I see a mom with an infant strapped to her front and a toddler in her cart at Whole Foods. She’s talking to the toddler about what she’ll make for dinner and explaining the importance of eating organic. I smile. That was me 20 years ago. I was a mother with an infant and a toddler, walking the aisles of Whole Foods, though it was called Bread and Circus back then.
The localization of my memories of my daughters’ childhood is right here in Providence, where we lived for nine years. I walk my little dog down familiar streets and think about dreaming times.
Dreams are able to flourish when housed in the structure of place. At least, for me this is true. I see it everywhere here. The structure of daily life–sidewalks with trash bins out on Monday mornings, frisbee games on the Brown green, puppet shows at the RISD museum, cut up carrots in my purse, ziplock bags with bandaids and Neosporin–held my imaginings. I used to dream as I pushed my children in the double stroller down these streets. I can see my private thoughts along sidewalks soaked with spills from upside down sippy cups leaking as we walked from the bookstore to the baby park and back again the next day. I can see my dreams on the red brick pathways that wind through the city. It’s like a swirling mass of memories–things uttered and things kept quiet. Here they are all around me in the place where my children were young. I could turn a stone over in the baby park today and find my most secret desires. Maybe I will draw a map from swingset to sandbox, coffee shop to library, stone to stone to stone. What dreams will I uncover that will reduce me to tears? What is still left unresolved in me? What dreams have actually come true? And in between the places of imagination, the relentlessness of motherhood–exhaustion coupled with the absolute joy.
L’s study abroad year in Italy was over in May and so, after a short stay in Wales, I accompanied her from Aberystwyth to London so she could catch a flight back to the States. Some people questioned my decision to go with L to the airport–a 6-hour train ride each way from Aberystwyth. Isn’t she old enough to navigate the British rail system? (Is anyone?)
“Well yes, but I want to go with her.”
Just as I want to make her favorite food when she’s with me and bring her tea with honey at bedtime. It’s normal for them to go away–to college or on other adventures–but when my children are with me, in whatever home I’ve made for them, a natural urge to take care of them arises. So we made the journey to Gatwick and I put L on a direct flight home.
As I sat on the 6-hour train ride back to to Aberystwyth alone, I had the distinct feeling of weightlessness. I was in a place of no memory, traveling dream-free. As far as I could see, there was nothing lodged beneath the surface of the sheep pastures. There was no structure to capture my imaginings. The release of my being into the unknown was palpable.
Today I stand in line at Whole Foods and feel entirely unto myself. There is no child at my breast and nothing I need to explain to anyone. But I’m in Providence, the place that holds my memories. I run my fingers along the handle of the cart, remember tiny fingers wrapped tight, feel a smile and a tear at once.