Nostalgia, A Funny Bird

Photo by Babygirl, April 2020

In my mind, this is the moment: when LittleMan was taking his first steps, and he was in the diaper with the brown t-shirt of unknown provenance (though it meant something then, those 11 years ago), and the parrots were on the deck, and he was pressed against the glass, and we had the video camera going, and it was amazing.

Except, no.

This is how things get conflated.  This was, like, seven different things that I somehow, in my nostalgia, managed to converge into one, perfect memory…and it was none of those things.

Littleman took his first, careful steps at the South Beach Marina Playground at around 8:30am.  He and I were the only people there, and as he tested himself on the edge of the sandpit I rooted, and rooted, and cheered.

My husband and I left, a few hours later, on a late-night flight to New York for a wedding.

We owned a digital video camera (pre-smartphone).  My parents filmed LittleMan’s tumbly night.  It was hot, San Francisco’s October summer, when everyone leaves their windows open and the city feels electric and restless.  Littleman wore a diaper and a brown t-shirt and fell and fell and fell again.

Later that month we went to the pumpkin patch. Just the two of us, then we went to pick up Daddy and when we got home, the parrots were everywhere.  We have pictures of Littleman, pressed against the glass door to the deck, fascinated by the birds, with their tropical plumage and their incongruous, terrible squawk.


I am not a big fan of birds up close.  But I’ve been watching them a lot these past weeks (months?) as they conduct their migratory business.  The spring came late, largely because winter came late, with the bulk of our rains pouring down in March (just in time for our shelter-in-place, further justifying bluesy Monday afternoons spent watching Onward and eating popcorn in bed).  But it is May now, and unapologetically spring, and the swallows and nightingales are chirping by 5AM, the geese arriving and posting up on rooftops and along the paths where I walk in the chilly mornings.  They hiss at me as I pass, suggesting nests nearby.  I do not underestimate their strength.  Six feet.  Six feet.

They don’t know, of course.  They are completely unaffected.  The world broke, but also…it didn’t.

I think that’s the part that trips me up the most.  The part that will trip me up someday, when I look back at this endless string of days that will inevitably fuse together as one, mixed up memory.  Was it the time we broke?  Was it the time we realized we were far more whole than we knew?

Were we grieving the death of his father, their grandfather, which had nothing to do with COVID19 but became tangled up with it somehow?  Were we flattened by shock, and the invisible weight of anxiety induced by unsatisfactory trips to the grocery store, encumbered by layers of armor and made longer by the need to wash the citrus and the avocados with disinfecting scrub?

Were we angry?  Frustrated and trapped together, annoyed by each other’s foibles, weary of the tinny drone of voices coming through the Zoom, tired of staring at our own tired faces in the fishbowl cameras computers and iPhones?

Or were we, actually, okay?

Sadness and anxiety, dual weighted blankets like starless skies, settling at random moments, throwing us off-kilter.  Bursts of fury, crying helplessly in the laundry room so the kids don’t see.  There is dust everywhere.  Why is it so dusty?  Why are there so many fingerprints on the handle of the refrigerator door?  I never noticed the buildup like this.  There are so many germs and so few Clorox wipes.  There are so many people dying.  There is so much loneliness.  And yet…never alone.

But then…Screw it. Let’s go to the beach.  Let’s go on a hike.  Let’s buy new scooters, electric-blue ones with bigger tires that can handle the cracks in the road.  Let’s get a pizza to-go, with a beer and some Sprites on the side, and let’s sit on the wall outside and watch the birds in the late-afternoon sun.  Let’s work on that weird tan line between the bottom of our workout leggings and the tops of our running shoes, a sign that maybe it’s time to throw on a short, breezy dress and some earrings and let Babygirl paint our toenails a messy sea green.  Let’s grill burgers for lunch and just not be in this rut today.  Let’s play Go Fish.  Let’s play Charades.  Let’s change the rules to Pictionary so we don’t fight over whose turn it is to roll the dice.  Let’s make a birthday cake for a friend 200 miles away and send him a video of us eating it, standing up in the kitchen.

Let’s make sourdough bread, because apparently that is the thing that people do in 2020, in a pandemic.

Let’s make a baking soda volcano out of Play-Doh.  Let’s build a fire at 3pm.  Let’s watch a movie.  Let’s watch three movies.  Let’s make a cocktail.  Let’s make a collage out of buttons and feathers and magazine cut-outs.  Let’s move the furniture and do some yoga.

Let’s take a drive.  For an hour.  To nowhere.  Let’s listen to the Jonas Brothers on repeat.  Who is this Lizzo?  Let’s do our hair toss and check our nails, feeling good as hell.  

Let’s put down our phones.  Let’s not watch the news.  Let’s support local businesses.  Let’s donate to the museum.  Let’s try not to feel guilty that we aren’t doing more.  Let’s figure out what to do.

Let’s get up at 5:30 with the birdsong and sit quietly as the sun rises.  Let’s go around the room and each name one thing that would make today great.  Let’s try saying YES, to everything, because we have nothing but time and no reason to say no.

(Even though actually, we can’t do much.  Because everything is off-limits.  Because for some reason work is more stressful than ever.  Because we have to Zoom with our teachers.  Because we still need to finish that book report, and the color-coded Post-It chart taped to the wall says that in fact, this week’s “enrichment” is online art courses.  Because we have a call with the realtor, with the tax man, with the estate lawyer.  Because all the friends made a Fortnite date at 3:30 that cannot be moved.  So let’s do that.  Let’s stick to the routine.  Routine is important in times like these.  Thank god we were able to have a funeral, mere days, literally, before they were no longer allowed.)

I no longer keep a calendar.  There are no appointments, no lists.  After years and years (and years) of rushing, of squeezing things in, of multitasking like a boss, there is simply…now.



We stand in the kitchen and hug.  The kids say that hearing their dad open the bedroom door at the end of the day, signaling that his work is done, for now, is their favorite sound in the world.


I wonder what I will remember, 11 years from now.  I wonder how I will reconcile it all, what gymnastics my aging brain will execute to create some sort of gestalt from these messy pieces.

The pest control man rings the bell.  He has come to knock down the nests the pesky swallows are trying to build in the eaves outside, bringing with them bugs and dung, and weakening the wood.  He is essential.  We maintain a six-foot distance.

I come back to the birds.  To the spring, which marches on.

(Be well.)


  1. Judy Ching says:

    Oh, I was very very happy to read your writing.
    I’ve missed you, your thoughts, and your family.
    Love and one long big hug❣️‍♀️

  2. Oh, my friend. I knew you’d written this hours ago and I saved the reading until I could be alone and take my time. It was- of course-worth the wait. We are standing still (yet somehow sprinting?) right alongside you. Please let’s remember to look back in 11 years and mis-remember everything together. Sending you love from much further than 6 feet.

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