One Small Gift

While sitting the cafe of the Honolulu Museum of Art, I received an unexpected blessing — a few moments where nothing was required of me. I took a deep breath in and felt my shoulders relax, and let the feeling wash through my body, drinking it in like a glass of wine. My child lay against me, silent and still for the first time in hours, her arms wrapped around my neck, her knees pressed into my stomach.

Along a nearby wall, bamboo swayed and cast shifting reflections on the path below. Plants sprouted from dark smooth rocks beside my feet, and the sound of the waterfall mixed with the conversation around me, punctuated by the occasional cry of a bird or a loud laugh.

Glancing around, I saw people on lunch break from work. One couple holding hands as they waited to be seated, three men discussing business at the next table over. Two women, who looked like sisters, sharing a salad. People all around, having adult conversation, their bodies their own domain. Any aches and pains, spilled drinks or stains on their shirts were their own responsibility. Deals were brokered, books reviewed and movies suggested, art discussed, all these things happening in a quiet roar around me, in the spill of words like sunlight over rocks.

Then lunch came, interrupting my serenity and bringing the inevitable cries from my daughter of hunger and boredom, along with a full focus on safety of my child and our drinks, attention devoted to getting food into both of our mouths without disaster.

Frustrated at the interruption of thought, another one in a seemingly endless series, I tried to persist in thinking about my own life. Wondering why my ambition kept a full sense of satisfaction at bay even on such a perfect day as this. This trip to the art museum, toddler in tow, was seen originally as a chance to get out and explore. It had only served to accentuate the distance between my desires and reality; seeing beautiful pieces of art inspired me to move, think, dream, and create, but my inspiration was caught upon the needs and schedule of my child. I have been left with the options of either attempting hurried one-handed compositions on my iphone, or late night art sessions that leave me dragging come morning.

I had anticipated that I would relish the job of motherhood — the teaching and nurturing and feeding of my own child. Instead, I discovered that only a fleeting sense of accomplishment usually came from reaching the end of the day with dinner ready and a few loads of laundry done without me hitting anyone, and all that was so soon forgotten in the requirements of the next day. I know I should take comfort in the fact that the rulers of this world are born and raised on forgotten days like those, for the scattered rocks soon pile up to become the walls of history. But before I had a chance to consider the weight of history’s walls, and whether I’d be written upon them or crushed beneath, my child was crawling under the table, demanding attention and a diaper change.

The waiter came with a check and all was a confusion of scrambling for dollar bills and calculation of a tip while my daughter’s cries got steadily louder. Patrons around me began to turn to look, and I imagined their scorn and annoyance, and embarrassment spilled over my chest and stained the calm that had pervaded earlier. I wanted to shout an apology to the entire cafe: “I’m sorry, I lingered too long, I dared to think of myself. This is no place for a child, so this is no place for me.”

I left in a hurry.