it’s a hard place to live. sometimes you can squint and strain until you see it: the instant you are living in exactly as it is. but it only lasts a second until your attention spirals outward again. then you’re living in your memories, your thoughts and plans for later, your mind opens up like a dam and everything sort of floods in. it’s the same with children. it can be hard to see them as they are at any one time, appreciate them for who they are right now. people say it and it’s true: it goes so fast. blink and a year has passed. that’s one thing that’s become so apparent with joel and why his birth has been so bitter sweet. it seems yesterday ruth was the one we were carrying around all day trying to soothe. they look a lot alike, especially while asleep and so, looking at joel, i am constantly having vivid flashbacks to ruth as a baby.
but ruth is not a baby. she’s a lanky three year old with attitude for miles. and we are far beyond those early days of cuddling and carrying. we’ve moved into much more complex territory. she can be a terror. sometimes it’s difficult to believe the feelings of anger and frustration that bubble up for this person that i love so much and once held to my breast feeling like the world was as complete as it could be. i try to hold onto those memories when i feel like i’ve had it all wrong. that i’ve dedicated my life to someone who may or may not be possessed by demons, or, at the very least, who is a maniacal, out-of-control sadist.
yet, then she will turn around and shock you with her utter joy at times, leave you standing wonder-struck and awed with the way she loves living, the way you vaguely remember from your own childhood, like you know you never can as a grown adult no matter how hard you would try, how much yoga you might do. and, at this point, there is still her unwavering devotion to and love for me and her dad that somewhat tempers her outrageous behavior. plus, she’s cute as fuck.
in any case, the other night, i was lying down with her to get her to go to sleep, and, i dunno, perhaps she had had a nap or something, but girlfriend was the farthest thing from tired and she was as awake as i can only get with two cups of coffee, talking my ear off. needless to say, i had not had a nap and was feeling much less perky. i may have been downright grumpy. then, i started actually listening to what she was saying. she has a turtle nightlight with stars on its shell that the light comes through and projects onto the ceiling and walls. it has been very handy ever since she’s begun sleeping alone in her room. anyways, there i was lying there, disgruntled and tired as hell, vaguely listening to her babble, chiming in every few seconds with admonitions that she stop talking and go to sleep. “which star is the brightest, mommy?” “i dunno. go to sleep.” “where is the moon?” “ruth. sleep. now.” “which star is your favorite?” i finally snapped out of it a bit. oh, my god, i thought, how fucking cute is this conversation? how gloriously simple and sweet, to be trying to engage her mother in talking about her turtle nightlight at the end of the day? and here i am, a fuckin’ deadbeat sonofabitch just trying to get her to shut up and be unconscious already.
and i knew, like you sometimes do, that this conversation, this night, this single instant, was imprinted on my brain forever. ruth at three. me, lying with her on her mattress on the floor with her small and compact form next to me, talking in her tiny voice about the stars from her nightlight. i knew, too, at that moment, that there would be a day, perhaps many days, when i would return to this night, to this place, and wish with all of my might that i could go back. i’m going to wish that she wanted me to lie down with her so she could go to sleep. i’m going to wish that i could climb back into this moment and stay here, talking with her about her nightlight. i knew this. yet, i couldn’t quite bring myself to appreciate it wholly right then and there and i laughed to myself at the irony of this. but i was just too damn tired.
“go. to sleep, ruth,” i said again, a little more gently, i’ll give myself that much. but only that and no more. as i said, these moments pass you by before you really fully appreciate them. what do they say? hindsight is 20/20? or various sayings about youth being wasted on the young or desiring to live your life in reverse? well. it’s all true.