Friday, June 25, 2010

A Summer Solstice Promise

I bark the admonition about non-retrievable body parts to my son for the third time as we course in a four-door car over the blue bridge into Coronado, his elbow and hand buffeted by the air current inches from the concrete dividers. I’m thinking about an article I read on the airplane the day before about some kind soul in China employed solely to out-sprint prospective suicides as they scale a bridge probably about this height. No sentry guards this California bridge, but suicide counseling signs--bearing an 800 number--flank north and southbound traffic on-ramps.

The look on my son’s face (his fun so wrecked, his experiment in partial flying so hammered) pulls me out of my free association. While I feel in the right as a parent, I see evidence of a self better shed, like the rich merchant in Heinrich Zimmer’s The King and The Corpse who refuses to give up a pair of battered slippers. The merchant, though he can certainly afford a new pair of slippers, focuses his attention instead on greater and greater money making schemes. At length, he accidentally dons a pair of fine slippers that do not belong to him. Then his misfortunes begin as his original slippers refuse to be buried, forgotten, and left behind much to the merchant’s dismay and eventual ruin.

Zimmer’s analysis of the tale equates the slippers with an aspect of the self the merchant did not heed letting go of at the appropriate time: “He [the merchant] is one of those who will not let themselves pass with the passing of time; but clutch themselves to themselves to their own bosom and hoard the self which they themselves have made. They shudder at the thought of the consecutive, periodic deaths that open out, threshold after threshold, as one passes through the rooms of life, and which are life’s secret (p. 17) ."

That’s kind of a lofty comparison to make with my hyper vigilant parenting skills, but I’m thinking I’d have more fun if I could, say, act like my husband does in the pre-boarding area at the airport. In his defense, he was not on his cell phone updating his profile on Facebook while my two sons, standing side by side on padded seats, left palm, nose, and most of their cheeks’ prints to the windows as the airplanes landed (to the heavy machine gun fire emitting from their thumb and finger guns)--no, he was making reservations for us so when we landed we’d have a place to stay.

As my blood pressure rose (flight delayed) and I failed to get my sons to sit next to us for the extra 45 minutes, I continued to marvel at how calm my husband remained. You’d never have guessed he had kids, not until he struck up a conversation with one of the stewardesses about smuggling in his sons early using his A pass. Or as he sprinted later that night across two lanes of traffic to hold the shuttle for us, one son following blindly into the intersection, the other teetering at the edge of the down escalator as I shrieked for him to wait for me (think background images from Denise Duhamel’s collection Ka-Ching! in which she graphically describes an escalator accident involving more than a dozen people, including her parents--backs of heads, hair in machine parts, etc). I reached my 4 year old just as we hit the bottom escalator stair, grabbed the scruff of his t-shirt as he turned to go back up the down-grinding stairs with its stoic and grumpy row of men (with their neat black bags on wheels) advancing.

Once I quelled the hysteria about the 7 year old crossing the intersection alone, silhouette visible against the bank of headlights (taxis and air porters halting for his dash), and muscled the rest of us up onto the shuttle, I glared at my husband. We’d spent the prior weekend, our first 3 days and nights in a row in 10 years away from the kids, so the contrast from the selves we resurrected as lovers and equals took a hard left turn back into the familiar--siblings at best, co-parenting rivals. My fallback, in almost all situations involving my children in public, entails either catastrophizing about potential dangers or dwelling in a perpetual state of embarrassment regarding the amount of noise we make and the lack of control we exercise.

Clearly hyper-vigilance, then, isn’t sustainable over the long haul. I’m no longer interested in being right, or in the hair color drain and toll on the adrenals. But how about spending more of my life’s hours in simple states of joy? New mothers need that vigilance when their babies are crawling towards light sockets or edges of decks. But my youngest is four now; aside from the occasional escalator to spar with, he’s pretty much launched.

Next day, sitting on the North Island Breakers Beach, kids cavorting at water’s edge twenty yards away, I made a solstice promise to try on my husband’s air of detachment.

First chance: the Museum of Air and Space, where, behind us my husband lingered alone near the entrance on his cell and both sons skirted the astronaut suit in glass case, tripping over electrical wires and velvet ropes to escape into the Alien’s Exhibit you needed special tickets to enter. I just smiled at the two docents in red jackets blocking me, and said, “But you see I think you want me to retrieve my boys.“ “Boys," I called once, then sauntered to the outdoor atrium where the helicopter and biplanes hung, without even worrying if they’d follow or whether or not my husband would find us.

How peaceful. No adrenaline zing, no harsh words for the husband when he caught up to us 3 minutes later, no one electrocuted. I took my time, lingered over what mattered to me: a case containing a scarf and shirt worn by Amelia Earhart. Did they really need to put her clothing on display? A little grim--but better: propped up beside the scarf: her book, For the Fun of It: Random Records of My Own Flying and of Women in Aviation , which she wrote about the compulsion to fly, why it mattered to try.

I lagged behind to watch some footage of Amelia arriving in the states after crashing one of her airplanes, affirming to the waiting press her commitment to persevere with dreams of further, greater flights. Then I moseyed with my daughter through the stewardesses of time exhibit, with its 8 or so mannequins sporting each decade’s garb. I fired a photo off to a friend, who responded wryly, “Thank god we don’t have to dress like that in order to be a real woman.”

But I didn’t even try to talk my daughter out of her favorite stewardess--the one in the fitted jacket, matching orange, red and pink miniskirt, so much visible thigh above a pair of knee-high red boots. I had to admit I kind of liked the boots myself.

Photos: Taken at The Museum of Air and Space, San Diego, CA

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