When we first met, the driving was so good. We would drive spontaneously, at all hours, often in public. Sometimes I was in the driver’s seat, sometimes she was. We did it with the windows open. Mostly we drove slowly, with care, exploring each other, but at rare times we drove fast and hard and were done within minutes.
It’s different now. She doesn’t like it when I come to a stop past the white line marking the correct point at a corner stop sign. I think she drives too slowly, deliberately taking tiny streets, making the drive last longer and longer. My mind works well when I drive, my best thoughts racing by in rapid-fire landscapes that I quickly catalogue. She likes my attention forward, on her, or backward, on the baby in the rear-facing child seat.
He is one year old. Our marriage is four. Everything is new, and now. Life is richer, our drives are chattier, and we play music for the baby. He likes Roseanne Cash. I like her, too, but prefer her dad. Folsom Prison Blues, however, would not be appropriate for a baby. We switched to Mozart, mostly for brain development. It’s a fallacy – kids can listen to Alice Cooper and their brains will develop in spite of it – but we like the idea of the divinely orderly worldview of previous centuries fertilizing the consciousness of our young charge. Divine brilliance has got to rub off, right? Thrashing has to be bad. He is, as the expression goes, a sponge. He listens in on all our conversations, processing, calibrating, measuring where he fits in. Even when he’s quiet in the back seat I can feel his presence. There’s a life force back there like a hot hundred watt bulb, massive processing power starting to spin up and come on line. He and the cat play fiercely at home, as though the animal knows the baby’s processing power will outrun his own in a matter of days. Kitty’s moment as a superior life form (in his view) will soon end. The baby will take over. It is inevitable.
The first times I was a father, I didn’t examine these things so closely. I was busy – that word that fills so much and yet signifies nothing. What was I busy at? Most of the time I can’t remember. Now I have a shadow father-life walking behind me wherever I go, a sonar echo I can ping to measure time.
We have been packing, moving, and unpacking. Packing goes slowly when emotional valance surrounds objects. These objects exert their gravity, force your hands underwater, make you swim slowly through memories. Putting a life into boxes, carrying it around, then taking it out again is a meditation exercise. You carry what you need with you, but you let a lot go. You look around, in a new place. So much the same, so much has changed.
The little boy is dragging toys and massive processing power along on the floor, making a racket, forming words and attaching them here and there. They are starting to stick. Mama, da, duck, kitty, hi. Hello, baby. I can see you coming into focus.