I'm in my second year of living back in Austin which means if I go somewhere, I have to drive. I still miss walking anywhere I needed to go. Partly it’s how I exercised and also because walking lends itself so nicely to noticing, daydreaming, and imagining. Now, instead of noticing buildings, architecture, scaffolding, dirty snow, or all the different dogs on big city streets I notice people not properly using their blinker, that yes dummy you could have made it through that yellow light and the three people behind you. I notice the new tire store, the new Neapolitan pizza place that FINALLY opened, the people waiting for the bus, that oh shit I need to get gas.
Today I went to three places that weren't my house. First was my parents, to get their very old cat to take to the vet to have her nails trimmed. The last time we tried to do it at home, she peed all over me. Sprayed, really. So to sit in the waiting room, reading Twitter and looking at people's dogs was a step up. One little dog, a mix, was named POTUS. The owner didn't tell me his name (of course it was a HE) was fully capitalized but I'm assuming it's all caps because otherwise it would be Potus and that's not a name. There was an apple and cinnamon scented candle in the lobby, which I thought was a touch out of season, especially since it's going to be 85 degrees here today. The feline mani was over in about six minutes so I took her cardboard box back to my parent's, unloaded the cat, refilled her food bowl, and left.
My daughter is at preschool. So I could have gone back home to read more Twitter and ignore the pile of work I need to do. Or I could go to Nordstrom Rack and not find anything to buy. I've been to NR probably four times in the last six months and never find anything. Why do I keep going there, you might wonder. I'll tell you. It's because I have a $37 gift card from something I returned and I want to be done with it. Plus, I really want to ignore the pile of work I need to do. So I go to The Rack. I actually find something! A purse that's not black, grey, or any combination of those two colors. Plus, it's $39.97 so I'll finally be done with that gift card. I browsed through the women's clothes. Awful, all of it. Seriously, what is going on with clothes right now? The shoes were equally sad. As I was making my way through the bathing suits, I eavesdropped on a couple in their late sixties.
"Oh look dear, this is the same type of thing I used to get for the girls. Do you remember?"
"Uh," he said.
"Let's see who makes it. Tommy! I knew it! I'm so happy I recognized his word."
"I think you better put that down," he said.
"You've always been smarter than me," she said. I don't know what this is in reference to. She just recognized a designer by his work alone, which I think is pretty smart.
I picked out some shoes for my daughter. I've had the toughest time getting her shoes that will work. She's four, so can't yet tie her own and I refuse to buy her tennis shoes like Nike, New Balance, Adidas. They don't go well with the dresses or skirts she insists on wearing everyday. So I find some cute velcro pink Converse and head to the check out line.
My gift card is used up, my kiddo has some new shoes she will either love or hate. I'm hoping love because I really don't want to have to go back to that store.
I don't go into the Whole Foods next door. I was tempted but didn't want to spend all of our tax return we literally just got.
Today is my grandmother’s 98th birthday. The last three weeks we thought she was going to die. Threatened sepsis, a serious bout of pneumonia that landed her in intensive care, and two episodes of labored breathing and hallucinating. This is it, my uncle kept saying.
To be honest, I was OK with her dying. Not in a cruel I hate my grandmother kind of way. But rather in a, what I thought, was a compassionate way. She has dementia, often can’t recognize my sister and me, she’s lost most of her teeth. She can’t do the things that gave her life meaning these 90 plus years: travel, read romance novels, cook, tend to her own house, play bridge, shop at Talbots, drink real wine. Not that she’s noticed we switched her to non-alcoholic wine a couple years ago.
My grandmother is one of the most autonomous people I know. She is now dependent on my uncle or my sister and me to take her out. Forget about going to the beach. It can be hard enough to take her out to dinner. She gets confused, can’t hear, has trouble eating.
How is that a life? I would think too often. So, yeah, I was OK with her transitioning to whatever happens next. Happy for her even. I knew wherever she went, it would be better than here. Right?
Only today I noticed that she enjoyed herself at the little party we threw together for her. She laughed, smiled, visited, tickled my niece and nephew’s feet. Told them they were good babies, even though they were screaming in hunger. My aunt and uncle got her new clothes from Macy’s. Cruise wear, I would call it, complete with white AND khaki capri pants. All of this for me? she said.
Maybe I don’t get to decide what life is for anyone other than me. Maybe what gives her life meaning has evolved into a more simple way of life. Being with people you love, feeling like you still belong, that there is a small contingent of people who care about you so much they will gather and celebrate your life, whatever that life looks like.
