A poem by Alden Nowlan
We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I’m sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.
“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.
Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.
In 2012 I heard this poem read out loud on a meditation retreat in South Africa. I imagined myself at some future point, making toast with my loved ones in a kitchen somewhere. Fast-forward (past heartache, moving country, finding a new life and new love) to 2016; there we are in Dublin, another three in a three-room flat.
Eating blueberry pancakes while our son watches the street sweeper machine below.
Eating porridge hurriedly before packing him onto the bike for the crèche run. Nose running, he shouts in delight as we make our way down the street. Nose running, he protests when I drop him off. My eyes fill with tears sometimes and I leave him anyway.
On the way home, we stop for him to wonder at the roadworks.
What’s that mommy?
Ummm. A digger?
One day he wants to pause to look at a puddle. So we sit on a dirty step and watch the legs of the city go past.
Our great things, our everyday adventures.
I often start the day with both of my sons in my bed. Sometimes we all end up there again in the middle of the day. While I feed the baby before his nap, my older boy opens the door a crack and peeks in, whispering, nodding for emphasis:
You should sing him the mockingbird one, then that will cheer him up
Can I come in Mommy?
He creeps into the room, clambers up onto the bed, pulls the duvet up.
I’m keeping my skates on
Slippers, not skates. Green monsters purchased for his last crèche, where the downstairs office residents asked that the children’s footsteps be muffled so as not to disturb their work. I am happy that they are used now in our new home, to keep his feet warm instead of silenced. I bought them on my lunch-break, wanting to buy him these and the world, to make up for missing so many moments of his day.
The small moments, the great moments.
The moments that now pass by in a blur like the view from the window of a railway carriage. We capture some with our camera. The photos tell a story, but not the whole story.
I want to take a photo but he has turned all of the lights off, has lined some teddies up on the window sill. They are to perform a show that never begins. Instead, he moves to the kitchen, takes a seat at the table.
I’m just going to my office now. Will you want to come too?
I join him, watch his dancing hands, listen to his happy hum.
Will you want me to make you something?
I’m putting in some salad…now some flour.
Look what I made you. It’s a drum!
These moments, where nothing and everything is happening.
Tonight my baby cackling and cooing on my bed. Legs and arms in a manic pre-bedtime dance. I stop and smile, kiss his nose. He increases the tempo of the legs and arms for a moment, grabs my hair in a chubby fist.
My eyes fill with tears for all the parts of his life I will not be part of. For things great and things everyday that will endure only in my memory, if even there. For the joy he brings.
For this moment. A happy, giddy baby, six-teeth-old on a bright spring evening.