This morning, I woke up earlier than Sophie, so I tried to do yoga at home, but I discovered that it is very difficult to maintain deep yogic breathing when a cat vomits six inches from your head. This morning, I also got to clean up cat-poo, cat-pee, a broken plate that managed to get sharp shards all over our kitchen-dining-living-area, and spilled milk, and two exceedingly dirty diapers — all before breakfast, and all while struggling with my old laptop, which could get a video-image of Ben in Britain but no volume, tantalizing me, frustratingly.

When I finally got ready to drop Sophie off at daycare, one of the other parents asked me how I was doing, and I couldn’t just say, “Fine.” Instead, I laughingly listed all the disgusting substances I had already encountered before breakfast, all on week three of single parenting. He told me my day could only get better.

But here’s the thing: it actually wasn’t that bad. Cat-vomit is just a side-effect of having my cats. Stinky diapers are not the end of the world. Spilled milk is just spilled milk. All that nastiness is easily cleanable. And Sophie actually loved the video image of her Dad, miming playing the flute she held up to the computer and clapping for her dancing, even if she couldn’t hear him. I can think of a whole lot of ways my morning could have been worse, beginning with if I really cried over spilled milk, or if anyone had really been hurt.

So here’s another way to look at my morning: the jacarandas are in bloom. This week’s ThisAmericanLife podcast made my commute actually enjoyable. Sophie’s bad-moods, lately, have been intense but brief. Our banana-bread was tasty. And at least we got to see Ben on video, if not hear his voice.

I don’t want to sentimentalize away the cat-vomit and such. I don’t want to sugarcoat my life by focusing only on those jacarandas — but I don’t want to forget the jacarandas, either, just because I’m trying not to be sentimental.

So here’s what I’m thinking about: astroturf.

Yesterday, Sunday, I tried to take Sophie to the beach. We parked, crossed the highway, entered the Cardiff campground, and were about to descend the steps to the beach when Sophie changed her mind. “Eat eat eat!” she declared. She had just rejected a quesadilla not twenty minutes earlier. But my baby is underweight (one doctor actually advised us to feed her plain butter), so when she asks for food, I listen.

So we crossed back over the highway and actually did the silly California thing of getting back in the car to drive two blocks to the minimall, where there is a frozen-yogurt store and a pizza-take-out next to a parallelogram of astroturf.

Sophie barely ate her small frozen-yogurt: what she really wanted was that astroturf. It’s the little-kid-mecca, for some reason. I think Sophie enjoyed that astroturf more than she would have enjoyed the beach. Sophie played catch with two brothers, explored the benches, watched the older boys wrestling, commented on every baby in every stroller, danced to her own internal music, hung on the bike-parking hoops, climbed the stairs, attempted to engage the boys in her own version of non-competitive tag, shared her ball with anyone under seven, picked up litter, swung on every light-post, eventually ate a slice of pizza, and also plucked the flowers fallen out of the minimall flower-urn. She was more engaged than she is at some playgrounds. We spent almost two hours at that patch of astroturf.

I actually had a good conversation with the father of the wrestling boys, discussing gender-roles and child-rearing, and also just sitting back in the sun to watch our kids take immense joy from a space that, without kids, we would have found banal.

Living with Sophie means learning to take pleasure not only in the jacarandas, but also in the astroturf.


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