Friday, March 04, 2011
Learning how to walk together
"How about you and I go to Paris tomorrow, just us?” I asked Esther, just before bedtime.
Her eyes opened wide, and I could hear the echo of a scream bouncing around her throat before it even made it to her lips.
“Shhhhh,” I said, putting my finger to my lips, and smiling, "Don’t wake up Isla.”
She channeled the scream into an impressive vertical leap, then a little dance, a few suppressed yelps got out, and she threw her arms around me.
“Oh, Mommy,” she said. “I’ve been waiting.”
I set my alarm for 6:15, but woke at 5:45. I lay there in the darkness, feeling tired, and wondering if I was up for the task of escorting a 9 -year- old girl around a large, famously- overwhelming city.
“Don’t be stupid,” my inner bold traveler said. “Of course you are.”
We headed out into the frosty, black morning to catch the train. The excitement of what we were doing, running away to Paris, just she and I, was not lost on me. Running away by train makes it all the more romantic.
Esther held tightly to my hand. Our footsteps echoed hollowly off the sleeping stone houses.
“I’m so happy,” she said.
“So am I,” I answered, with a squeeze of my hand.
We were ten minutes early for the first morning train. When the click clack came echoing through the frozen air, Esther jumped up and ran to the side of the tracks to look.
“It’s still a ways off,” I said. “The sound travels far.”
But she stayed standing, waiting, and eventually the headlight of the train came into view. Our stomachs lurched in unison.
“Here it is,” Esther sang.
We stepped into the nearly-empty car and found a seat. A digital message board in the front of the car flashed, "Paris Bercy." It might as well have said, "the moon."
It’s like going to another planet. In under two hours.
The conductor boarded about four stops down the line, and asked for our tickets. We needed to buy them so he sat down across from us and took my credit card.
I fared well during the exchange but then, as he handed me the ticket, and told me something about getting it validated on the return, he lost me.
As soon as he left, I turned to Essie and said, “What did he say?”
“He said if you have a problem validating the ticket, tell the guy on the train that you just bought the ticket this morning.”
She knew she was relaying very important information. It’s not every day she gets to do this, but living in France has given her more responsibility since she is often my translator.
The train moved swiftly. We tried to look out the window, but saw only our reflections. We looked like we had giant heads. This made us laugh. After an hour, I sent a text to Ian. Esther pulled out her handmade, cardboard cell phone and pretended to write a text as well.
“This thing is great, it’s teaching me how to spell,” she said, tapping away on the penciled -in keyboard she had drawn just the night before.
Slowly, the daylight sucked up the darkness and we could see beyond ourselves.
We got to Paris and found the bus we wanted to take wasn’t coming for another 25 minutes. “We could walk a bit,” I suggested.
“Sure,” she said.
So we walked, and we talked. And we held hands. And we spotted lots of ladies in super high heels.
This has always been a fun pastime of ours. When you live in the country, some things never stop looking weird to you. High heels, and women walking in them, seemingly at ease, but sometimes in obvious pain, is one of those things.
Esther trotted to keep up with me. I reluctantly adjusted my pace. I also had to adjust our body spacing, continually, to avoid whacking arms, or, ouch, knuckles with her as we walked.
Esther and I have always managed to move awkwardly together. I don’t know what it is, but I have endless memories of her hard toddler head slamming into mine, and my sharp elbows jamming into her nose, at every turn. We can’t seem to get out of each other’s way.
It’s always tricky reacting to these collisions.
Especially when I am the injured victim, the one whose jaw bone gets rammed full bore by her hard-rock head, to the point where I fear fracture, or bite my tongue to bleeding. I let out a helpless yelp, which triggers Esther’s guilt, followed by defensiveness, which causes me to back pedal, despite my pain, and I find myself apologizing, for whatever reason. And having to explain: I’m not angry, I’m just hurt.
I’m still wondering at what age children start to understand the concept of personal space. Esther hasn’t quite gotten there yet.( Isla is regressing.)
I am forever having to tell both of them, as gently as I can, and sometimes not gently at all, sometimes in anger, that they are too close, hovering too much. In my face.
Essie's a bit like a lumbering puppy dog-- in that paws-too-big, teenage stage,-- who's getting quite big, but is still so obviously an ungainly pup. Always underfoot, tripping me, tripping herself, as she lopes along, trying to keep up, trying to contain her excitement. Her joy.
And this day, on the beautiful streets of Paris, I had to tell her, once again, that I can’t walk properly when she is walking so close to me. I need room to swing my arms. To fill out my space with nothing but me. To be free.
Is a mama allowed these things? Did my mother have to ask me to take a few steps back, or to the side, whenever we walked?
Later, in the lucious greenhouse, the first stop on our long list of stops, it was like stepping into another climate, another land, another world. We wandered slowly along the boardwalk, the huge, moist, leafy green trees drawing our eyes ever upward.
A family was just in front of us. Mom, dad and two small children. I noticed the mom bending over the older child, a toddler. Then I heard the mother yelp in pain and I saw her hand fly up to her chin.
The child looked confused, rubbed her head, and was consoled by daddy. The mother was left to navigate her pain, and her reaction to it, and her child’s reaction to it, all by herself.
Though I didn’t see it, I knew exactly what happened. And I knew exactly how she felt.
So much of motherhood, I've learned, is universal.