When this all began, it was still a joke to laugh about privately with friends at an especially vacant restaurant for a Friday at 6pm. In the morning, I packed the wagon for the first time this year to set out for the park with my son. The wagon was last year’s acquisition to the family’s collection of equipment that feels clunky and somehow always in the way, but in critical moments like this, is exactly the thing that is needed. We got our snacks together; our park toys. I contemplated including the sunscreen but even for an abnormally hot March, it wasn’t that hot yet. As I’m putting things in the wagon, getting the water bottles filled and getting the sand toys out even though I know we can’t go to the playground, I reach for the picnic blanket.
There’s a little secret joy I experience when I do this. In order to grab it, I have to stretch up tall to touch the top shelf of the hall closet where the blanket lives. Have you ever had the feeling where nearing the end of a long stretch for a thing that is hard to reach, just when you think you’re not going to be able to make it, you suddenly discover there’s a little more in you to give? All of a sudden, you feel a shortness of breath – maybe a brief dizziness overcomes you – as magically, your arm seems to extend beyond its perceived capability. Like a cat’s good stretch, your body arches up and then stretches out to let length flow from you, from toes to finger tips. You reach forward once more, grab the blanket and put it in the wagon, thoroughly satisfied.
But as you do, it hits you: sunscreen. The smell of it is practically woven into that blanket, which I guess didn’t get a wash at season’s end last year. Guess it didn’t… It’s the smell of your son’s baby sunscreen (yes, you still buy him baby sunscreen, because the sun today is harsher than when you were a child, and he is the most precious, wonderful thing still existing in this world that his innocence must be eternally preserved). It’s the nice brand, too. The brand with the mom and baby animal hugging in the logo. Instantly, you are transported back to last season and where you were at with your family. The joy and the struggle of life at that time; life appear like a parody of itself when you recount it in an instant. But it is the truth. Finishing school. Travel. Moving. Being a parent. A tired parent…. The feeling of a ‘freedom to do nothing’ that the scent brings up when you smell it. It is devastating, and you realize then that we’re going to be here a while.
Allowing yourself this moment is fine. In truth, you don’t even allow it at the time that it happens. You catalogue it as something you’ll have to revisit when you have the energy to do so, and instead, resolve that the family will make use of the blanket as much as possible this spring and summer. But it will be different this time. There’s hope hidden in that statement, isn’t there? In a day it will be May. Who could have conceived of this two months ago? I can’t see too far into tomorrow, but I have to make these promises to myself. I’ll be sure to wash the season away, too, when this is all over.