Yesterday Opal and I went to Target.
Another place to visit for the thousandth time but for the first time with her. Each of these outings feels significant-- from the first time I took her out in the car alone (she was 4 days old), to her first party (Thanksgiving, 5 weeks old), to our first trip to the grocery (last week, 7 weeks old), Her simple presence adds an effervescence and sense of accomplishment to things what could easily be considered mundane or ordinary. It's almost as if having her with me exfoliates a dead layer of skin from any experience.
Target was a virtual holiday consumer-fest with yuletide tunes blaring from no obvious speakers and baskets of red and green impulse-buys welcoming each shopper as they navigate the entryway. I had a short shopping list but felt seduced to veer off the beaten path a number of times as I made my way to those items.
All of these details (and more) would have been irritating to the pre-mom version of me, they would have inspired me to hurry through a no-nonsense shopping experience to get-in-and-get-out with only the essentials in hand. Having said this, I also realize that as a pre-mom, the odds were good that I would have considered this trip to be "running an errand," which is something that happens on the way to or from somewhere, sandwiched into its own teeny sliver of time. An errand is not really classified as an experience in and of itself. It is something one must do to have the things they need in order to have a real experience. Something you bang out before the meter runs out. And, judging from past experience, Target has mostly been a place for an errand.
Let me just interject one thing here: before I took my maternity leave, the work I did was with elders. A population that is known for its deliberate, often dawdling pace. And one of the things I most enjoyed in spending time with this demographic was indeed the lack of speed. In spending time with them, I felt as if I were merging from drag race to horse-drawn carriage, as if I had permission to hit the brakes and simply sit with them and read a book, watch an entire episode of The Price Is Right or take the whole afternoon to run a single errand. For elders, (or at least the ones I resided with) the errand was the experience. And yet this notion wasn't able to penetrate my world once I left them. On my way home, I inevitably still had three places to stop and two calls to make from the car.
But back to Target.
Opal stayed in her carseat, wedged safely in the front of the shopping cart facing me. She peered around in a hypnotic state, with the look of a child trying hopelessly to maintain eye contact while on the spinning teacup ride. Every few moments I pulled on her leg to bring her back to earth, singing her a personal rendition of Twinkle Little Star and inspiring strange glances from my fellow shoppers. She eventually gave up and gazed sleepily at her own hands for a while. You could almost see her internal gauge overloading with stimulation.
We passed another mama whose little one was not digesting the stimulation in quite the same way. She was carrying him in a sling and he wiggled and fussed and kicked his chubby little legs free. Her carseat (the exact same one as mine) sat in the actual cart buried in purchases.
New mama neighborliness clicked in.
"How'd you get your carseat wedged in the front like that?"
"Great. I am doing it now--" She asked how old my baby was as she resurrected the seat.
"Almost 8 weeks."
"Wyatt is 9 weeks."
"Maybe they'll go to prom someday."
And we both laughed and went our separate ways with our little ones and our lists and our respective homes to go to later. Opal tipped into a nap and Wyatt entered a wailing fit that I could still hear from the laundry section, a long while after we parted.
My shopping was complete. My baby was sleeping. I had nowhere to be and always love assisting in the continuation of a nap at (nearly) any cost. So I went to the in-store Starbucks and got a peppermint hot chocolate and began to wander. Aimlessly.
The last time I can recall wandering aimlessly was 5 and a half years ago, the middle of June. It was an actual homework assignment to go somewhere you would normally rush through with blind eyes and slow down enough to see what is there. I was doing a week of Naropa's summer writing program and, as luck would have it, I went to Target for this assignment. I have a very distinct memory from that experience of Aimless Wandering: the doll isle. I remember spending an exorbitant amount of time in the isle that shelved Barbies on one side and Bratz Dolls on the other. After a long enough period of time, it truly felt like a stand-off between classic/pure and modern/edgy and I had almost convinced myself that if I stayed long enough, there would be fisticuffs.
This particular round of Aimless Wandering led me to take interest in the other shoppers.
There was a mother and her adult daughter, both dressed down in sweats with faces that were clearly used to wearing makeup. They were buying ingredients for cookies. "Where are the red sprinkles?" "Do you see the red sprinkles anywhere?" They didn't notice Opal as we passed.
There was an elderly couple wearing matching his/hers holiday sweaters (with different pants) in the frames isle, examining an 8x10 frame at a variety of angles for scuffs. They also did not notice Opal.
There was a young couple in the baby isle with one of the scanner-guns they give you to select items for your gift registry. They couldn't have been much older their twenties. Both had very dark features and olive skin and in spite of their toothy smiles, they seemed very shy.
"Ah," I said, "It wasn't long ago when we were buzzing things for our registry..." I smiled toward Opal, sleeping soundly and sucking on her lips. They barely even peered over the side and said, "Oh, right," and laughed slightly.
The fluorescent lights eventually made my eyes feel hard-boiled and my hot chocolate was gone, so we made our way to the check-out. A teenage girl was in line behind us, hair in a high ponytail, unloading closet organizing items and a zip-up hoody with one-pointed focus. When she looked up, she seemed shocked to see us standing in front of her and said, "Oh, cute little boy." Opal was in a hat and buried under a blanket in her carseat.
I didn't feel the need to correct her. I was just happy she noticed.