Leaving Mae

          Written April, 2012
          I just left my one-year-old baby for the first time.  I’ve left her for a few hours before, even for a long date after she has gone to bed, but that’s it.  So this five day trip from the middle of the country to the coast is going to be hard.  Perhaps harder on me than on her, but who knows.  It’s hard to tell with a baby.  Hard to tell what their little brains are thinking.  Certainly you can tell she’s sad if she’s crying, or mad if she’s throwing her bib at you when you try to give her another bite of peas.  But you can’t really look inside and see what being left by her mommy, just after being weaned no less, does to my baby girl’s heart.
          Maybe it’s not something I should dwell on; maybe I should just let it be what it is and make the best of whatever happens afterward.  That sounds good…but that’s not really me.  I like to dig, so that’s what I’ll do, and then maybe I’ll feel better about it.  Or maybe I’ll fly home.
          Sweet Baby Mae is actually, literally, should-be-in-the-book-of-facts, the most darling baby that ever lived.  She smiles all the time, sings happily with her nose scrunched up in sincerity, says “hi” clear as day to everyone in the grocery store, and gives hugs freely with back-pats included.  When she cries, you know something is very wrong.  I love being around her.
          As a mom of three I can certainly say that I could use a break from mothering for a few days.  Time to sleep through the night, drink some tea and read the paper without being asked to read the comics aloud, or go to the bathroom whenever I wish without company.  That sounds lovely.  I do need a breather from the older two – one seven and one four.  My constantly-talking, question-asking, repeat-button-on-the-cd-player-loving ones who tend to leave me exhausted by the end of the day.  I don’t need a break from my baby, though.  She says “hi” in the morning when I scoop her up from her crib, “ta-da” when I put the shades up, and her “Da-deee” is so clear and sweet and toothy I can’t even be bothered that it’s the wrong name.  We’re completely in love, and I miss her already.
          I know that part of my anxiety over leaving her is her disposition and utter cuteness, the lack of which is going to make me cry at least once while I’m gone.  And another is hoping that I haven’t scarred her for life by taking off so abruptly, for what in baby years will feel like six months.  But I think the deeper issue here is that she is my last.  As far as we’re planning anyway, this is my last baby to be born of my body, to be nursed by me, to be rocked while I sing her goodnight as she looks up with her big blue eyes and sucks her thumb, smiling slightly at the corners.  This is it.  And now I’m missing five days.
          Aha.  My self-love strikes again.  Really, this is a selfishness problem.  If I rank my reasons for being sad to leave, my own feeling of loss is at the top.  Love for my darling baby a close second.  I disguised my self-centeredness even to me.
          In light of this discovery I can rest a little easier about my trip.  I can let myself be sad about missing her, knowing that she, likely, is back at home not really realizing I’m gone.  Certainly not knowing I’ve flown so very far away, and am holding my brother’s four-month-old twin girls instead of her.  And maybe in baby years it’s actually like twenty minutes?  She does love her daddy – his is the one name she says .  So after all this fuss about leaving Mae, I’ve worked through it a bit and feel much better.  Despite my initial worries for Mae’s sake, apparently that’s what this was all about.

That Very Word

 

          We’ve been looking for a new house for a year and a half, and in that time we’ve seen all sorts.  One option included a pool.  That got me thinking about whether I’d even want a pool if we could afford one.  And it made me consider the value of our summer trips to the public pool.  When I was a kid that consisted of a large rectangle filled with water and gagillions of peeing kids.  Now it has a zero depth entry, water “features”, a giant swirly slide, and water-squirting ride-on animals for the toddlers.  Slightly more upscale.  But some things (including the peeing kids) remain the same.

 

Lessons I’ve Learned from the Public Pool:

 

1.  I look just fine in a bathing suit.  Sometimes it’s a bikini day, and other times a one-piece is in order, but either way I can rest assured that the assortment of body shapes at the downtown pool are varied enough to include one such as mine.  The standards aren’t too high.  I’m not sunbathing poolside in Vegas, or at a country club, or in the protected confines of my own backyard.  I’m out in the world, being part of it, just one among all sorts.

2.  The pool is a microcosm of life in the outside world.  Kids play, kids get in trouble, people argue, people make out, there are beauties and nerds, jocks and bullies, black and white and yellow and brown, pale and tan, people with tattoos and those who would never get one, people who eat from the snack bar and people who think that’s gross.  And they’re all together in the same water, having a good time, accepting each other enough not to leave, learning a little about humanity in general.  Perhaps an enormous pool is the solution for peace in the Middle East.

3.  Sunscreen is important.  There are always a few at the pool who have turned to leather from years of baking in the summer sun.  These people are walking reminders to slather on the spf 30.  And to reapply in a few hours.  And to take a day off every once in a while to sit indoors and read.

4.  Always wear your flip-flops to the bathroom.  It’s not as clean as one might like, which forces some thinking ahead – a skill that everyone can use.

5.  People are people.  With worries and joys and values of their own.  They’re sitting in the pool chairs all around you – you hear their conversations, see them with their kids, observe how they act around others.  You get a glimpse into their lives and, therefore, view them as more “us” than “them”, which is always a good thing.

6.  Never disturb the lap lanes.  In the midst of the chaos – the big kids roughhousing in the deep end, the little ones screaming in the shallow one – the lap lanes remain a protected, peaceful area.  If you want that, pick a lane, put your head down and begin.  If not, stay the heck out so that those who do can freestyle in peace.  It’s a simple rule but does wonders for everyone.

7.  To everything there is a season.  Inevitably the novelty of the pool wears off.  In May, opening day can’t come soon enough.  By August the kids are bored of the swirly slide and sit on their towels eating peanut butter pretzels.  I have to remind them that they only have a few more days.  That soon the pool will close for the year and our only option will be indoors.  School will start.  Hours of free time will cease to exist.  But the thrill is gone and school doesn’t sound so bad.  Halloween costumes are already being imagined.  The pool’s shelf life has come to an end for another summer.  Turn, turn, turn; Solomon and Pete Seeger were right.

I, for one, am not ready to let the summer go; I wish I could hang on for a few more weeks.  Until I’m sick of it myself and ready for the cool weather to begin.  For my kids to be gone for a while during the day.  For earlier bedtimes and ritual to re-enter our lives.  But I can’t, and I’m not.  Even the frequent evacuations due to poop in the three-foot area haven’t soured me on the place, so I’m making this ode to the Public Pool.  That miniature version of the outside world, in all its diversity and imperfection.

Here’s to humanity being brought together by chlorinated water and a diving board.

Here’s to that very word –

“public.”