Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Morning sprint

L's alarm goes off at 6:15, but chances are she's already awake. I may stir when I hear the soft morning voices of NPR float from her nightstand, but L is probably sitting on the couch half-asleep nursing A. Some mornings I find L and A asleep together, L's neck arched to rest her head on the couch and the baby lying still in her lap. On occasional mornings the alarm actually wakes her up, as the baby has deigned to let us sleep -- but these mornings are rare.

My alarm goes off at 6:45, but I am usually awake by then. Once I have showered and dressed I find out how A has dealt with her morning; whether she is placid or fiery, whether she slept soundly or battled through the night. L leaves around 7:30, propelled by currents of unconditional love and professional ambition and a subtle but unrelenting guilt; these are the forces that drive us.

If I am lucky A will let me eat my cereal and read the paper. A happy compromise is to hold her in my lap and let her wreak havoc on the bottom half of the paper while I read something on the top. I always worry about her ink-smeared hands but apparently her constant coat of saliva repels the stain. At 7:55 we are out the door; the baby is in the stroller, my work bag is stuffed underneath her seat, the baby bag (my old backpack, which has seen me from college through Asia to A) is draped over the handlebars with my lunch sack. If I am smart I have remembered the daily log to be completed by the nanny, and A's food. Then the apartment is silent.

We walk up Tiemann to Riverside, heading forcefully up the hill that flattens out around Grant's Tomb, near 120th Street. At this point I have broken in a sweat. The walk to our friends' is about a mile from this point; it's a mile and quarter from door to door. I walk quickly through Riverside Park, under the canopy of leaves and over the uneven paving stones. I pass a few joggers, a few kids in strollers staring outwards with a look of tired perplexity, a man doing some kind of martial art in the middle of the way, and dog-walkers. Today one woman informed me that A's blanket was dragging along the ground with an unnecessary measure of spite. I don't listen to any music, but I do make inane comments to my daughter occasionally to remind her that I'm still there. She is content to stare at her surroundings and feast on her blanket, or perhaps her hand. There is an unexpected measure of balance and companionship.

We cut over on 108th Street and head down Broadway for a couple of blocks, and then we have arrived. After visiting with our friends and passing A, who is aware yet compliant, to the nanny, the dash continues. I walked ten more blocks north and arrive in my office. Despite my efforts to pace myself I am sweaty by the time I get to work; damp under my shirt, the occasional bead trickling down my neck. The back of my hair is wet. Compose yourself. You have arrived at work.

In the evening, on a good day, L will pick up A and continue walking north to retrieve me from work. The three of us stroll home together, enjoying the slow pace and temperate breeze that is an unattainable luxury in the morning. If we are smart and diligent, A is in bed by seven. Then L is still working to make us dinner. In the evening we watch television, because it asks nothing of us. L will pump more milk. At eleven we shut down the apartment. L sleeps immediately, and I try to read a few pages before I can't even remember the words on the page. At some point A will wake herself up by rolling over, or she will interrupt the quiet with a piercing cry that must represent a nightmare. Her eyes won't open, yet she is inconsolable.

And then, after whatever kind of night we have, it will all start again. This is how a home becomes a household.

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