a day in the life
31 January 2000
Yesterday was a lazy day, Dan’s first day home in two weeks. Somehow it’s easier for me to enjoy Damian when I know he’s not just my responsibility, when I can sit back and really see him. Oh, we have fun together when it’s just the two of us, but it's different when there are two parents around even though I can’t quite put my finger on how.

This, then, is a portrait of one small boy’s Sunday. Not every minute of his day, but a collage of moments.

Morning: Dan said he’d watch Damian, let me sleep a little longer. Dan got up to turn the flame on under the tea kettle. Damian bounced out of bed, eager to watch. I closed the door, snuggled back under the covers. The whole expanse of bed mine, mine all mine!

Woke up an hour later to quick footsteps and "meemeee!" Then nursing and rolling around on the bed, giggling and playing put-your-foot-in-Mommy’s-mouth. Erm. Time to get up, it seems.

Later morning: I had an idea. Last night at my cousin Kate’s, Damian found his little cousin’s pull-toy, a row of cloth cars with a long string. He spent a good hour walking backwards pulling that thing everywhere (and, yes, knocking his head on everything toddler-head-height). He was in love. I thought about getting one of those, then realized we had one: a wooden cricket my mom got Damian for Christmas last year. A few months ago, his favorite game was chasing it when one of us pulled it along. Chasing it and uttering piercing shrieks of great joy. It got so we had to hide the cricket in the closet. He’d see it and pounce, demanding that one of us start pulling. It’s the task of Sisyphus, once you start. You. Can. Never. Stop.

Sunday, while Dan was playing the piano, I rescued the cricket from its hiding place, handed Damian the knob on the end of the string, and waited. He got the idea immediately. Set off on a lap around the living room, then another, then ventured into the hall (nice long sweep of wood floor) and kitchen (linoleum, not as smooth) and back to the living room. Oops, almost clonked head on dining table. Mental note: watch for treacherous evil dining table. Oops, almost stepped on sleeping cat. Mental note: next time step right on tail.

The next lap took him all the way to the front door. Where he stood, back flat against the door, uttering plaintive yeeps that sounded not at all like "go out" but were meant to. You could just see the wheels turning: "pull toy fun in house but so much more fun away from pesky obstacles like furniture and furry beasts. Outside, Mama, let’s go out NOW!"

So I shoved his shoes on his little feet and opened the door. Dumb mama. It was cold out there, must’ve been, oh man, sixty degrees! Damn, what was I thinking?

(Tap tap tap, looking at my watch, waiting for the giggles and snorts from the East Coast contingent to die down...)

Look, I was out there in ripped t-shirt and bare feet on cold stone. Damian was happy as a -- well, as a little boy set free with neato cricket pull toy and the endless expanse of sidewalk. Me? Shaking and shivering and hopping from frozen foot to not-quite-so-frozen foot and cursing my impulsive speediness. And calling inside to Dan to please please get out here now so I can put shoes and socks on!

Dan doesn’t take well to being hurried. He slammed his fist on the piano.

Did you know it only costs $25 to fix a broken key?

Hey, at least it got him out to watch Damian while I bundled up against the freezing cold -- um, well, the sun came out. Can I say freezing cold 70 degree weather and get away with it? Didn’t think so.

So we followed our chirpy, deliriously happy little boy, watched as he backed down the street and then turned to face front, forging ahead with cricket trailing. As he tried his new/old toy out on grass, then yanked it back onto smooth concrete. As he figured out that it really does roll better right side up.

We watched as he found a puddle from the morning’s rain and stomped in it, enjoying the splash! of the water droplets breaking apart. Dan said, "I remember doing that. He’s really a kid now."

Naptime. Deep sleep. The sleep of the pooped. Quiet reigns. We ended up in the study: Dan on the computer, me on the Nordic Track. Just the two of us, felt like we’d gone back in time except for the soft breathing and occasional faint rustle on the monitor next to my ear.