It gives me hope. I’m only 31, but I worry about waning quality of life as I age. What if I can’t do X or Y? What if I lose myself? What will happen then? Well maybe, just like my grandmother, I’ll figure out new things to do that make me happy. Maybe I too will devolve into a simpler kind of life. And no one else gets to say a damn thing about it.
I didn’t really go out in public today, so I’ll have to notice something about myself.
Today I noticed that my brain/eye/wonder automatically turns inward. I didn’t go out in public, sure, but I saw my husband, daughter, dog, sister. I watered my plants, fed my parents cat. Yet instead of delving into those external forces that make up my daily life, I went straight for myself. That’s ok, I guess. But for me, part of this exercise is to notice my surroundings more. What’s in front of me that I may miss? A lot apparently.
That being said, here is something not totally about myself that I did notice. Not all cashes are created equal. A good cashew is like butter. Creamy, full bodied, easy to eat. Bad cashews are a real bummer. The ones we have right now—which are from the bulk section in our grocery store and cost 9.99 a pound so should be in the good cashew group—have no flavor and a dissatisfying texture. I’d rather eat Triscuits than those bad cashews. Though Triscuits are pretty good so…
Day Four (I'm behind!)
Today I noticed that April, and really all of 2016, is just totally flying by. How is already the ninth? What have I even done this year? Oh yeah, started taking some classes at the community college, revising my second novel, gone to like 60 birthday parties for kids, celebrated my own kiddo’s fourth birthday. Four years old! It’s almost unbelievable.
On her first birthday, we moved from Chicago to New York City. Our rent doubled, I lost my in unit laundry and every other semblance of my old life. And since I’m not good at meeting people, I floundered. On her second birthday, our second year in New York, I sought out a therapist to help me not kill myself. It worked. Thanks Nancy!
My daughter’s third birthday, we’d just moved into our first house in Austin, TX, where I’m from. Leaving New York was the only way to keep my family together, but it was an excruciating decision. I wasn’t sure I ever really wanted to move back “home”. It sounded nice in theory. My whole family is here, my sisters with their children, my mom and step-dad, aunts, uncles, grandmothers. Everyone. Everyone. When I left Austin, it had been to escape a terrible relationship. Instead of say, breaking up with the guy, I moved 1200 miles north in January. Oh, and I didn’t even break up with him until I’d been gone for two months. Not one of my finest moments. Anyhow, we moved back to Austin, skipped the Northeast winter and wore shorts on Christmas Day.
This year, my daughter’s fourth birthday, we are still in the same house. We’ve even hung some stuff on the wall, purchased a credenza from IKEA that I hope to one set a record player on. For now, it just holds our Sonos speaker, a globe, and unopened mail. We made spaghetti and meatballs for our family. I also made a cake, but due to a timing error, it wasn’t ready until after the birthday girl went to bed. So I ended up eating a slice of her cake before she did. It all worked out.
Next year, we’ll likely still be in this house. We’ll likely have stability, something we’ve been lacking for a long time. And yet. There is something unsettling in being still. Constant motion, in a somewhat disturbed way, compliments my slight OCD, my anxiety, my pleasantly agitated state. That’s not normal, but then neither am I.
You know how they say memories are strongly connected to smell? That’s never been true for me. There are smells, sure, that I associate with my past. But for me it’s sound. I noticed this on Tuesday. It had been raining and our driveway isn’t fully paved. Between two rows of paved concrete for our tires, it’s dirt. Real Texas like. So I pulled out and started driving down the street and mud started kicking up to the underbelly of my car as the wheels spun down the road.
Immediately I was transported to rural South Texas where my grandparents own a farm. Not an animal farm, rather, sugar cane, cotton, onions, palm trees. It’s just my grandmother now, but most of the roads down there weren’t paved until the last decade and many of them still aren’t. So rain or not, there is always the sound of rocks and dirt being tossed up into the underbelly of your car. I’ve heard that sound my whole life. It was like a pacifier.
I was six again, chasing my cousins, screaming with laughter, pretending the snakes in the rows of cane were going to get us. Then ten, swimming in the pool and going to Mexico for dinner. Ordering the lime green lemonade, daring my cousin Josh to eat a whole jalapeño. Then 13, going down for my grandfather’s funeral. Seeing my grandmother tortured and changed. The house lost a sound, lost a soul. 17, seeing my two of my boy cousins wracked with heroin and cocaine use. Junkies, I thought, bewildered and sad. Then at 20, Josh’s funeral. He’d overdosed, seemingly on purpose. 25 for my wedding, my friends from Chicago and San Francisco coming to celebrate and be a part of my heritage. 27, taking my daughter to my grandmother’s farm. Introducing the fourth generation of our family to the Valley. I go back and back and back. It’s the one places in my life that hasn’t changed, that’s always been a home. A familiar source of comfort, stability. The palm trees waving their greeting as we approach, the wind rustling the stalks of sugar cane, the dirt kicks up in the tires as we ease into the drive. The big wooden door is always open, always ready to receive.
