The first year Ben and I lived together, I was working as a line cook and he was working second shift at a wire factory. We lived in central Minnesota. This was 1999.
I would get off at around 9:30 at night, drive home, do a bit of cleaning and watch something awful on TV. Ben would come home around 11:30 and we would take my Saab to get groceries. Though we were young and relatively poor, we shopped at the nicest grocery store in town. We drank French Market coffee, made paella with some frequency, and always bought organic eggs. We were often the only customers in the store at that hour. Muzak played, Ben would stand at the magazine rack and read the Dupont Registry while I picked out fancy cheeses. Our cashier had terrible eczema on his scalp.
When we moved halfway across the country to Portland, things changed. I was cooking on the day shift now, Ben worked an early shift for the Parks bureau. I would take my tips from the day and pick up some items for dinner from the upscale market across from the restaurant, then walk eleven blocks to our apartment. We spent evenings walking up to the park, driving around Portland, or scraping the brown paint of the hardwood floor of our bedroom. In the winter, we played cribbage.
Meanwhile, on the floor beneath us, a normal looking college-type kid was hoarding trash in his apartment. When he was finally thrown out, the door to his studio swung open to reveal a wall of garbage up to the ceiling. There were narrow walkways, but everything else was pizza boxes, coffee cups, empty forties and banana peels. It took two men four days to remove all the trash and a small team to refurbish the place. A wave of pestilence spread across the building as the displaced mice and roaches sought refuge in the other apartments. It was time to move.
We found a tiny house a few miles away. It was four hundred and eighty square feet. A bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. A stacked washer dryer was tucked in a closet. We had a dishwasher and a large garage. It was heaven. I was working at a credit reporting agency; I’d had enough of the makeshift dysfunctional families I’d encountered at every restaurant I’d ever worked for. Ben was working for a nearby municipality, taking video of sewer lines. He used the garage as a shop. I knitted and learned to spin. The yard was an overgrown disaster that had once been great. There were many fruit trees. We got a rent deduction for plucking all the curled, diseased leaves off the peach tree in the front yard. We shopped at Trader Joe’s.
I got a better job and we bought a house in a close in suburb. We didn’t get out and about much anymore, settling into a routine of working, yard maintenance and home keeping. We started a vegetable garden. We got a puppy. We threw the tennis ball for him every morning, I drove home at lunch to let him outside. We fetched him again in the evening; he was a ball of energy with a mouth. He ate socks, underwear, bedsheets, steel wool. We taped down the rug fringe to prevent him eating it. Sandi, a neighbor and animal lover across the street offered to let him out at lunch, so I wouldn’t have to come home. Sometimes she kept him for the afternoon. We made friends as we sat on her lawn in the early evening, watching Hoover frolic.
A few years went by. I noticed many cute knitting patterns for babies. I faint ticking sound began to emanate from me. We talked for a few months and started trying. I was pregnant by the fourth month. During the first trimester, I worked all day and came home and fell asleep. Ben spent many hours alone, longing for me to be awake. The second trimester, I began making elaborate Italian ragus. The third trimester, I was managing gestational diabetes and doing my best to help my true friend across the street who suddenly became seriously ill with Guillain-Barré, an auto-immune disorder which causes paralysis. I washed and folded baby clothes and fussed over finding the right crib. One day, I stayed home from work and made a playlist for my unborn child, sobbing my way through it.
Our daughter was born. Life felt urgent, and blessed. For my few months at home I held Nora constantly, baked bread and did laundry. When it got hot, I went across the street to Sandi’s central air, parked myself in a recliner and watched the Food Network. Sandi could walk again. She would watch Nora while I made us an antipasta tray.
The transition back to work was crushing. I would wake at 4:00am, if I slept at all, and begin packing up the breast pump and diaper bag. I’d feed Nora and get myself dressed. Nora would scream during the drive in, John Lennon soothed her sometimes. I’d park, strap on a Snugli, tuck Nora in it, and drape myself in the diaper bag, breast pump and my purse. I’d drop Nora daycare, work until first break, pump my breasts, work until lunch, walk down the street and feed Nora, work until 2:00, pump again, work until 4:15, pick up Nora, drive home while Nora screamed, feed Nora, make dinner, wash all breast pump components and bottles, bathe and feed Nora again and collapse into sleep. In a few hours, I’d wake and feed Nora again.
These days, we wake around 5:00am, Nora perches on the counter top while eating breakfast, or brings her bowl of oatmeal to the bathroom to keep me company while I shower. We open the chicken door and bring Hoover across the street to be with Sandi for the day. We all ride in together. I kiss Ben’s cheek before I get out of the car. If it’s nice, I walk across the bridge with Nora in the stroller. She sings the Wheels on the Bus. I eat at my desk so I can exercise at lunch. After work, Ben and I meet at daycare to collect Nora. We drive home with the windows open and look for Mount Hood as we cross the Ross Island Bridge. It is often shrouded in clouds. Sandi brings Hoover home, we feed the chickens and collect the eggs. I make dinner and lunches for the next day. Nora waters the plants. We read poems or stories before bed. I tell Nora to kiss her daddy good night and she says she can’t because she has boogers. She and Ben recite their litany, “Have good dreams! Don’t poop the bed!”
Soon, another shift in routine will occur. Nora will begin Waldorf kindergarten in September. I will work from home one hour before Nora wakes, then make breakfast and get her ready for school. A certain amount of space will be created in our morning, which I am looking forward to. Ben will leave without us and Nora and I will dawdle a bit and then take the bus to her school. I will take her to the bathroom and wash her hands, check her cubby for proper supplies, kiss her good-bye and leave her at the door to her classroom. If the weather is nice, I will walk to work. Ben will pick me up at four-thirty and we’ll collect Nora from aftercare. We will still look for the mountain.
The phases our lives seem demarcated by the routines we follow. We remember the past by where we lived, where we shopped, what we ate, the small things we had to do everyday. When we are content, an approaching shift is unsettling. Comfort lies in knowing a new routine builds new memories.