Late afternoon: a shopping expedition. New clothes for Dan. First Bloomingdale’s, where Damian played hide-and-seek behind racks of clothing, disappearing behind a rack and then reappearing with a yip and a grin, peering around the end to see if I’ve noticed. When he spotted me, his whole face would light up like a little supernova.

We wandered into the fitting rooms, where Damian discovered the wonders of the three way mirror. He looked from mirror to mirror: "hey, that’s me, but wait, that’s me too, only I’m facing front now!" Enchanted, he stuck his tongue out at his reflection. So I stuck my tongue out too. We giggled together. This, too, I remember. Sticking my tongue out at my reflection just because I can.

Damian knelt to pick up a plastic shirt clip and wandered into the next fitting room. I stayed a moment longer to make silly faces at myself, curling my tongue and flattening it. Kids make you regress. That’s why I wanted one.

On the escalator back down to the car, I nearly keeled over from sudden exhaustion. Damian was similarly overcome, though in his case it was more like irritation with the world. Only one solution: California Pizza Kitchen.

You should have seen Damian’s face light up when he saw the busboy show up with the food. He dove into the plate of salad like he’d never seen green -- or, more accurately, red -- before. He systematically scarfed nearly all the tomatoes ringing the plate. Sated, he then stashed various chicken bits in the crevice of the leatherette booth and pulled his kid-size pizza apart, nibbling first from the cheese in his right hand and then taking a bite of the crust fisted in his left. A gourmand, my son.

Dinner over. The busboy tried to clear the plates. Damian wasn’t having that. Not while there were still at least three edible bits of tomato. Waiter, don’t you dare take that plate!

His first complaint as a customer. Not his last.

After leaving a very generous tip for the poor busboy, we crossed the street to Old Navy. More clothes for the man, more play time for the boy.

As soon as we got inside, Damian piped up: "hot." So we took off his jacket. He was happy. We were happy. This communication deal has a lot to be said for it. We were also fairly impressed. It’s one thing to be able to say "juice" and get something to drink, "go out" (which he did say today) and get let outside. Quite another to say "hot" and mean, not "I want hot," but "I want to not be hot."

Damian discovered a cart. Not a shopping cart, the kind the clerks load up with folded jeans and wheel over to the jeans case. The cart is gray, with a wide shelf on the bottom and a wide shelf above that with a handle to push it. Simple device. The handle was just above Damian’s head. He grabbed it and pushed. And shoved the cart right into a wall. I steered it toward open turf, and away he went. And jammed the cart into a rack of clothes. I steered again and again he was off. Not too good with turns, but great on the straightaway. I tried putting my hand on the cart, the better to steer, but Damian wasn’t having any. No, he insisted on manning the wheel -- um, handle -- himself. Captain of his own ship. Until the next iceberg, when of course Mommy would get him out of the jam.

The Old Navy salesclerks thought it was a riot every time we made another loop past their little gossiping group. Especially when the next time we passed, I was pushing and he was riding inside. See, I’d tried to put the sling and my sweater on the lower shelf. Not allowed. Damian stopped the cart, tossed my stuff and climbed in himself. New game: the Southern California version of tobogganing.

Final game: get on top of the cart. Make mommy nervous. Mommy pushes the cart v e r y s l o w l y. Damian loves it. Damian finds some tacks in a pocket on the cart. Now Mommy’s excruciatingly nervous.

Who knew a simple cart could be so much fun?

Dan got out of the dressing room just in time. We made our escape sans bodily injury.


Dan built a fire. The wood was damp so it was a smoky fire with hissing and steam and a low blue flame that licked and teased the logs. We listened to Chris Isaac with the lights low.

Damian sat in front of the fire, legs almost crossed, gazing into the flames with a pensive look. For that moment, somehow outside of time, I could see the man he’ll become. In his face, his expression, the lines of his body in repose.

Until he scrambled up and ran off to grab his cricket toy and drag it around the kitchen with glee -- and then into his bedroom to introduce Cricket to Brio trains and Duplo blocks. Dan and I sat in front of the fire, smiled at the sounds of "ooh" and "ahh" and thought about our child growing up bit by bit as we watch in wonder.

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