I got up early on Mother's Day to go for a run around Lake Calhoun before Mass. I think this will be my summer Sunday routine -- I like running outdoors, and I much prefer the cool mornings before the paths get crowded.
The Lake Calhoun loop is a near-exact 5K. To make the circuit is to be treated to a pleasant series of vistas: the downtown skyscrapers in the distance, sailboats and kayaks on the lake, families of waterbirds, children swinging from the play structure at the 32nd Street Beach, blue water reflected in the plate-glass faces of the sprawling homes atop the bluff, towering apartment buildings standing sentinel where Lake Street dives into the bustling neighborhood of Uptown.
Something there is in me that loves apartment buildings. I lived in one-bedroom city apartments by myself for about two and a half years at the end of college and the start of graduate school, and I think back with nostalgia. I liked their smallness, the ease of keeping them tidy, the door that opened a few steps away from a noisy city street. I liked that it was never quiet, that the sound of human activity just outside never stopped. I liked that the space was all mine. I liked the foompf sound of the gas furnace in the first apartment coming online in the winter, and the faint scent of warm dust rising from the electric baseboard heaters in the second apartment when I turned them on for the first time. I liked the sound of sirens and car horns coming in through the windows when I first slept with them open in the spring. I liked having my own mailbox in the row, to open with a little key. I liked never having to think about snow shoveling, or clogged gutters, or lawns, and that when the ceiling leaked it wasn't my job to fix it or pay for it, but only to call and ask.
I have a house now, because I have a whole family to raise in it. (Still a city house, with sirens and car horns and a short walk from a busy commercial district.) When I run around the lake and see the sprawling big houses, I wonder who lives there, wonder how much the house costs, but don't want to trade places with them. Sometimes, though, I feel a little pull towards the upscale apartments at the edge of Uptown. Or towards the ones near the university, in a different part of the city. I think how lovely it would be not to have to get in my car to drive to the lake, but just to step out the front door to go for the run. I think about walking to restaurants and shopping and movies. I think how much better the sirens and car horns of Uptown would sound than the sirens and car horns of south Minneapolis. I think about living in a building with a concierge.
For a long time I assumed that as an empty nester someday I would return to apartment living. I am neither a gardener nor a bird watcher. Even sitting in my own space outdoors with a good book could be accomplished just as neatly on a balcony as in a yard. I could maybe have a few potted plants there, which would never require mowing. I am a strange sort of introvert: I like nothing more than to be alone in a crowd. I want to be near where people are, but in no way obligated to interact with them. I am a city person. I want to live where there is a sidewalk (and have never understood why suburbs seem to treat this accoutrement as optional or undesirable). Maybe I won't grow old in Minneapolis, because the icy winters can be dangerous when frailty sets in, but a small city apartment somewhere -- not necessarily a cheap apartment! -- is how I pictured retirement. I let myself think of that when I ran around the lakes.
And then one day recently I sat up straight and exclaimed to Mark: "Wait a minute! I'm going to be the matriarch of a large family! What if they all want to spend Christmas with us?"
Yes, folks, I had been a mother for fifteen years, had given birth to five children. I had updated my self-image many times since then: from future scientist to ever-present homemaker, from sedentary to sometime athlete, from chemistry/engineering nerd to Nerd Across The Catalogue of elementary and secondary education. From expecting to travel whenever and wherever and however I wanted to waiting twenty years to visit another country. I stopped shoving a wallet and keys in my back pocket, and became a carrier of voluminous handbags stuffed with a change of someone else's clothes. All this happened quite naturally.
And yet in all that time I had not gotten around to updating my vision of the future.
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I am not saying I won't have my city apartment to retire to. I have a suspicion that we will turn into the snowbird types (possibly reverse snowbirds), with a place to call home in the city and a place to call home near the mountains, and maybe we'll have both a place that is small enough for two and a place that is big enough for all our descendants. I don't know; it is still far too early to make plans, and maybe even too early to dream about it.
My point here is just that motherhood, parenthood, has a way of sneaking up on you. After all, I still think of Mother's Day as primarily a day I need to acknowledge for other people, not a day meant for someone like me; eventually my associations may shift, but they haven't yet, even though my children wrap me little presents to open each year. I guess it may go on happening my whole life, this transformation, outside and in.