18 April 2009

Girls, Bikes, Kids and Ocean

Lately, I seem to find myself talking, however briefly, with babies, toddlers and small children with greater frequency. If the kid can understand what I'm saying, I'll ask his or her name and what kinds of things he or she likes, and continue from there. If the kid's too young, I make faces and sounds.

And I'm really enjoying it. Not that I didn't like kids before: I still feel that the best job I ever got paid to do was to teach poetry and creative writing to kids. But somehow I feel that I have some sort of connection to them that I never had before. And the parents, or whichever adults are accompanying them, never seem to mind. Or at least they seem to sense that I bear no harm. Which, of course, I don't: I never could understand how or why anyone would want to harm a small child. And, given my history, it's the last thing I would ever want to do.

I realize now that the colleagues with whom I seem to get along best are the ones who have, or have had kids. Mark, the playwright, comes to mind. So does Matthew, a newly-promoted prof who takes me to the subway when we both have late classes. Ditto for Professor White. And, of course, there was Regina, the counselor in the Office of Students with Disabilities. She's at another college now, and I'm hoping to see her again soon.

It's odd that I find such people more accessible now. For a long time, I used to feel put off by people who had kids, at least when they were gathered and I was the only one in the room who didn't have kids. What's more, I didn't expect to have any. Take that back: I did just about everything one can do, consciously or unconsciously, not to have them. I got involved with the sorts of people with whom I wouldn't have had children if we were the last people left on the Earth. At least Tammy didn't want to have children; or more precisely, she had, before she met me, resigned herself to not having them.

But why am I having all of those nice encounters with kids? I don't think I've done anything to make myself more likeable, charming or accessible--at least, not that I know of. Maybe I shouldn't try to analyze what's happening. After all, I like it.

Today a young boy exclaimed, "Look at what that girl over there is doing!" I had just pedalled to Point Lookout, which is across the bay from Jones Beach and Fire Island. On the shoreline are a jumble of rocks and concrete blocks. I stepped from one jagged rock to another until I found one with a long flat area. Behind it was another stone that stood even more straight and upright than any of the concrete blocks. I sat back in my stone "chair," taking in the wind that skittered along the waves and the sun that reflected on them.

"Wow! You're a really smart girl," the boy yelled.

"Thank you. I bet you're a smart boy."

"But you're a smarter girl."

Two women who accompanied him laughed. "To him, we're all girls," said one of them. "And I'm his grandmother."

"Well, you certainly don't look like his grandmother." I meant it: She looked at least ten years younger than I am.

"If he wants to call us girls, I won't stop him."

"Nor will I," I promised.

We laughed and wished each other a nice day. So did the boy and his mother.

Now, some of the feminists may have winced--or worse--at our exchange. But it occurs to me that if I'm a "girl," maybe that has something to do with why I feel closer to kids--and of course, other "girls," and parents.

Then again, it was hard not to feel good about anybody or anyone on a day like this. It's one of those days that lets you know that yes, it's finally spring, and we're not going back. Even if the weather gets colder tomorrow or the day after, it's not a relapse into winter. The overcast and rainy days that follow have a different sort of light than those gray days we seemed to experience for weeks on end this winter. During a spring rainstorm, the water falling from the sky becomes a kind of light: one that becomes colors in its transparency. Fall and winter rain, on the other hand, seem to devour light.

Plus, today I did a bike ride I haven't done at least since last year. At one time, I did at least one equally long or longer ride every weekend; by this time of the year, I would have done at least a dozen or so such rides. I don't remember when I pedalled my first path to Point Lookout, but I'd bet that it was before the clerk in the store where I stopped was born. I'd pedalled to Point Lookout from Upper Manhattan, which was probably a bit longer than today's ride; I also pedalled to Point Lookout from Park Slope, which wasn't quite as long as today's ride. How far away would I have to move from it before I stop riding to it?

Dominick says that of all the photos he's seen of me, the ones in which I look best--"where you look most like you"--are the ones in which I'm next to or in front of the ocean, or some other large body of water. Well, the great expanse of wind and surf and sky does, I guess, make me look less fat. (Is that "girl" talk, or what?) But I do feel like I belong next to the sea because I belong to the sea. If, as the ancients believed, the four elements are earth, air, water and fire, and that they are our essences, I would guess that I am mostly water, with some air and a flame or two, but practically no earth. That may have something to do with the fact that I never could imagine myself living more than couple hundred miles or so from an ocean. As the crow flies, that's about how far Paris is from the Atlantic, and the Seine, which bisects that city, flows into it.

I know that I will certainly need to spend time by the ocean before I go for my surgery. The hospital is in Trinidad, Colorado. As I understand, it's in the desert: a land of earth and fire. Hopefully, there will be kids and "girls."

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