I don’t remember the last time we were alone together. For a couple of insanely private people, people who, for years, would not answer the phone when it rang (land line), would not answer the door if we were not expecting anyone, and had a well-established telephone ring code so the one who was home would only have to answer the phone when the other one was calling, not having been alone in the past four years is pretty peculiar. There’s been, perhaps, the odd half morning where C was already at school and neither of us had left for work yet. There’s been evenings, when C was in bed and we have the rest of the house to ourselves. There’s been the odd once or twice, nights of shows we’ve produced together, that we’ve gotten a babysitter and gone out, the two of us, to make theater. We were alone in London in 2009, for a period of 24 hours, in which Dave, an avowed anglo-phobe, wanted to take in all the historical sites of London, assured that he’d never visit again. I was pregnant at the time. We’ve incorporated C into our small unit, and are so glad of that. When we three are together it doesn’t feel like Dave and I are not alone, it feels like we three together are the new unit of measure.
In the last four or so years since our son was born, our focus has been squarely on him. We’ve pursued our own projects, and together have made a few Stickies, but primarily we’ve been either independent, or actively parenting, together. Even when we’ve taken trips, Dave and I haven’t taken them together. I’ve gone on my own to a few places, brief visits to LA, last summer on a trip to Italy with my mom. When I’ve gone, C has stayed with his grandparents in New England. On one occassion, Dave took C to visit his dad, but even then I didn’t stay home, alone. This summer, though we had no trip planned, we thought it made sense to keep up the tradition of C visiting his grandparents. It’s good to know your grandparents. He likes his grandparents, and feels comfortable with them. It’s good for him to know that he can be loved and cared for by family who are not his parents. We have a large family, that we like, and feel strongly that C should know this, and benefit from it, especially given how he’s our only child, with no close cousins around. When Dave was a kid, he visited his grandparents every summer, and in retrospect, really valued that time he spent with them. These considerations led us, this weekend, to find a common meeting place, C’s Grammy and us, and send him off with her and my Dad for the week.
Then Dave and I turned the car back west, and returned, just the two of us, to New York. We stopped to visit our friend, recovering well in the hospital. Then together, just the two of us, we went home. Dave’s brother was just leaving, he’d been hanging with our cat, eating every last morsel of food in our house. I mean even the salt was gone. We talked about going out to eat, but couldn’t agree on cuisine (dim sum or Yemeni: me; Mexican: Dave), and the cupboards we bare anyway, so we set out for the market. That in itself was odd: going together to the market. Normally, one of us goes, and one of us stays home with C, who though occassionally, and usually by me, is dragged to the market, would prefer to stay home and play trains. Walking over to the market felt odd, mostly felt like I wasn’t carrying enough stuff. Once there, the vast majority of the grocery store seemed completely useless to me. Tons of produce? No. Chocolate chips? No, I doubt I’ll find a burning need to make cookies this week. Juice boxes? Lunch snacks? Vast amounts of extra pasta? Four kinds of cereal? A bunch of individually packaged smoothies? Nope. We got stuff for dinner, and milk for coffee, then went home, drank martinis, and ordered Chinese.
Lots of times, when we find ourselves together at the end of the day, C asleep in bed, dinner prep in progress, we talk over each other, each trying to get out some new ideas or concepts, relate a funny thing that happened, talk about the priorities for the next day, who will be taking C to appointments, or picking up. Then we get annoyed, accuse the other of interrupting, squabble a bit, and finally, if annotatedly, we get our words out. Last night we didn’t have that trouble. There wasn’t limited time, there weren’t limited martinis, and there were plenty of dumplings and orange beef to go around. I intereviewed Dave about an old friend of ours, Chris Kelley, about whom I am writing a screenplay, we talked about how wonderful our kid is, his quirks, his jokes, his temperment. We talked about what we were working on, what we hoped to accomplish this week, in relative peace. For example, it’s 7:30 am and I’m writing up this post, not packing a lunch, or wiping a bottom, searching for a clean pair of socks, or explaining, again, why playing ipad at breakfast is a recipe for a bad day. I know he is safe with his grandparents, safer, probably, than he is at camp or school, but I feel a tension, having him far away from me, seeing his room empty, even just for the week.
In the past four years I have read countless mystery novels, because being a parent is anxiety producing, and mystery novels help me tamp down that fear a little bit. Perhaps the mystery lets me transfer the anxiety onto the story, taking it off of life. Perhaps they’re just easier to read than my typical pre-child fare, which was all lit. The anxiety is because all safety is an illusion that could be shattered at any time. Anything horrible could happen and we have little control over it. Crossing the street may as well be catapaulting a space capsule around the moon; staying home could be as dangerous as being trapped in a toxic mine. Security of home and heart are illusory at best, fictional at worst. The lies of safety we tell ourselves just to get through the day, the screen we put up, willingly, between ourselves and reality, are necessary lies, necessary screens, but I feel it important to remember they are just that. There is no real way to protect our children. We do what we can, we feed them pesticide-free, we apply antibiotic cream, we teach them how to behave in the world. The only thing that can be truly safeguarded is the goodness in their hearts, and even that, well, they will have to deal with temptations as they come: temptations to be selfish, to be unkind, to be cruel, to be self-destructive.
The energy in our bodies is from the stars, and of the stars, “we are star stuff,” says Carl Sagan, repeats Neil deGrasse Tyson, both heros of mine. Might the “dust to dust” that we repeat at Mass on Sundays more accurately be “stardust to stardust?” As vast and all-encompassing as the universe are our souls. Faith is not to put all meaning into the physical plane of the universe, but to tell my son that our bodies themselves are part of something larger. Our minds and hearts contain everything that was ever sewn in space and time, just as it contains us. To learn about his breadth and scope, to not fear the unknown, to feel protected and safe not by locks on the doors, or laws, or crossing guards, or his allegience to the social perspectives of our time, instead to feel a real security in his soul, a deeper connection to all living things and to the stars above.