well, i’ve done it again. an entire week without a post. this time, i have a valid excuse: i hosted a party at my house and as any other semi hoarders out there would know, that that meant an entire overhaul was in order. combined with detailed cleaning of things that are overlooked on a day-to-day basis, like the ceiling fans and crusted food inside the fridge, and you’ve got a few solid days worth of cleaning on your hands. i even broke out the nail polish remover and finally got the tape bits off my front windows from the christmas lights. three years ago. does anyone need a venue for a party? because my house is sparkling right now.
in all seriousness, i want to talk about something serious. no, i’m not about to announce that i have a brain fog and need to throw myself into a volcano in order to save a tiny island culture (what? you don’t know this reference? go watch “joe vs. the volcano”, arguably tom hanks best movie). i’m just going to tell you about our trip to the zoo yesterday and i will do my best to explain why it is making my heart feel heavy, saggy, and drippy like a soaked beach towel.
do other people do this? in any given place, i am aware of numerous selves throughout time. when i am somewhere that i have been to before, i am not only experiencing my current activity there, but am constantly glancing out of the corner of my eye at my past self and what she was doing the last time i was there. i try to figure her out. what was she thinking? how was she feeling? and how did she see her life differently than i do now, if at all? (if you are a buddhist monk reading this, you probably have the urge to reach out to me and tell me that i am gaining unhappiness by looking over my shoulder in this way, always reliving the past. you might try to tell me to be fully present in the moment and not to be so attached to former versions of myself or concepts of myself. all good advice, but not something a pessimistic wonderer like myself is capable of. thanks, anyway).
we spent a lot of time at the zoo last year beginning in april. even though ruth couldn’t yet walk, we bought a membership, confident that she would be soon and then be all over that place like white on rice. well, it turns out that she didn’t walk until july and even then, it was bad. most of our time at the zoo was spent struggling to make it from one exhibit to the next, constantly trying to get her into the stroller, having her get out and holding her hand or hover over her in case she faltered, taking the tiniest, slowest baby steps ever. we’re talking snail’s pace here. i used to feel a bit foolish when other parents whizzed by us with their passel of older, fast-walking, running, even, kids, pointing things out to them and talking a mile a minute back and forth. i used to burn with envy as i looked back down at my little chub ball, feeling like the day would never come when she would take off like that, propel herself at that rate, and talk back to me about things, even ask questions. when we would reach an exhibit, i would hoist her up on my shoulder and point out the animals. her reaction was somewhat distracted, cranky, and non verbal. at times like that, i would wonder to myself, “why am i even bothering? why bring her here? why put my back through this? i’m hot. she’s hot. this is stupid.”
we have gone to the zoo over the fall and a few times in the winter, but this past monday was the first time we have been in this crazy summer weather. maybe that’s why the two versions of her were so prevalent in my head, juxtaposed to each other, and vastly different, her last summer self and her current self. she now runs all over, avoiding being run over by wagons and people with relative ease. she never needs help walking. she is interested in the animals and things at the zoo. she moves forward independently of us. she has a constant stream of banter going with herself, imaginary friends, and sometimes even us. she is the version of herself i envisioned her being last year when we bought our membership. i kept looking back at her last year self, seeing that she has become what i have waited so long for her to become. that inquisitive, autonomous toddler, steady on her feet, self-directed.
in physics, you learn that there are two types of energy: potential energy and kinetic energy. potential energy is stored up energy, the possibility for kinetic energy. kinetic energy is basically what all of the potential energy of something gets converted into once a thing begins moving, the energy of motion. in other words, for every ounce of kinetic energy gained, an equal amount of potential energy is lost. if you hold a rock up in the air, it is full of potential energy. let it go, and little by little, at each point of it’s trajectory, all of it’s potential energy gets converted into kinetic energy.
ruth is on such a trajectory. for every ounce of kinetic energy she gains, the energy of forward motion, there is potential energy lost. little did i realize that those same parents i envied were looking over their shoulder at me, at what they have already lost hold of, the special feeling of having everything in front of you. at the time, i was drained from lugging around a portly baby everywhere, but now i see how special, unique, and short lived that time was, her first exposure to everything when she was crouched like a bud, just peeking out, absorbing life inwards. all of a sudden, it’s like on a roller coaster when it takes forever to reach the top of the first peak and then you tick….tick….tick over the edge, and suddenly, the acceleration begins at an exponential rate. everything she has been absorbing, taking in, is rushing out, like the burst of a bright flower, a rock rolling downhill or dropped from a great height.
don’t get me wrong. i love seeing the way she changes every day, the way her mind is always reaching out in a thousand directions like sycamore branches. but i must look back at that smaller version of herself, that dormant seed self that i carried close to my heart and whispered to, and sigh. for the loss of even the tiniest bit of potential, the small bit of her life that she has already lived. that is no longer in front of us, but behind us, written in stone, unable to be wiped clean, rewritten, re lived. we passed a few smaller babies at the zoo. ruth whipped by them at what must have seemed like lightning speed. i could see the perspiration on the brows of the parents, the way they looked at ruth with longing as they bent over and supported their not-yet-walkers, but something in my heart became heavy, fell to the bottom and sat there like a stone. and i took a minute to hold it, examine it, feel it’s weight. then i put it in my pocket as a memento, a reminder. of lost potential.