August, 26 2018
I wake up every day around seven without an alarm, no matter how late I’ve stayed up the night before. I am usually the first person in my house to wake up. I lie in bed and look at the grimy air-conditioning unit that is poorly installed in our window. It was I who installed it. My husband, Gray, is very much asleep. It seems like the early morning is when he does his deepest sleeping.
My younger son, Orion, who is four, is awake now and climbs into our bed. “In Kung Fu Panda 3,” he begins, his mind’s day obviously underway, “there are these little white things that are round, that they eat. What are they?”
Having never seen the film, I have to guess. “Rice cakes?”
“Yes! Dumplings. I like dumplings, when they’re cooled off. The insides of them are hot.”
I lie silent, absorbing this news.
“OK?” he follows up, awaiting an acknowledgement.
It’s part of the culture of the US Army to shout “hooah!” which refers to the acronym HUA, which stands for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”
“Yes, OK,” I confirm.
Today is the last day of summer break. Tomorrow school starts for my older son, Jesse, and for Gray and I, at the college where we teach. Orion goes back to daycare. What this means, beyond teaching and learning and more-consistent bathing on all of our parts, is that today I have to go to Costco.
But first, a wise man once said, coffee. In the kitchen, I tune in to New Hampshire Public Radio. Weekend Edition is on next, so I endure the last 20 minutes of On Being, which is a show about spirituality that, I gotta admit, I don’t love. The arc toward redemption and self-actualization is too consistent on this show. Suffering doesn’t always have to cultivate one’s moral authority. Sometimes suffering is just suffering.
On weekdays I always listen to CBC radio, but the English-language weekend programming in Montreal is very inane, and although some Americans might find the folksy low-stakesness of it a comfort, it makes me feel claustrophobic. Today, on Weekend Edition, they are eulogizing John McCain. It’s repetitive, and after half an hour I’ve heard the phrase “the kind of man he was” about half a dozen times, but I still choose it over CBC.
Gray announces that he needs to bottle his kombucha today. He brews it in his closet, in a five-gallon bucket made of food-grade plastic. It’s been hot, so it has fermented faster than usual. He’s concerned that he’s let it go for too long, but after tasting it he concludes that he’s caught it just in time. He starts making hibiscus tea in a stock pot on the stove, which he will pour into the kombucha for the “secondary decoction.”
I make toast for myself and the kids, and then we embark for Costco. In the car we listen to a Grateful Dead show from 1975. There’s a line of cars on the access road waiting to get into the Costco parking lot, and I realize that this might be the busiest Costco shopping day of the year. I warn my kids that they can’t hang off the sides of the cart today because it’s going to be a tight fit in there. I can already feel myself getting pissed off.
On our way in I see a guy I have definitely met—in fact, I’ve been inside his house. His wife had invited me over when we both had very small babies. She was making an effort to make new mom-friends, but I can’t remember how we’d met. We had sat on their roof deck in the sun and tried to get to know each other, but our babies had been squalling and the social glue didn’t have a chance to set. I never saw them again. The minute I make eye contact with this guy, whose name absolutely escapes me, I know that I’ll run into him at least three more times inside this Costco, and we’ll never actually greet each other. My prediction turns out to be spot on.
Costco is always ready to remind you of the march of time, and they’re selling parkas now. The lineup for checkout stretches down the side aisles well toward the back of the store. While I’m standing there waiting and glaring continuously at my kids so that they don’t try anything disruptive, I regret my decision to come here. Then I remember that I am buying granola bars for my friend Gillian who lives down the street. She had been lamenting the price of keeping two children supplied with granola bars during the school year—she’s right, they’re way overpriced. I’m doing this for Gill, I decide. Maybe On Being is right and all suffering does need to be for a higher cause.
I am compelled to reward us for our boring shopping trip, and I’m tempted to take my kids to lunch at a restaurant called Santropol that has been in Montreal for decades and retains a very specific mid-90s Gipsy Kings Greatest Hits white-person-on-a-backpacking-trip atmosphere. But ultimately, having just spent over C$200 on food, I opt to go home and eat some of it.
Back home Gray has finished bottling. I leave the kids with him and ride my bike to the YMCA to exercise. One of my friends has a horrible ex who I often see here, and he refuses to so much as make eye contact with me. The negative feelings that I harbor toward him seem to fuel my endurance on the treadmill. He’s not here today, which, I’m beginning to realize, is kind of a disappointment. After my workout I sit in the steam room with several other women and feel very good and chill. I think about how much my family’s schedule is about to change. It feels like we’re about to go over a waterfall in a raft. It doesn’t feel scary, just inevitable. I am enjoying this steam room while I can.
Gray and I realize that we’re both too tired to go out for the joint birthday dinner we had planned for ourselves. Our birthdays are two weeks apart, and it’s kind of fun to go to a restaurant and have them bring a candle for each of us. We had planned to go to an unfashionable but extremely good steakhouse called Rib’N Reef, where they mix you a tableside Caesar salad that I dream about year-round. But it’s a big deal to eat dinner at a steakhouse and pay a babysitter, and to appreciate it we need to be in “top shape,” as the Quebecois say. I call Susie, our friend who babysits for us sometimes, and cancel. I’m reminded of the women-centric Instagram accounts I follow that seem to maintain a cultish interest in the practice of cancelling plans.
Most of the Costco things I bought are oriented toward school lunches and huge pieces of meat that we freeze, so there isn’t actually much to make for dinner. I opt to head out for takeout from a Thai place that is very good, but the menu presumes a lot of knowledge on the customer’s part about regional Thai cuisine, which I don’t have. I order what turns out to be the slowest thing on the menu, but I don’t really mind waiting. I’m still occupying the mental space of the steam room.
After we put the kids to bed we watch Game Night, with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, eat our Thai food and drink Coronas. We both like the movie, but we agree that the pacing is so rapid it feels like it was written for an audience who is always about to check their phones, and the filmmakers are trying not to let them. The sun has set and it’s still hot out—in fact, it’s hot enough to turn that cursed air conditioner back on when I go to bed.