May 2 2011

Comparing Saturdays

She had a rehearsal, for the school play, an abridged version (thankfully) of the Wizard of Oz. Short-pants is Glinda the Good Witch of the North in one scene, and she plays the Scarecrow in another. It’s a brilliant touch, I think, to cast several children in each of the roles: it cuts down on the pressure to memorize an entire script and gives many kids a chance to star. Buddy-roo is, of course, one of the Dorothys, and has perfected the turn of the ankle that shows off the ruby-red-slippers. But that scene wasn’t being rehearsed this weekend, so I had only Short-pants to fetch.

The rehearsal, it turns out, was held at an apartment just two blocks from where I lived when I first moved to Paris. Walking along the streets of the neighborhood, a gale of memories blew in, not quite as fierce as Dorothy’s voyage through the cyclone, but just as vivid. All those familiar faces and feelings that come when you return to a place that was once yours. I had sub-let a fantastic 100-square-meter Haussman-era apartment, decorated in an arty, eclectic style that suited me perfectly. I remember moving in and feeling at home in an instant.

The residue of those early days in Paris stays with me. I used to pinch myself to make sure I was really here. I’m sure I was a lot lonelier than I ever have would have admitted to myself; the thrill of living in Paris can keep you from realizing how unhappy you might be during those first months of adjustment. In retrospect, I had my share of uneasy-and-really-alone moments. But, oh, what I wouldn’t give to be that lonely again.

Saturdays were different then. Morning started at noon, and if I happened to be awake before twelve, it was only to make coffee and slip back into bed. I read all the time. The pile of “books on deck” much more reasonable than it is now, as it spiders off my bed-table and onto the floor in multiple piles that I never seem to read through. When I’d finally venture out of the apartment, it was often with no particular destination in mind. I explored the main boulevards in each direction, wandering off side streets and into alien neighborhoods. I walked the city. I’d stop at a café simply because it looked inviting. I ate lunch or I didn’t. I’d explore until I got tired and then I’d find a metro station and make my way back home, sometimes staying out until it was late and dark, but having followed every single whim of mine, all day long.

Sometimes there’d be lunch dates, lovely long appointments without boundary. We’d linger as long as we wanted after the café had been served, then go window shopping or stop at a gallery or just walk and talk and then go somewhere else for another café or a carafe of wine. There wasn’t anything else to do. At that time, my job involved work that could be completed during the week. My workday ended when I was done with work, not when the kids were done with school; those last precious hours of productivity before a typically late dinner meant I rarely had to work on the weekend. Saturday was just a day for me. To go out, or stay home, to do nothing in particular, to do whatever I wanted. On my own clock.

These days, I’m usually trailing the kids to some activity, eyeballing those single, childless people at café tables in the midst of their extended lunches and leisurely afternoons with no small amount of envy. I can still make lunch plans with friends – and I do – but it’s different. There’s a window of time. After a few hours, as delicious as it’s been to sit out at the terrace and eat and drink and people-watch, there’s always something nagging at me. There’s a clock ticking. I need to be home by 3:15 because De-facto has something he has to do, or I promised Buddy-roo I’d do a project with her or it’s just not fair to leave one parent in charge all day long without at least touching base. I can’t remember a Saturday where there wasn’t an gnawing itch of something I ought to be handling: getting a child to a rehearsal, a play-date, a birthday party, addressing paperwork that I couldn’t get to during the week, monitoring homework, drafting that thing I’m supposed to write, cleaning out that shelf, going through that pile. There’s always something or somebody that needs taking care of.

But this Saturday actually had a tinge of something from those earlier, freer weekends. I picked up Short-pants at her rehearsal and we set out. She was on her scooter, speeding ahead, but stopping at each street crossing and waiting for me to catch up. We walked home via Lil’ Weasel, a tiny knitting store in one of Paris’ charming off-the-tourist-path passages to pick up some double point needles she’d been asking for. We meandered for a while, stopping to look in store windows. We sat at a café and shared a panini for lunch, making up stories about the people who walked by. We went by my new favorite store on rue Rambuteau, La Pistacherie, its shelves stocked with apothecary-shaped jars of nuts of every kind, each one salted or spiced or enrobé with cheese or wasabi or some eccentric ingredient. We test-tasted as many nuts and berries as the store-keeper would let us, our eyes widening at each treat he offered. We walked to Ile St Louis and sat on the curb watching a buskerer let loose enormous soap bubbles in the wind.

We ended up meeting De-facto and Buddy-roo at the school courtyard, open exceptionally this last Saturday to host a vide grenier for people who took seriously enough their spring cleaning to have brought belongings to be sold at the school-sponsored flea market. A friend visiting Paris (the spring visitor season has officially commenced) joined us and we wandered home, almost aimlessly, stopping at an ice-cream kiosk for a treat. The sky was mostly sunny blue but for that one very dark cloud hovering just above us; we had to take shelter in the doorway of a church during the 6-minute rainstorm-in-the-sun. And then, slowly, we made our way home.

It was almost like the good ol’ days. Almost. Okay not really, but at least Saturday afternoons are no longer hampered with diapers and naps and hungry melt-downs. I should know better than to compare my life now with life before; better to be present with the current reality and look forward to what’s ahead. Maybe I’ll get those lazy all-about-me Saturdays back, probably just about the time I won’t want them anymore.