Everything Happened | vol. 170
Void where prohibited
2019 felt like a second adolescence for me, which, now that I wrote that out, am I just describing a mid-life crisis? I doubt I qualify as mid-life (mathematically, I hope not), and I’m sorry for anyone a day older than me that I just offended. My brother-in-law, who is eight years older than me!!, called me middle-aged this year and not a day has gone by since without me thinking about it. The worst thing you can say to or about a woman is that she’s old, I guess!
All year, I felt surprised by everything. When I was pregnant with Jane, I thought Desi would hate the new baby and resent us. I didn’t know that we would be giving him his main obsession in life. I thought I would be relieved, after a tough pregnancy, to never “have to” be pregnant again, instead I felt devastated that my reproductive years were over, that it was just a slow slide to cronedom, that all the mystery of my previous years, where would I live?, who would I love?, would I have children? what would we call them?, was now revealed and while it all turned out better than I could have personally designed, it left a void of wonder. A “what’s next?” feeling that I experienced like a death rather than an adventure.
When I was a kid, maybe eight years old, I was riding in the back of the car and listening to the oldies station and wondering if the Beatles had a hard time writing songs after they were married, maybe that’s why they broke up, no content, no heartache, too busy pickling in the hot tub of indefinite romantic equilibrium. I mean, lol at that notion beyond the specific psychodrama of the Beatles’ many marriages, but just as a comment on marriage in general as a stopping place and not a dynamic state you are in, moving forward, changing. A place where all the answers are known. Part of me must have still been worried about that all-knowing deadness when I got married, and I told my best friend that I made Nick promise that he would make my life weird and she laughed in my face. “I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
I’ve been married eight years and I don’t know shit. I’ve been a parent for four years and I know a lot more than I used to but can also now sense the bigness of all that I do not know. It feels similar to what I consider the most terrifying scene in cinema history, which is when Dory and Nemo become aware of the whale in Finding Nemo. I felt really mad at myself this year especially for not knowing things, or for knowing things but not accurately predicting what things would feel like. It is humbling when you finally see the whale, and if you’re a bit of a know-it-all like me, it’s humiliating.
I was so blindsided by the transition from private preschool (most preschools in the USA are private) to public pre-K. When we were writing big checks every month, it hurt, but we could also count on basically a year’s worth of childcare with a few public holidays we were likely to be off work for regardless. The cost of daycare is inhumane but we depended on it to be open, like a Waffle House where you can stash your kid. With public education comes all the early dismissals and winter breaks and spring breaks and teacher in-service days that I had forgotten about in the decades since I was in school. The accompanying unmoored feeling of realizing that everyone with kids older than mine has already been wading through this scheduling swamp and I didn’t clock it because it didn't apply to me.
There used to be, for me, a certain holy dread of the hours between five and eight p.m. This is the only time I get to spend with my kids on most weekdays but it has always been garbage time, rivaling the quality of airplane sleep or hospital sleep. I’ve heard the term “second shift” since I was in college but I’m not sure I anticipated the literalness. That when I pressed our front door code at 5:15, I might as well be punching a clock.
For a few months during the summer that Desi was not quite a year old, I was so obsessed with him that I wanted to quit my job, or reduce to very part-time. He was sleeping through the night finally and gaining the ability to crawl and eventually toddle smoothed out the acidity of his screamy early infancy. He was just so damn pleasant. It was summer and what was the point of my job exactly? Like to make money but weren’t we all just going to die soon? It wasn’t an option for me to quit my job; I was supporting us all on my income while my husband finished his doctorate. But I raced to pick him up at the end of the day and smell him and I will cop to having had occasional Christmas morning butterflies when I got him up out of his crib each day. It was a honeymoon; it didn’t last.
So here is another thing this year that I did not expect. I have been having a little bit of that feeling lately. That Christmas morning feeling. Maybe it’s that Jane is now close to that age that Desi was, and Desi is now at his most pleasant age since babyhood. I don’t dread the evenings anymore: I like watching them in the bath, I like reading to Desi, rocking Jane to sleep, I like when Desi tells me he wants Jane to stay a baby forever, wants our house to look like his forever, wants to live with me forever. Sometimes my mind will wander and I’ll try to get mad at myself for not feeling this way previously, but I have to flick that thought away like a dry booger. It’s okay to feel a nice feeling. It just is.
We have this saucer swing in the front yard. Because the trees in our front yard are so tall, Nick and I had to add an extra length of rope to the swing. This gave the swing an especially long arc, and I wince now as I remember calling it “the suicide swing” very edgelordishly to friends this summer as we watched our kids horse around on it. Who’s getting nervous about this paragraph? Ha ha ha ha ha me too. My brother Dan was pushing Desi in it on Sunday, and Desi was taunting Dan to push him higher and higher and higher. Right at the moment that I looked down at my phone to answer a call from Nick, the rope broke. The saucer flipped in mid-air and dumped my kid onto the ground, face first. I didn’t see the impact but I heard the sound, and then the horrible silence that followed. I braced myself to see the worst thing I had ever seen in my life. What I saw was a scraped-up face, and a mouth spitting dirt, and no blood, and normal pupils. Finally there was the full-throated scream of a terrified kid who was fine, and who was going to be fine.
My body spent the next 24 hours trying to metabolize that adrenaline. My hands vibrated, my thoughts raced, my mind made horrifying edits of worse and worse and worse outcomes, little horror movies of things going just a little bit differently. I was a human version of that Windows 95 3-D pipe maze screensaver, just constructing endless elaborate mental prisons out of my worst thoughts. Things have stabilized now. I’m okay. Desi’s magic regenerative four-year-old skin already looks healed, like nothing happened to him.
There is a middle place between death and adventure, the place where I usually get to live, where I can ignore that I’m at the edge of a void, just a fractured moment away from bottomless pain. When I’m home at night, when I’m sitting around the table making fart noises with my family, getting indefinitely older, safe for now from mystery, I can mostly forget. I can feel like I know everything.
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