This year has been one of never being alone and always being alone. This child of mine is almost always by my side or in my arms or needing something, and she’s just not great yet at giving advice or offering a listening ear. We’re working on it. We’ve adapted to this life, or maybe, it’s adapted to us. In between naps my daughter and I make wide circles around our neighborhood, becoming regulars at several stops to curb that sense of loneliness that seems to sneak in after long nights.
On Mondays we join the other babies at the library to sing and play pat-a-cake. I try not to notice when my kid takes off another baby’s socks or knocks down a whole shelf of books. The librarian is somehow always upbeat and happy despite having to sing the same songs every week. We make friends with other moms and other babies.
On Wednesdays we go to the coffee shop where we befriend a man who also stops here every week. He always remembers our names but I have forgotten his. I like running into him until he places a hand on my back in a gesture that feels less than friendly. Now we avoid certain hours of the morning. The cheery barista with freckles returns to work after her son is only one month old. She is young and already squeezed back into her regular jeans. It has been a year and I have not returned back to work. Not sure whether to bow down to her or feel sad.
On Fridays we walk down to the Italian deli for an end of week treat. Sometimes I get a meatball sub, or a coffee soda, or rarely a bottle of wine to split over the next five days. It’s fun to wander around the tiny deli with its imported candy and housemade pasta. The floor is squeaky clean. The cashier rings me up, her red framed glasses dangling on a chain around her neck. She adds “mmm hmm,” to everything she says. “Did you find everything ok? Mmm hmm.” “The total is $12.75, mmm hmm.” “Would you like a bag? Mmm hmm.” Passing two art galleries on the walk back we stop in and say hello to the owners. They are very kind and offer us treats, pointing out their new displays. I’ve never spent much money at either, maybe they hope someday I will.
On Sundays we go to church around the corner. All year the pews have filled up and up, more and more each week. The stained glass images, red upholstery and predictable hymns comfort. Sometimes we barely make the service post-nap time but always stay for coffee and lunch after in the basement. No one there minds. It is nice to have a meal with out the chopping and cooking and washing up.
The rest of the days fill in with the putty of feedings and bathing and diapers and trying to get the laundry done. It’s impossible to eat a hot meal as cooking happens during nap times or those rare windows when she’s quietly playing with books. Chicken and rice just isn’t the same at 10:00am. I can give Rachel Ray a run for her 30 Minute Meal money, my cooking never takes more than fifteen.
In the winter I bundle the baby up in a fleece suit and warm hat, stowing her away in the front loaded carrier. I am so tired, all my brain can think to do is drink more coffee and eat sugar to keep going. Which also makes me feel terrible. One very early morning, my chest compressed with stress from being up most of the night with a fussy one, we walk to the corner diner when it opens at 6am. We’ve been up since 4am. I order a scrapple sandwich with egg and a slice of pie. The scrapple is god awful, so I choke down the bread and egg and sit longing for the pie that never comes. The coffee in a round, old fashioned saucer soothes until the wiggly one can no longer stand being confined to the old leather and chrome booth.
This neighborhood got us through the winter. And now that spring has passed, jolly with daffodils exploding in the park and wild chives hiding in the soccer fields, the summer leaves fill every tree branch. It’s hot. We sit at the park in the early morning with shorts and tank tops and marshmallow fluff filled donuts from our favorite bakery. Later, after dinner is made and the baby is in bed, I watch the sunset from the skinny window by the couch, longing to be out there on these warm nights.
Yesterday the baby who is no longer a baby brought me my shoes and socks during the hottest part of the day. I consented and packed her into the carrier, heading for the well-stocked Latino grocery down the street. After perusing the aisles, trying to decipher the bags and bags of herbs and teas I’ve never heard of or seen, we settle on a mango popsicle. We find a shady spot to sit in a grassy church yard and share the icy treat. She keeps grabbing the popsicle with both hands, orange goo all over her face. I mop it up with my own shirt after a good laugh. She toddles around the church yard picking up sticks and every little piece of trash. When we are both sweaty and tired of the sun we retreat back to our cooled house and familiar toys.
Loneliness is its own type of friend. When you are alone in your house there are all these groups of time that go unfilled. With another human adult around, there are comments to make, discussions to have, movie options to scroll through. After all the chores are done and the phone is checked a thousand times and there is nothing on TV, you sort of look at your hands for loneliness to materialize. It does. That’s when the doubts bubble up or the tears spring forth. It’s hard to escape and send loneliness back to where it came from with the baby upstairs sleeping. But hard is not impossible. We, this wonderful child and I, have managed to turn this lonely year into a glorious one. Like the last gasps of summer, I don’t want it to end.