Reflections at Freddies
Written in 2002
Published on Word Fertilizer 1-28-2016
I am in the “dining” section of Fred Meyer in a tall chair, writing on paper placed on a sticky red counter surface.
Andrea and Johanna are in the Fred Meyer play area, enjoying new toys, new kids, new crayons, new paper, new place. They thrive, and I admire their sense of safety and trust. They know I will come back.
What if a mom dropped off her kids at the “Play Place”, then went out the door and drove away without coming back? It would b ea story too sad to tell.
Andrea asked so many questions in the car on the way to Burien from Kirkland. She would begin with statements, checking them out with me.
“Mom? A lake is like a cup, and you can see people on the other side. But an ocean is like a big bowl, and you can’t see people on the other side, right?”
“That’s right!” I reply, trying to keep my eyes on the road, speaking over the kid music. “Some lakes are really big, and some lakes are really little, but oceans are huge.” I can’t see her face, but I feel her nodding in agreement. She is six years old, and a thirsty sponge.
“Mom? Are beaches on oceans or lakes or both?” She emphasizes the words.
“Both.” I think about it, know it’s true, but doubt myself. Lakes and oceans differ so much, but they are both water, after all.
“Do sharks live in oceans or lakes or both?”
“Alligators just live in Africa, not in America, right?”
“They live in some state in America, like Florida.” Andrea wrestles with the differences between states, countries and flags. More questions, some confusion. She becomes frustrated when she doesn’t understand a concept right away. I try to tell her she is so young, she has so much time to understand things.
I am aware of a car reflected in my rear view mirror. It is a 70’s-style big clunker of a gray, rusty thing, driven by a graying, casually dress man in glasses. He moves into a lane to the right of me, presumably to pass me, but is caught behind even slower cars on the curve, and I slowly sail ahead of him. I feel a hint of triumphant pleasure as I pass him. The feeling bothers me.
“Do alligators live in oceans or lakes or both?”
“Well, I think alligators might not live in either. They live in swamps and rivers.”
“What’s a river?”
“That’s water that is moving.” I know the explanation is incomplete, and Andrea is sharp.
“But oceans move. Waves are fun,” she adds.
“Yes, they do. Rivers are water on the land that flow into oceans and lakes.”
She asks whether or not sharks stay in the water or come up to beaches, and explains how alligators DO come up to beaches, but like the water too.
Four-year-old Johanna, who has been listening or humming or reading a book up until now, decides to be part of the conversation. “I have a joke,” she says in her urgent yet matter-of-fact way. Her voice is softer than Andrea’s though, and the punchline is lost to me in road noise and Raffi. I wait for the pause and offer her a laugh anyway.
After dropping off our car for its oil change, the kids and I walk along a busy road. I carry Johanna on my hip, hold Andrea’s hand, tell the kids never to do this without a grownup, and we run across four lanes of a busy street that has a brief space for us to cross. I somehow justify to the kids not crossing at the crosswalk because I am a grownup (and cringe a little as I do). As the three of us calmly walk through a parking lot to get to Fred Meyer, Andrea and Johanna and I chat.
They are so little. Sometimes I think of them as big girls. I remember them helpless and prone as floppy-muscled, 8-pound babies, dependent on me for everything. And at their current ages, I notice how long their legs are, hear them tell me their ideas, and for periods of time I will be briefly deluded that they are big.
But as long as their legs may be, I walk at the slowest saunter to match their fast pace, and Johanna’s hand has to reach up to hold mine. I look at their faces – their rosy little cheeks. Andrea is holding Beary, a brown teddy bear. Johanna looks at the huge field of cement looming ahead, her pink and purple hat sliding down slowly over her eyes. They really are so little.
I’m surprised at how relaxed I am, happy to be going slow, watching and being with these little ones. It has taken me years to settle into this, not resenting the inefficiency of moving at a child’s pace, doing the things children need.
In Fred Meyer, going to the bathroom is an event. By myself it is a thing I would do (or put off) in order to get something else done. With Andrea and Johanna, the bathroom is part of the adventure – and not something that is advisable to skip. Andrea’s bear is the fourth in our party, occupying the child seat in the stall. Johanna explains how she used to sit in that seat (which was not there) when she was a baby. I give Andrea my little smile/nod that says, “She’s telling another story, but we (you) won’t tell her it’s not true, will we (you)?” I say to Johanna, ”Oh really?” and “Okay,” while smiling to Andrea and sharing the little joke.
While we wash our hands, Beary lies on the diaper-changing counter and stares up at the picture of Fred Bear on the wall. Andrea tells me and Johanna that Beary likes that bear, and she laughs, because Beary is a baby, and babies are so cute.
Once out of the bathroom, I tell them it is time to go to the play area, and they jump, scream, run, hop, and walk through the munchkin hole that leads them into a glass-walled room containing little chairs, a little house, small basketball and hoop, toy cars, a tiny kitchen and a HUGE television set. I notice that Disney videos line the shelf above the TV. An older woman with thinning hair and badly fitting dentures locks the door behind them. I sign a paper saying I have two kids, the three of us are wearing matching plastic bracelets, and I will be back.
Andrea smiles and waves as I leave. Johanna has found a friend – a girl her age who does many subsequent pratfalls that Johanna copies, and they both laugh at every fall. Finally I catch her eye and get a brief smile/wave from her, too. I don’t miss the days of kiddo cling when crying was the response to Mommy leaving. I don’t miss those days, but I do think about them and love those smaller children like a warm comfy sweater that has been replaced by a better-fitting, less itchy, warm comfy sweater.
On my way to the deli, where I am now writing, I saw a woman with six children of varying sizes in and around the cart she was pushing. They may have all been her children, and I imagined that she should be six feet tall and have the girth of a garden shed to have accommodated six children within her body. She should have been huge to have been home to so much flesh and bone and baby. But she is a modest-sized woman, six souls surrounding her throughout the store.
That’s the way it is – we change and develop when children come into our lives. We hold and accommodate and shift, but the hanging on is just prelude to letting go. As separate entities, that’s all we can do. We let go, even as we hold hands and wipe bottoms and answer questions. We let go. And we watch what happens.
It’s time for me to pick up my children. The car will be done soon. I am bouncing in my chair as I gather up papers and take one more sip from my water bottle. I get to see my kids soon!
Now that the children are beyond the intense and constant needs of their babyhoods, I have more time for these moments of awe – the powerful feeling that I am witnessing the beginning of something big. I am reminded of Doug, bragging about seeing Blues Traveler before they were famous, “in a tiny blues club in New York for $5. I was THIS far away from John Popper!”
My kids could become professional burger slingers in a fast food restaurant, and they will still be rock stars to me, because I knew them when their limbs were rubber, when crying and drinking breastmilk were their big accomplishments. I knew them when their jokes made no sense, when countries”, “states” and “flags” were words with mysterious and frustratingly interchangeable meanings.
These children are amazing. And they always will be.