The night, ours.

My sister is having another baby this fall and it’s got me remembering and thinking.  Thinking sort of globally, actually, about the Human Condition and Procreation (I must be getting old – ha!).  Thinking about why we have children in the first place.  And then why we have more children, even though we know it’s hard on a personal level, and even though we know the world is overpopulated and climate change will probably destroy the earth.  Even though we know about Facebook and “sexting” and the terrifyingly low job prospects for college graduates.  Face it: for us, in the developed world where we don’t need a bunch of farm hands and water-finders, there is flat-out no logical reason to keep this business up.

But we do.  We do, and it makes us happy.

Children connect us to our humanity.  They connect us to the past, they make us links in the ancestral chain rather than dangling loose ends.  They connect us to the future: long after I am gone (if Fate and Nature are kind and just), there will be this child, and her children, and his, and so on.

And finally, children connect us to each other: we smile at other people’s babies, form mother’s groups, sing at music class, write on message boards, read and write our blogs.  Our children, with their schools and their activities, create community.  They bring new friends into our lives, and shed new light on old friendships.  They instill in us empathy.  When tragedy strikes, as it did last weekend in Isla Vista, for example, we grieve not only for the lost children, but for their parents.  For the parental collective: we must bear this scar now, too; we must be vigilant, always.

My children make me want to combat climate change, and advocate for gun control, and buy organic, and be the change I seek in the world.  Their world.  Maybe I always had the interest, but my children gave me the reason.

I suppose that most of the time, I pretty much exist in the daily routine (see: the various inanities of the previous post).  But sometimes, on a stolen Spring afternoon, I walk outside of it for a while, and I re-discover my wonder, my gratitude.  I re-discover my children, the miracle and responsibility of them.  I marvel at the way they have established me — us — in the web of life.

And then I go get them, and hold them close.

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