Monday, November 10, 2008

Little things I should have said and done

I'm quite sure that this weekend was a typical one, primarily because I can't remember much of it. When I was younger, that might have implied one kind of activity or another, but at my age, that implies too many activities, which overwhelmed my shrinking number of neurons and so which got flushed from the bathroom of my brain.

Wait, did I just imply that my weekend was full of crappy activities?

OK, that's not the true, it's just a crappy metaphor that made it seem so.

On Saturday morning, we decided to motivate to a museum, and Natural History seemed a good choice, with exhibits about dirt, Korea, Rastafari, and butterflies, plus the permanent exhibits--elephants, dinosaurs, and so on. While I was checking them out on the WaPo site, I saw that folks had spontaneously set up message boards for Barack at the Lincoln Memorial.

We took 3B there for a civics lesson and because it's one of my favorite monuments. Lincoln's words that are carved into the interior walls choke me up. Of course, being there with a two-year-old, there was no way I could pause long enough to read a single word. Nevertheless, it was a powerful experience to be there, with message boards to our first African American president laid out before the carved figure of our president who liberated the slaves.

Walking there through the Vietnam Memorial was a reminder of the seriousness of the task facing each president--my son on my shoulders, both of us looking at the pictures laid out of young men sitting in helicopter doorways and standing at attention before our flag, memorials of patches and poems, and the reflections of our own faces in the stoic wall, laced through with the names carved into the stone.

At one point, 3B reached out to the wall and said, "Want to touch that." When I leaned forward and let him feel the names on the wall, he started to pluck at them. 3B said, "They're stuck in there."

Yes...yes they are.

After that, we headed to the museum. Correction--we drove around DC looking for parking for 45 minutes before I finally dropped Mama and 3B off and continued circling.

I'd like five minutes with the genius who built so many massive museums in this city and not one decent garage near any of them. And then five minutes with the genius who put in only one Metro stop in the National Mall, which is over two miles long. But he might have to wait in line behind the city planner wunderkind who determined that there should be no parking in front of the doorway of any business in DC, which only reduces the parking stock by about 75 percent.

So, after having banged our front bumper and hitch-mounted bike rack off a couple of cars as I shoehorned my way into a parking spot, I was off to the museum for lunch with Mama and 3B. I found Mama who was sitting at a tray with the remnants of a chocolate cupcake, a bucket of fries, a dish of macaroni and cheese, an apple and a very happy boy.

Turns out the museum cafe was unable to take credit cards, which was not what Mama wanted to hear as she tried to wrangle a hungry, nap-deprived, excited 3B while balancing a tray full of food. The man in back of her in line sized up the situation and offered to pay for her food just as Mama was able to dig a $10 bill out of her purse.

My love for Mama is so strong that at times, like this morning, it brings me to tears, but it can never surpass my respect for Mama's ability to do the impossible. Well, what's impossible for me, that is. Had that been me in line, I would have taken that man's money, asked if I could borrow his stroller and if he could pull our car around when we were ready to leave the museum. And then I might have had a small breakdown.

As it was, I found Mama and 3B somehow, despite the lack of cell reception in the building, and we ended up enjoying the elephant a little bit, the dinosaurs a bit more, the crawl-through model termite mound quite a bit and the roundabout Eamesesque seats in the mammal skeleton room most of all. Then it was suddenly time to go see if I could butter up the front bumper and slide the car out of the parking spot that I'd wedged it into.

As we flew into the lobby--3B was on my shoulder for a helicopter ride to the car--we came upon a singing group, and as we got closer, I heard a familiar song, a song that I hadn't known well until two years ago when we selected it to play at Mom's memorial service. Since then, it's been a source of some comfort, reminding me of Mom and everything that she was to me. Of her humor and her laugh, of her memories of sitting alone atop a hill in San Francisco watching the fog roll in and feeling the wind blow against her, of her unconditional love for me, in which I often took shelter from the storm.