Which reminds me. For some reason, another sound I catalogue is the way a door sounds when it closes. It’s such a counter to my grandmother’s door. I remember the door from our condo in Chicago, both doors in our NYC apartments, the door of the yoga studio we owned, my parents’ door. There might be a metaphor in there, that I remember the distinct sounds of doors closing. But I’m going to ignore that.
It’s raining today, which I love. I live in Texas which up until last May was plagued for years with a drought many worried (rejoiced?) would be the end of the Lone Star State. We’re fine now! Ya’ll can all relax and stop moving to Austin please. Except some of you, some of you can come.
Rain in Austin is both a blessing and real motherfucking curse. So it’s hot here, and humid, in case you didn’t know. The rain comes, our lawns are green, my tomato plant is flourishing, the trees are full and bright. Then Satan’s army comes in. Those would be the mosquitoes. The millions and millions and millions of mosquitoes that are undeterred by the other army we have here. Bats, who allegedly eat mosquitoes. Though I can’t tell.
Some people aren’t affected by the state bird of Texas. “Oh they don’t bother me at all!” they’ll laugh and look around as if they aren’t sure they really exist. Meanwhile my skin looks like it broke out in hives and I’ve developed a rash that’s taken over my whole body. “Really?” I say as I’m swatting the air and hitting myself. “You never get bitten?”
It’s enough to make me want to bail. They days where it’s over 100 degrees are almost a blessing because they mosquitoes can’t fly in the heat. Yaaaaaaaaay.
There are rules to help avoid the nasty buggers. Grow herbs! Don’t have any standing water! Wear long sleeves! Bug spray!
A) Herbs don’t do shit.
B) We just had a monsoon. Literally the entire outdoors is standing water.
C) Did I mention it’s hot here?
D) Doesn’t do shit.
I should probably just move to Portland.
Today I noticed a woman breastfeeding her baby. This isn’t a terribly strange thing to notice. But what made it unusual was that she was doing it in the front seat of her minivan in a parking lot at Target. I was also hanging out in my car. My daughter had been invited to a playdate and instead of driving the 25 minutes back home only to have to turn around an hour later, I found a Target and sat in the car and wrote in my journal, read Twitter, and did some homework. And watched this lady.
I didn’t actually see her pull her boob out and attach the baby, but I knew the motions. The shift to lay baby on your lap, then the elbow goes up to adjust your top, the hunch forward while you maneuver the baby to get a latch, and the relax and lean back when things get going.
I suppose doing it in your car would be comfortable. The AC would be going, maybe some nice mood music or NPR, you’re sitting in your own space…
It made me think of some of the places I’d fed my daughter. When she was eight days old—and I was still in some kind of delusion that life was normal—my husband and I met all of our friends at a restaurant and bar called Piece Pizza in Chicago. This is one of the loudest places I’ve ever eaten. Our table was one of those tall ones where you sat on high bar chairs and your legs dangle down unless you prop your feet on the bar between the chair legs.
I hadn’t yet been out in public so hadn’t mastered the discreetness of breastfeeding in public. So I took her to the bathroom, sat on a toilet, and fed her. It was loud in there, too. People came in and out, I sat there, still nervous and new at being a mother. Her still new at being a baby. But she ate and I didn’t have to worry about flashing people or leering eyes. My first thought was, this isn’t so bad. It’s private, my feet touch the floor. But I was also sitting on a toilet, not my own, and had no back support. I wish I could say it was my last bathroom breastfeeding experience, but it wasn’t.
After I grew more comfortable getting her mouth to my breast, I also grew more comfortable doing it in public. Restaurants, my yoga studio, planes. To be honest, I didn’t go a lot of places so it wasn’t a huge issue. I never noticed if anyone side-eyed me.
People having opinions on public breastfeeding, or even just breastfeeding, aren’t new, revolutionary, or even interesting. To me, it’s relatively straight forward. I made a baby, after the baby was born, food for the baby came out of my body. So I gave that food to my baby. Lots of women do it, lots of women don’t do it. Both are valid and legitimate and right. Still, I wondered why this woman chose to feed her baby in her car, rather than in Target. And I suppose, she just felt more comfortable.