Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturdays In Berkeley

When I was living in San Francisco, between Richard's and Julie's births, I read a book about household organization, which said that, just like a business, a family does better when it knows its mission. Are you going for good citizens? Concert musicians? Scientists? Tightrope walkers? So, being me with my decidedly odd slant on the world (I told you. I send Edward Gorey Christmas cards.), when we moved back to Berkeley, I had a sign on the front door that read, "Gipson, Gipson, & Gipson: We Dirty Clean Diapers".

On Saturday mornings we would get up and clean the apartment. The kids helped from the beginning. Actually, the first time Richard helped he was nine months old, we were visiting my parents, and Daddy asked him to bring his bottle to the kitchen to be washed. And Richard, who was at that time refusing to crawl and walking around by holding on to the walls, walked around three walls to get to the bottle and then back around to carry it to his grandfather. And when I saw how proud he was, I asked him to do anything that I could think of after that. So, on Saturdays we would get up and clean, each doing according to ability.* And when we were finished, we were out and about.

I had two luxuries in those days -- diaper service, and a laundromat where I could drop the clothes off and pick them up, washed, dried, and folded, a few hours later. So, the first stop of the day was to take the laundry. Then the library. The stroller was too wide to go between the shelves, so I would park it at the end of the shelf I was checking and they would look quietly around and nibble on teething biscuits. Every week when I checked out my books, the librarian would comment on how they were so quiet that the first she ever knew we were there was when we checked out.

Then we would head up to campus. Get out of the stroller and have a picnic on the grass. Walk under the trees. Play with passing dogs. Help them climb a tree. Splash in the Sproul Plaza fountain on warm days. Spend a dime and take a ride up the Campanile to look out at San Francisco. Walk back down Telegraph Avenue, stopping in the book stores. They were there in their double stroller the day I discovered Edward Gorey (The Insect God, still my favorite) and laughed until the tears ran down my face. We would stop in the pet store to look at tropical fish and birds, a candy store to buy us each a licorice whip, maybe the dime store if I needed something else. Slowly, we would work our way from campus to the grocery store. Out would come the list. Discussing what we were buying with them.** While Richard was still too young to walk the rest of the way, I would have the little-old-lady cart and use it for groceries. When he was older, he would get out now and we would use his seat for the groceries. Back and drop the food at the apartment, and then to pick up the laundry.

And, along the way we would stop and check out any construction that was going on,*** look in lots of windows, stop and chat to people we knew or people who were interested in small children. Notice how flower gardens along the way were progressing. Recite nursery rhymes. Talk and talk and talk. Laugh.

We would be out for about four or five hours. Fresh air. Sunshine. And, more often than not, at some point along the way, as apt to be uphill as down, I would just have to run. Pushing two kids with one hand and pulling the week's groceries with the other. Because it was just good to be alive and together.

And I'll tell you, I still miss it. Not just having the strength to push a stroller with two kids and a few library books and pull a cart full of groceries up a hill while running. Mostly the delight of their company. Watching them learn about the world. Every age they have ever been has been a delight, and I would go back and do any of them again in a heartbeat. But, I think I might go back and do this one as the chorus to the rest. A, B, C, B, D, B, E, B, F, B. I can't remember a time in my adult life when I was happier. And I've been happy most of the time.

* We always did that, as long as they lived with me. And, the rare once or twice that one of them decided to sit down and allow the other two of us to do it, I would say, "Your sibling has decided we need a break" and the other two of us would sit down and wait. And when we were done, we went out and had fun. It's easy to get kids to do chores when you do them together and there is family fun right after.

** Once when we were shopping a man approached and told me that he taught child development, and he was impressed by the way I talked to them. I was, he said, developing both language and logic skills. And, you know me, I delight in being recognized for what a good job I'm doing. Made my decade, that momentary encounter.

*** For a couple of years there it was BART. Which they kept having to tear up again because they had left something (like the ventilation system) out the first time.

No comments: