Dear Catherine, Life has a way of sifting out most all but the happier memories – or so said your grandfather one day when I was about ten years old. I believe he is right. So every day I make it a point to savor things – like how utterly relaxed I feel after a looonnng run and a shower, slipping into shorts and a tank top with clean skin and damp hair…or how carrying you across our parking lot when there’s been a downpour and the pavement is wet and warm and smells like summer is somehow simultaneously nostalgic and promising. And sometimes, mostly when we least expect it, we experience something a little out of the ordinary and kind of fun and exciting, which makes it more likely to wind up in our arsenal of happy memories years down the road.
You and I met David Sedaris yesterday, for about 20 minutes, at the Barnes and Noble by our condo.
You may or may not know who David Sedaris is. Well, let me tell you, he is a very, very funny writer. The rare kind who makes you laugh out loud with every page. He is also a regular NPR contributor and I’ve been listening to his distinctive deadpan rendition of story after story for years – usually while I wash dishes or fold laundry - just to spice things up. He’s a kindred spirit, I can tell. We would probably get along. More likely, I’d want us to be good friends and he would be confused and scared and run away.
Long story short, Catherine – I didn’t get to meet Roald Dahl (God rest his brilliant, beloved soul), but David Sedaris isn’t too shabby a consolation prize.
If I didn’t have the parenting philosophy I do, you might never have met him, and I wouldn’t have met him the way I did. What I mean is, another parent might have arranged for childcare, or not attempted it at all. In a packed-out venue, there was not one other child, let alone baby. Probably those parents didn’t bring their kids out of consideration for others or because they wanted to stay long enough to actually hear Mr. Sedaris speak. I on the other hand don’t share the same concern for others, so I usually just bring you along, plan for the worst, and hope for the best. I’ve only made an exception to that rule once so far – on our wedding day. We hired a nanny.
Because your dad and I bring you along – to nice restaurants, shops, museums – we often return home after appetizers, without a new dress, or before we reached the third floor of the Guggenheim. I was kidding in that earlier paragraph about not considering others; we certainly make sure to never inconvenience anyone around us. If you begin to cry or cause a ruckus, which it must be confessed (borrowing a favorite phrase of Frances Hodgison Burnett) you do enjoy, we leave, making us the ones inconvenienced. But here’s the thing Catherine – if we didn’t take these risks, we’d miss out on the magic moments! Let me describe one.
When you were four months old, we were lucky enough to fly up to New York City and stay with your dad in a really nice hotel in Chelsea for a whole week. He was there to work, but you and I were along for the ride and free to play in the city all week! Every day, I carried you in the baby carrier with your little sunhat, and a huge shoulder bag crammed full of diapers and maps, all over the city by train and foot. I changed your diaper and nursed you on benches on busy streets while endless herds of people hurried past. This scenario wasn’t the “serene mother breastfeeding her babe on a peaceful bench on a river in Central Park surrounded by birds chirping whilst from a distance a street painter can’t help but capture our beauty in his painting which would go on to become a priceless work of art hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” I’d pictured. In fact, the only time I breastfed you in Central Park, we sat at a dilapidated picnic bench and a rat emerged from the brush, spotted us, then scurried away. And yet.
On the Highline, a park in the sky, suspended by steel along an old train rail with views of the water and imaginative architectural buildings, I bought an iced coffee and you slept nestled against me while I walked along, listening to a string quartet that happened to be playing there, admiring the plants and colorful graffiti art their artists had strategically placed in our line of vision so that they were like works of art displayed on the walls of a museum – except those walls were the buildings of New York. When you woke, I nursed you on a private bench surrounded by flowers with a view of the city and yellow taxicabs below. When you finished, you sat on my lap and flirted with two elderly ladies who’d joined us. Late that afternoon, we went back to the hotel. It felt so good to take off our city-worn clothes and shower and put on our pajamas and stretch out together in the cool sheets. You were soooooo happy that night (as you were every night after our long treks). You cooed and sucked on your toes. I ordered room service from a five-star sushi restaurant. You fell asleep. I made a vodka with orange juice and watched the presidential debates while my baby slept peacefully in the bed beside me. That, my Darling, is heaven on earth.
It wouldn’t have been the same without you.
So that’s why I took you to meet Mr. Sedaris. Plus, Barnes and Noble is steps away from our house and there was no one home to watch you while I went. I loaded the stroller with toys, slipped a piece of paper with the correct spelling of your name into the jacket of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, and mentally prepared myself to call off the mission if at any point you ceased to cooperate. Either that, or stick a boob in your mouth. Was I brave/desperate enough to do it while standing in line at a book signing? I thought so. Everyone would probably see us and murmur, “Look how committed that mother is to meet David and feed her child! What a supermom.” They might even offer us their place in line, or at the very least form a human privacy shield around us.
What happened when we arrived was over in the span of twenty minutes and doesn’t necessarily warrant the anticipation I’ve tried to create. But it was nice. You’d just awoken from your nap and David spotted us in line. He walked straight over to us and said in that unmistakable soft, thoughtful voice, “Are you here by yourself with your baby? Let me go ahead and sign a book for you just in case.” I felt the least star struck I’ve ever felt around a famous person. I believe this has to do with us being, as I said, kindred spirits. When I met Bill Clinton, I stared at him, paralyzed, and whispered hoarsely “thank you.” Whereas to David, I gave a confident, resounding “thank you!” You can see the difference. I scanned his face. It was lovely! Genuine, open…the best kind of face! Freshly awake, you stared at him with big, judgmental eyes, the hair on one side of your head sticking out as if a bird has just begun building her nest there. David stared at you right back, taking in your face and considering what message he might leave for you in his book.
“You have amazing eyes,” he said to you. “Is she for sale?” he asked me.
“No,” I said. “I’m attached.”
“Oh come on,” he said. “You can have another. You can always have another. Right?”
‘Hmm. That’s true, I could,” I said, cleverly.
He opened our copy of his book and wrote, “To Catherine. You’re such a baby” and signed it David Sedaris.
He then walked a few feet away to his podium to begin his talk, and – symbolically, perhaps – you and I sat right at his feet. I knew it wouldn’t last long, but while it did it was awesome. You clutched your Little Red Riding Hood doll and looked around, delighted/pleased at everyone laughing and clapping as if you thought they were your audience. I held you and listened to that familiar voice rattle off a few old jokes I’d already heard in a Terry Gross interview and then ease into his plain-spoken, conversational style of delivering new jokes so that you don’t even realize they’re going to be jokes. I laughed and laughed and you liked the laughter, so you stood up and turned around and hugged me around the neck for a solid 2 minutes while I listened and laughed. It was a golden moment, girl. And all golden moments must end. This one did when you tried to climb into my neighbor’s lap and when I wouldn’t let you, you protested loudly and I quickly escorted you out. And that was that. Our experience was over!
Outside Barnes and Noble I immediately called your dad and your grandmother both to tell them about our little adventure. I was so excited and couldn’t believe our luck!
Now you own a book signed to you by David Sedaris, and one day you may care or you may not at all. You may love to read, or you may not. But I hope that like me, you will realize that happiness in life is made up of little moments like this, stitched together. The more of them you can make happen and pause to appreciate, the happier your life will be. Your moments will be different from mine, so I can’t do this for you and neither can anyone else – not your friends, not your future husband, not the third party that this sentence seems to necessitate in order to maintain its flow. Only you can create happiness for yourself by knowing what you love and surrounding yourself with as much of it as possible.
I can tell you this. As much as I can, I’ll try to teach you this skill, while I continue to learn it myself. Somehow, I will try to make every load of laundry and every pile of dirty dishes contain some small magic.
Love always my Lovely,