Day 187: where I live every day

We—the kids, La Bonavita, his friend, Evan, and me—were at the Santa Monica beach. I was stretched out under a beach umbrella gazing at the waves crashing onto the shore under the blue, cloudless sky.

“Sometimes, it’s so surreal to me that I actually live here,” I murmured.

Evan looked up from his phone, questioningly. “Growing up in London,” I continued, “I could never have imagined living somewhere like this. It would have seemed unreal,” I added.

“Well, LA is kind of unreal,” he observed.

I’m not sure we had the same thing in mind.

I wasn’t thinking of Hollywood or the common perception that L.A. is somehow inherently ersatz (an observation usually made by people who don’t know the city well, but who nonetheless offer it up as an insight of some profundity and worldliness). I wasn’t even thinking of the distinctively sleek feel of the pocket of Santa Monica where I live, where the air hums with the soft purr of Priuses and dry bars and Birds whirring by.

All that is unreal in one way; but so too was the thisness that I had meant to evoke: the thisness of being supine on the sand hearing the waves crash and the cries of “mango mango mangooooo” ring out, the hot sun tempered by the breeze, the scent of sunscreen on warm skin, the saturated colors of beach umbrellas vivid against the sky.

It felt to me in that moment almost on the order of a category error that these sense experiences should be available to me where I live everyday.

I have memories of beaches like this from childhood holidays abroad; they were the very essence of what it meant to be “on holiday,” for normal life to be temporarily suspended. These particular sense experiences are also the stuff of fantasy; it’s what the yoga teacher tells you to imagine—“feel the weight of your body in the warm sand …”—when she guides you in a meditation.

Why is lying on the beach our shorthand for deep relaxation? Is it that lying on the beach is really so relaxing or is it that, in a version of Elaine Scarry’s argument about how filmy objects are easier to imagine, there is something about the feel of sand and surf and ocean breeze that is more easily conjured than, say, sitting quietly in a garden? Or is it that, in our collective imagination, the beach codes for carefreeness, for ease?

I remember, when we lived in Chicago, there was a book I would read to the elder when he was a toddler. It was called Skip Through The Seasons. Every page was about a different month. The picture for August was of people on a beach like the Santa Monica beach. I would linger on that page when we read the book during the Chicago winter. I would imagine the feel of the hot sand under my feet and the sun on my skin, and I would long to be in that picture, where my body, surely, would slowly unfurl from the curled up position it reflexively assumed in the cold. It seemed miraculous, during those winters, to imagine that there might be a place and season in which humans ventured outdoors with next to nothing on.

I carried around that picture in my mind like a talisman.

But now, here I was, in the picture; I could be in the picture every day, if I wanted.

I didn’t say any of this.

Instead I said, “where I grew up is just … really different from,” I gestured around, “… all of this,” I concluded.

“How was it different?” the younger asked.

She was sitting a couple of feet away from me shoveling sand into a bucket.

“Well … you’ve been to England, what do you think?” I replied. “How is England different from here?”

She thought for a moment, and I wondered what she would say. Something about the weather, I guessed, or maybe about people’s accents.

“Well,” she said, finally, “I guess one big difference is that the stores in England are a lot worse. Like, they don’t have “Aahsor “Rite-Aid.”

Evan started laughing.

“That is true … that they don’t have those things there,” I said, smiling. “That is very true.”




Day 176: believe in the wonder

I thought I had a psychotic break this morning.

Often, when it’s not one of my days with the kids, I will bolt out the door at the time when He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved usually walks the younger to school, so I can give her a hug on the way.

This morning I was a little late, and they had already passed by my front door, so I called her name and then ran, in my socked feet, along the sidewalk and through the dewy grass, my arms folded tight across my chest because I didn’t have a bra on under my T-shirt.

I felt slightly conspicuous, dodging the other families in my strange cross-armed run, like a particularly standoffish jogger.

The two of them stood, a little awkwardly, waiting for me to catch up. When I finally caught up to them, breathless and wet-footed, and knelt to hug her, I found that the face I nuzzled against was encased with a silky fringe: a beard.

“Awesome!” I exclaimed.

“Err, thanks,” she mumbled, sheepishly.

As I walked back home, arms still crossed, I looked to see if I saw any bearded or otherwise unusually adorned children en route to school—but no.

So I texted He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved when I got home.

“What’s the story with the fake beard?!”

His answer genuinely shocked me.

“What fake beard??”

I started and texted back, “She was wearing a beard! Am I going insane?”

I replayed the scene in my mind. I was running in my socks through the wet grass. I was wearing the black leggings and grey T-shirt I slept in last night—the T-shirt Brandy gave me that says “BELIEVE IN THE WONDER” on it. My arms were crossed over my chest, though, as if striking out those lines. The sun was shining. People were staring as I ran. I bent down to embrace my bearded child.

It did have the quality of dream.

Was it not a beard?

Had I not run through the wet grass?

But my wet socks were lying on the floor where I had discarded them!

I texted him again.

“What was that furry thing around her face?”

text 1

Was it some kind leonine halo? Some kind of ruff or fur collar? The prospect of my daughter wearing a fur collar, honestly, seemed much more implausible than the idea that she would be wearing a fake beard.

But I couldn’t rule out the leonine halo. For it seemed that I had indeed hallucinated that soft fringe. Was it possible that hair falls into that category of objects that Elaine Scarry, in Dreaming By the Book, says lends itself to the imagination—a category that includes objects like shadows and gauzy curtains?

Today, it was a bearded child; tomorrow might it be a shadow cat? Or perhaps an imaginary mosquito net canopying my bed?

So this is what madness feels like, I thought: the same as reality, but more interesting.

I remembered a quote from Winnicott. “We are poor indeed if we are only sane.” If my insanity consisted only in bestowing soft fringes upon the hairless—a beard here, a mustache there; perhaps a luxuriant tassel once in a while—perhaps it needn’t be the end of the world: I’d just be another, slightly downy, shade in the neurodiverse rainbow.

Then He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved texted back.

text 2

Later he told me that her first words upon waking up this morning were, “it’s beard day!”

Later still, when I picked her up from school, I heard the full story from the (still) bearded lady’s mouth.

And later still she asked, “Mom? I need to get something from Dad’s house before school tomorrow.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“My mustache,” she said.

Before bed, she wondered sleepily if we might make a pair of wings like Maleficent’s out of wire, paper, and feathers.

Bearded one day, mustachioed the next, bewinged tomorrow? Why not?

Believe in the wonder.

believe in the wonder