We drove back home today, hoping to beat tomorrow’s traffic armageddon. We succeeded. We even discovered a gem of a Chinese restaurant in a place we never expected to, far down at the very mouth of the New Jersey Turnpike. The kids found their favorite dishes (interpreted tastily) and J and I shared some chicken in garlic sauce, marked as “spicy” on the overly cautious menu, but in actuality just flavorful. Even Young J tried some. At the end of the meal, we received rainbow Jell-o, canned pineapple chunks, and fortune cookies (unwrapped and soggy from the pineapple juice). J had just been waxing nostalgic for the pineapple chunks at the Chinese restaurants of his youth, so it felt like a sign. Everything feels like a sign. Even signs!
Young J’s fortune promised he’d be having adventures soon, to which he responded, tongue in cheek, “I just had an adventure! I got locked in the bathroom for a second!” His sense of humor has exploded lately and not a day goes by now he doesn’t crack us up. Young A discovered he loves Jell-o – a wonder, because the rest of us hate it.
The drive wasn’t bad. I wasn’t as scared of my body as I had been in previous days. Things felt more predictable. And best of all, for the first time in weeks I didn’t feel beleaguered by the kids. They were well-behaved, as they generally are in the car (until we hit a wall of traffic, which didn’t really happen until almost the end of our trip today). There was garden-variety whining from Young A, sure, but it didn’t feel unmanageable to me. It didn’t make my brain scream. It didn’t make me want to retreat into my cave.
Young A started agitating for an outing to the schoolyard when we arrived home. He’d slept a long nap in the car, so it seemed prudent to let him burn off some steam. I wasn’t sure how I’d do taking him solo, but I also felt like being outside after so many cooped up hours. He scooted along and was scrupulous about stopping well before the end of the sidewalk. He’d stop, turn around, and flash me a thumbs-up with accompanying toothy grin. At every corner. Could this sweetheart be the kid I’d been avoiding all these weeks? What on earth was wrong with me?!
My legs felt different too. Other than moving easily inside jeans that had formerly been constricting, I felt with each step as though I were repairing some damage. During my ordeal, part of what kept me so close to my bed was pain in my groin and pelvis. I’d get out of bed and it actually hurt to do so. Not having adequate fuel didn’t help matters. So my outing with Young A felt therapeutic. He scooted around the track lap after lap, climbed the play structure, even made a new friend. For my part, I stayed present and didn’t keep looking at my phone. It felt so easy and so clear. I’m learning to be a good and functional parent again.
When I got home a new book of translations of Paul Celan’s later poems was waiting for me, as well as a lovely get well card and warm socks from a person I’ve known for years, not very well, who’s been touched by my words here. I had a call from a cousin overseas. Everything is healing me.
(Below, one of my favorite Celan poems, newly translated by Pierre Joris.)