Sunday, August 20, 2006

the kitchen sink

Yesterday while eating breakfast in the back yard Esther said, “ I wish I could run around the world, just once, then come back.”
I knew exactly how she felt. I have been tempted lately to just pour Esther that second bowl of cereal, make Ian that cup of tea, give Isla a big long drink from the eternal, milky spring and say,” I’m going out for a bit, two or three days maybe, but I will be back.”

I would take nothing with me. Not even a change of clothes. The ability to just leave the house exactly as I am, that is one of the things I miss the most about me.

The reality that I never leave the house empty handed really stared me in the face yesterday when I took a hike with Isla up a steep nearby mountain. Getting out of the house was a relative breeze since Esther wasn't with us. When we got to the trailhead there was one other car, a newish Subaru Outback, parked there. After taking close to ten full minutes gearing up, getting Isla in the Kelty backpack, stocking it with a spare diaper and wipes, snacks, water, sunscreen, and a dog leash, I walked passed the other car and looked in the windows for a clue about what sort of fellow hiker I might meet up with on top. The front seats were entirely free of clutter-- even the passenger side, which in my car is used as an all-purpose storage and waste bin. In the back seat were just three items: a yoga mat, a beach towel and a bikini. I stood there contemplating this unencumbered scene for far too long, just taking in the simplicity, the possibilities of it all. I tried to remember what it felt like to travel with nothing more than the clothes on my back and something to swim in. The yoga mat added intrigue. It said that this person, a woman obviously, had free time and the sense to do something completely selfish and self nurturing with it. The bikini? Well just those two tiny pieces of stretchy fabric held worlds of significance. And the way they were so neatly folded and placed on top of a folded towel……..

God, what have I become. A voyeur of the most boring proportions. I used to read books and magazines and marvel at the adventure and purpose that exuded from some people’s lives, now I look into car windows, see practically nothing, and my imagination runs wild.

But it is funny I saw that scene because just the other day, in the car again, I was thinking about this very phenomenon of stuff. What is it about having children that makes you feel as if you have to take half the house with you each and every time you leave it? I had been away for all of four hours, we went to watch a horse show, yet the back of the car was brimming with kid paraphernalia: chairs, stroller, backpack, diaper bag, sunscreen, water bottles, extra shoes, a Kleenex box, toys, books?.

When I left the house earlier that day, I was in such a stuff frenzy I had what could only be described as stuff anxiety. I actually whined to Ian that we should have a little kid-size umbrella and a kid-size chair for Esther. If I was a good, generous parent, I would have bought that little folding chair I saw at JoAnne’s Fabrics the other day. Honestly. I'm not sure what came over me. And for that matter, why isn't the pantry filled with multi packs of juice boxes and Annie's Whole Wheat Cheddar Bunnies?

I am a bit grinch like when it comes to shopping for anything other than clothes for myself. Esther has survived on very few big plastic toys. She has no Barbie Jeep to drive around the yard, she has no swing set, she has no sand box, she has no big wheel. Her birthday parties, to date, have been no- gift affairs simply because I am so averse to having our house filled with disposable plastic objects. The party guests always bring a sweet selection of handmade cards, rocks and leaves and Esther, so far, is always delighted.

Yet, I still feel overwhelmed by how much we do have and how much we have to tote around with us in order to feel secure. This is American advertising at its most effective. Even though I am aware of the trick, I remain vulnerable to the message that we need more, more more, things to make our lives more convenient and complete and to keep our children happy. My brain knows better, yet my fiber believes it. I exude irritation and regret when I am struggling to strap Isla into her carseat and cursing the twisted straps and imagining that, had I just sprung for the Britax Roundabout with the cow print for 75 dollars more, I wouldn’t be having these problems. I would be calm and cool and my hair would be perfect and my shoes would be impossibly hip. And those strollers with the standup bar that the women in Europe use to push their infants and toddlers around in...think of the cool competence I would exude if I only had one of those.

Then I always remember, oh yeah, isn't it the stuff that is making me feel so anxious in the first place? Luckily, while the marketing gurus are working overtime to create this fictional need, my children are working overtime to keep me from ever having the time to follow through with the purchasing of said need fulfillers. I try, pushing a bored, fussy Isla at high speed through K-Mart, stopping to examine items of great promise. But Isla gives the command to move on before I can claim all but the most blatant necessity for my own. It is as if she can sense my ambivalence and she sees it as a foolish waste of time. And she is right. For she knows that all of the things in the world won't make half the statement that rolled up yoga mat, bikini and towel did.