This afternoon is the last day of summer vacation – let’s do it up right: the pool, then ice cream. This seemed like a good idea when I left work at 1:00 p.m., but my son wasn’t on board. In the car an hour later, suits and towels thrown into the giant IKEA bag, he whined, moaned, and nearly threw himself from the car.
Dear God …. Just let school start! I thought.
The afternoon refused to follow my narrative. We arrived at the pool on this 90-degree afternoon to find it empty. Still. Utterly without people.
“Read the sign,” I instructed, and Tobey ran out of the car – happier than he’d been in the past hour – and came back with something that made no sense about it being open Wednesday and Thursday for open swim and also Saturday. To his irritation, I sent the Big Sister in for back up reading comprehension. Pool is closed today. No reason given. Open again on Friday and the weekend.
We started to head home; But what about the ice cream?… I didn’t think they really warranted ice cream, not having done anything remotely physical, but it is the last day of summer – in the spiritual sense – so we headed to the closest Dairy Queen. There were only two other people in the place – a mom and her son. He looked about three but acted more babylike. Not whiny, in fact, he was totally quiet – but his motor skills were awkward. She got him what was an awfully big bowl of chocolate ice cream and then started in on her hot fudge sundae with clear satisfaction. She was hoping – I imagined – that the ice cream would buy her some time “alone” to drift with her own thoughts. But it so rarely works this way, and in less than two minutes, he’d turned over the cup. Nearly a pint of chocolate soft serve plopped onto the floor. “Damn!” I said under my breath. Amazingly, though, the boy didn’t react with that automatic spilled ice cream wail, and the mom didn’t react with the automatic “Oh Shit there goes $2.00” wail. She just cleaned it up and then started to spoon feed him her own sundae. Silently.
In lieu of the pool, we decided to go to the little lake beach outside of town. It was so empty that I began worrying that maybe school actually started today and we’d messed up. I wouldn’t put it past myself. The kids insisted that I get into the murky green water with them, but I was quickly superfluous to the game they developed of balancing on and somersaulting over the rope. I swam back and forth with an old lady breaststroke, listening to two moms talk about their respective work places — Olive Garden and Subway — while their young sons bobbed around them. (“And for $2.50 you get extra meat. You know, sausage, bacon, or meat.”)
This doing nothing is hard for me. Very hard. It’s been one of my least favorite parts of being a mom.
I finally excused myself and went to lay down on a towel in the grass. I wish I had a book. I wish I had my notebook. I really wish I had my computer. I never get time to think, to explore, to do the things I want to as a writer and here I am – empty handed. This doing nothing is hard for me. Very hard. It’s been one of my least favorite parts of being a mom – all of the time that adds up unused, time between this and that, time when you’re caught without anyone to talk to or a book in hand. Time balled up like a single lost sock in the back of the dryer.
So much of parenting is spent in these wide open, often unexpected fields of dreamy time that can be punctured at any moment by a cry or a complaint or a request. Hunger. Pain. Sibling inflicted anger. Any of these will end the weird quiet alone time, and maybe that’s why it’s hard to enjoy – because it can be snatched away in a moment.
Isn’t this exactly what I need, though? Stressed out and tired, scheduled to the max, could my Yoda/Guru/Therapist (Oh, Wise One – what is your name??) prescribe it any better: Moments of nothingness and quiet in which to float. And so I laid on the towel in the late August brownish grass and thought up yoga poses, wrote emails, proposed projects – all in my head. And then I fell asleep.