Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Random thoughts on responsibility, running, and family on a late-night errand

Even after a decade of parenthood, sometimes it's easy to forget that you are a parent. Not to forget about your kid, or your spouse -- just that you are a parent. Sometimes you even think it's kind of nice.

Maybe you'll be driving at night, probably on some last-minute errand because you and your spouse still suck at remembering to pick things up until the last minute, and now you have to run to the store across town at 10:30 at night, only you don't mind because you really just wanted an excuse to drive anyway; to get out on a long desert road and just drive, alone. And for a while, the antenna in your head that's constantly tuned to parenting duties is drawn in, and the reception is fuzzy and dulled. You turn west on the long, empty road -- your favorite, with cornfields to one side and widely spaced ornate houses to the other, with horses and cattle and goats in the yards. You can't see the horses or cattle or goats, but it makes you feel happy to know they're there, somehow.

So you're driving, with the windows down even though it's summer because it's 10:30 so it's only 92 degrees and the wind feels great, and it smells like dirt and rain clouds and farmland. The radio plays an old Cranberries song that you listened to for two straight years in high school, and now you're 17 again, and you don't have student loans or job searches or stories to write or an overdue mortgage payment. You don't get tired or worried, you don't fight for just one minute of solitude each day, and you definitely don't fight with another adult over how to discipline a child for being a punk at bedtime. There's no sluggish plumbing to fix, no HOA fines, and certainly no dirty shorts in the laundry with dirty underwear still stuck inside. You belt out angsty lyrics and it's all music, and you, and crickets, and sharp desert air. And it's kind of nice, forgetting you're a parent.

Eventually you get to the drugstore. You go inside and buy the few items you needed -- double the price, because you forgot to get them before the cheaper store closed -- and wander back out. As you leave the artificially cold, bright drugstore to return to the dark, airy night; you see a roadrunner. It's not running; just peering at you, looking prehistoric with its harsh reptilian gaze. It raises its crest, clacks its beak once, and trots off.

Your kid would have loved to see that.

And all of a sudden, the antenna goes back up, and the reception is crystal clear again. Kid husband bills job insurance OMG-what-are-we-doing. Errands. Dirty underwear. Scary official envelopes in the mail. Stupid bedtime fights.


And sometimes moments like this make you just want to run away, run away forever, or at least for a long while. Not that you don't totally love your kid and spouse and life, not that the mortgage and squabbles and underwear are that bad; it's just that you kind of love the notion of running away. Or maybe it's just running. Running, and taking off, and exploring, and forget all that regular bullshit.

Maybe it's running back. To when you were 17 and psyched about life, really beyond all reason.

You lived another life, then. You pretended to be a philosopher and recorded an audio diary and thought that being a writer would be about being "discovered" somehow. You had an X-Files poster on the wall, for god's sake.

So, no. Not-An-Adult-Yet-Hood was pretty great. But you were also kind of a douche.

And then clouds move in front of the moon so that it illuminates a whole milky patchwork of them, and you remember, I watch the night with my kid and husband. And a beetle moves across the pavement, all thorny collar and segmented antennae and body armor, and you remember the time your husband brought home a giant beetle from a parking lot, just so you could all forget daily life and retire to the backyard to release it and watch it. And you remember, I already do run away, for moments, every day. I explore. I leave almost everyone and everything behind all the time. These are the people with whom I make my escapes. And suddenly, you want nothing more than to return to the house, even with its shackles, because that's where the keys to the shackles are too.

At least, those are the things I think about while buying juice pouches and overpriced insulin late at night. Your mileage may vary.