Oct 4, 2019

And speaking of Lake Anza, in A Patchwork Memoir I wrote about another outing with Arielle, after Michael was born.

Leia and I are bundling Arielle, Michael, and all the lake gear into the car (which has got to be 150 degrees)—not a small production. There’s a large tote bag stuffed with diapers, swimsuits, towels, and food—things like rice cakes, sliced melon, and pistachios—a plastic hamper full of beach toys, plus the two inflated floats I bought. Of course, Arielle insists on bringing them both, and, as any parent knows, a two-year-old’s word is law.

But when it comes time to climb in the car herself, Leia can’t find her keys. “What did I do with them?” “I don’t know—I saw them in your hand a minute ago,” I say. We search fruitlessly between the car seats and among the bags until suddenly I spot them lying in the street near the curb. “Oh!” says Leia. “I forgot I dropped them.” Now at certain times of the month, I forget what I’m saying mid-sentence—again and again in the same paragraph—well, actually I don’t know if I’m in the same paragraph because I lose track of the subject I was discussing too, but anyway… I have an excuse—I’m peri-menopausal. Leia used to have one too; now she has two.

At the lake Arielle tries to put on her sunglasses upside down. We sit by a little inlet at the water’s edge that other kids have dug earlier. I bought Arielle some plastic fruit to put in her toy shopping cart, but, worse than a toddler when it comes to delayed gratification, I gave it to her even though I knew we were going to the lake. Now the miniature oranges and bananas and strawberries keep floating off, and one or the other of us has to chase after them.

The water is much clearer now than it was. It’s October and not many people are coming to the lake, though we’ve been having the hottest spell of the year. So it’s easy to see things lying on the lake bottom. It could be because the water isn’t so roiled up, but it could also be because the algae has died back. Yeah, come to think of it, my hair hasn’t been smelling so foul lately.

We go looking in the shallows for whatever we can find—leaves, stones, twigs, eucalyptus “acorns”… When I first plucked one of these out of the water last month, Arielle started to shriek. I think she thought it was some sort of big bug. Even now, I have to pick up each one first—she has to see that it doesn’t bite me, I suspect—before she’ll take it and throw it as far as she can, maybe three feet. This is the age kids start developing fears, Leia tells me.

When we took Arielle on the little steam train in Tilden Park last Sunday, she cried out “Mamia!” and shrank against Leia, keeping her face averted, her eyes as low as possible without actually closing them. Whenever the engine belched steam, she whispered, “Fire!” and refused to be reassured she was safe. Now I ask her, “Do you see any fish?” “No.” “Do you see any turtles?” “No.” “Do you see any crocodiles?” Serenely, “No.” There are fears and there are fears.

I ask her if she wants to build a castle. Again, “No.” She’s very definite about what she wants and what she doesn’t, her noes emphatic, her yeses as musical as birdsong. Bedeviled by indecision myself, I envy her her clarity.

“Hmmm…well… what else can we find?” I muse. “Hmmm…well…what ess can we find?” she mimics my intonation exactly, crouching down just like I do, my little shadow. If we all stayed as good at imitation as we were as toddlers, I think to myself, Robin Williams would be out of a job.

Leia snoozes for a while with Michael on a blanket in the shade, but when she brings him down to the water, a slender little blond girl comes near to peer at him. Possessively, Arielle rushes at her and pushes her away, then plants a kiss on Michael’s forehead like a flag, claiming him as her territory. “I’m not going to take him away,” the little stranger explains reasonably. Whereupon Arielle, mollified, lets her approach and watch Leia breast-feeding.

In Balinese culture, I’ve heard, they consider babies still so close to the divine that for the first six months they don’t even give them names; they don’t consider they belong to their parents or to the earth yet.

And that’s how Arielle appears to me—still brightly illumined by the divine.