it wasn’t always this way. but, lately, i find myself very stuck within myself. within my circumstance. within the confines of my very small life. i used to be able to step outside of myself more easily.
being a parent. getting older. neurological paths becoming more worn. others fading and disappearing altogether. a combination of these things and the intensity of the life i now lead, a constant barrage of requests and demands and moods to tame and the storm of emotions to weather. any time i have to myself these days is often spent sleeping, dead to the world, body splayed out, utterly relaxed and unconscious. there isn’t much time for retrospection.
this past weekend, we took the three year old and the baby for a camping trip across the state. the baby was bundled up like a package in bubble wrap and was toted around by either dad or mom, buckled into his car seat or strapped to someone’s chest, rarely put down, rarely given much face time. he seemed to do alright. the cold made him sleepy and the constant motion of someone’s arms or the car must’ve had a lulling sensation. at one point, having him wrapped tightly to my chest on a hike through some woods, i looked down and could have been looking at my daughter from three years ago, they are so similar in sleep. i felt my heart swell for him in the way it once did for her, when she was something small and contained in my arms, mine. but i know how children grow and it’s never what you think. i looked up to see ruth, who i once held so tightly, running, panting, always feeling something intensely, always saying something, her voice carrying in the cold forest, the sound of her boots running through fallen leaves, coming towards me, hair bobbing, cheeks ablaze. i wondered then as i often do how ruth has grown into something so wild, not a bit translatable, complicated and confusing. i was hit with the familiar sensation, as i have since joel’s birth, of the slipping away of time, the cruel quickness of change, my lifetime seeming to spread before me like one complete roll of parchment, both ends visible, not so far apart as i once thought them, and i see the words forming as i live, somewhere near the middle. my young children. me, young parent. a few short paragraphs of mention.
as for the three year old, she wouldn’t wear a hat.
we survived the trip, barely within an inch of all of our lives, as anyone who tries to camp with very young children can tell you. just packing the car in itself was exhausting. then, there was the rest of the weekend to navigate.
the last day of our trip happened to be my thirty-first birthday. it dawned bright and warmish, as i knew it would. “don’t worry,” i said to greg about the weather, “tomorrow is my birthday. it’ll be nice.” at odds with my disposition, my birthday sky is always a clear, optimistic blue, sun warm and yellow, trees all aglow, fall colors radiating oranges and reds. before we left, we went back to the beach that ruth, the day before, refused to get out of the car to go and explore. after a moment’s hesitation, she took off her shoes and was running down the sandy beach to the water, a freed bird, barely something human. too good. too bright. too light to be held to this earth.
she was so full of zest, she even climbed the highest dune near the shore by herself with me panting nearby, stopping to catch my breath, lugging my older body upwards. when we got to the top, she stopped, turned towards the water and spread her arms out as though everything before us were hers and said, “look!” as though sharing all of this earthly wealth with me. i turned and looked but had to blink from the brightness of it. of her.
shortly after, we started to head back down and, for a moment, ruth let go of my hand and told me to “run!” and, heading down the dune, cold sand underfoot, wind in my hair and eyes, my body weightless, as if by magic, nearly in free fall, i felt myself let go. for just a second. of myself. my identity that can sometimes feel so heavy around my neck. my life. and i could have been any age. i felt nothing. just light.