We have a couple of friends up here who don’t have kids, and they went camping for nine days in McCarthy, AK, last week. They also rode their bikes to the river festival this weekend and then went to the brewery after for drinks. They make homemade birthday presents for their friends, and she has earrings made from porcupine quills. They both wear comfortable, well-constructed sandals and really hip REI backpacks that they found at a really hip thrift store in Anchorage. When Aaron and I have dinner with them, they notice more things about Clara’s emotional and psychological development than I do, for instance, that her agitated swipes at dirt on the floor is an endearing attempt to clean her space.
I am so nearly converted to motherhood, I can feel it, but still, I envy everything about this couple. They were digging post holes yesterday for their deck, and I envied their weariness from a day of uninterrupted, intense physical labor. More precisely, I envied how immediate, satisfying, and untimed would be their relaxation after such a hard day. While camping and biking in Denali State Park, the wife toppled over the front of her bike and sprained her wrist. I wanted her adrenaline and her injury and her wrist brace. Mostly, I envy the way they are able to crash after a long day and listen to other people and be still.
It’s like these twenty-year-olds Aaron saw in Anchorage today. One girl had a perfectly behaved bullmastiff, and all these ghosts of my former self walked over to pet her dog, ask after its name, age, breed, any problems with hip dysplasia, that sort of thing. They pulsed with interest in other people, nearly panting for spontaneous conversation. When you don’t have a baby, you get drinks after festivals, do bike tricks, and pet other people’s dogs.
Although we didn’t get drinks after, Clara and I did go to the festival while Aaron played his gigs in Anchorage. I used to do lots of introspective things while Aaron played his saxophone, like write in a leather-bound journal and imagine other people were looking at me introspectively write in my leather-bound journal. I’m reading Straight Man by Richard Russo and the forty-something-year-old protagonist, William, routinely pictures, and almost convinces himself, that his wife is having an affair because he is so desperate for something to happen to him. In our early and mid twenties, it seemed like something was always happening. Then, in our late twenties, it became increasingly less clear if a) it was really a something or b) it was really happening. So we had a baby. I don’t know. I just didn’t want to be that excited about dogs when I turned forty.
And, now, she is the answer to all my questions.
Q: Clara, if life was a thing, what would it be?
A: Life is a playground where sometimes you’re the only one still crawling. But there’s still a lot to see on all fours.
Q: What should I do next?
A: Do something that’s hard. Push a stroller three times your size.
Q: Is Delilah sad because we don’t pet her as much?
A: No. She likes it when I pretend she’s a doggie rocket and her paws are my protective seat buckle.
Q: How are we to live?
A: Peacefully, with arms wide open.