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!
For the voyage is done an' the winds don't blow,
An' it's time for us to leave her!
I sat right down on the floor with 3B, who was engrossed by the music. We kept listening as they followed that up with A Rovin', and then headed upstairs to continue the concert as we distracted 3B from his fascination with their squeeze box and big drum and flew out the door.
A-rovin', a-rovin',
Since rovin's bin my ru-i-in,
We'll go no more a-rovin'
As soon as we were outside, Mama got an email letting her know that the woman who had gotten her into her current job, the woman who we had dinner with in Belgium, the woman who Mama was trying to get to come along on her upcoming trip to Ghana, and who Mama always turned to for advice and encouragement had passed away. [Update: Alternative memoriam site if first link isn't working.]

Mama kept trying to digest the news as we got in the car and drove home, playing the sea shanties from Mom's service for 3B the whole way. None of the versions we had were right, however, because none had a squeeze box in them. In our lobby, waiting for the elevator, 3B declared that he wanted to hear more "squeeze shanties," making us all laugh.

I know of one woman who looks down on 3B everywhere he goes with humor and unconditional love who might have chuckled over that as we did. And although I didn't know her well enough to speak for her, I'm pretty sure that there's another woman looking down on Mama now, a steel magnolia who is surely proud of how graceful and powerful Mama's work is, and who, in her final words to Mama, reminded her to be confident in her own abilities and that whatever this is, this too shall pass.

And then the door opened and it was time to ride up home and lay our weary bodies down.

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  1. Anonymous4:29 PM

    That is way too much for one weekend.

    The one time we went to DC, we parked at the train station and took a cab to the Mall. Not the most efficient of cities, eh?

    We were recently marveling that our president-elect has a blog. We're not in Kansas any more! And then we gave our kids their semi-weekly civics lesson, explaining what exactly the vice-president does and why sometimes recounts are necessary.

    That link to doesn't seem to be working right now, but I found another site with a memorial. What a mentor to have! My condolences to Mama.

  2. What a weekend! Who knew there would be such moments of profound depth during what VB refer's to as "stay-at-home days".

  3. We did the metro to the one stop in the mall and then did a lot of walking... in August... a very hot August. When we finally made it to the Museum of Natural History we stayed a long time as it was air conditioned and they closed late.

    I would have loved to stay and listen and sing along with those shanteys, had I been with you. I think I have many versions here in boxes in my living room. I should go through them and see if any use a squeeze box.

    I am sorry to hear of the loss of a wonderful mentor to mama. It is always too soon when someone like that leaves us for the last time.

    I am sure there are many who are smiling down on you. I know your father would be proud of the kind of dad you are. I don't say it often enough, but you remind me of dad in how much you care and how you take care of 3B. You are wonderful to your wife too. Although you were so young when we lost him, he obviously made a good impression on you and you cary on that legacy.

  4. Amama: Screw Kansas--we're not in the 19th century anymore! Except if you're trying to navigate DC, where you might be better off with a horse and cart.

    VDaddy: It's startling how quickly life comes at us, and then leaves us so abruptly. And how someone so small can so easily make sense of this whole big world.

    Kangamoo: If you make it back here again, we'll drive. Museums by day are good for the a/c, and monuments by night are good for the (relative) cool. What's even better is the weather during cherry blossom season in the spring and foliage season in the fall.

    You're far too kind about the kind of dad I am. I just try to keep my head above water. If I resemble Dad in any way, that's entirely due to him, since I don't have the capacity to consciously imitate him, so I must be unconsciously repeating what he showed me.

    OK, if I do the talk quietly while 3B is a screaming mad teenager, that might be a conscious thing--but it would be more to watch it irk 3B than to imitate Dad. I don't want 3B to miss any of his legacy after all.

  5. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Oh--the other civics lesson I forgot to mention? That white people used to kill black people just for being black, or at least were really mean to them, and now our president-elect is half black. w00t!

    Papa always shirks these kinds of discussions with the kids, but I love them, because it's amazing how easy it is to explain things simply: people are just mean sometimes, but we're learning not to do that any more.