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Zen and the art of interminable handwashing in the Target bathroom

January 7, 2009

Seven years ago, I went to see an astrologer who told me several things that would eventually come true.
Back then, however, as I sat in her living room with her elderly dog wheezing on the floor nearby (hours away from euthanasia,
I was told, sadly), I was infused with doubt — curious but not convinced that she could divine my future from a dot matrix printout.
Still, I had plenty of questions.
“Will I be a writer?” I queried.
As had been true for years, I struggled with setting words to paper. I agonized frequently over the myriad and elusive ways to weave stories should I succeed in wrangling any words at all. I thought frequently of a famous writer — I don’t recall his name, now — who rose every morning, set his feet on the floor, placed a loaded gun to his temple, and asked himself, rhetorically: “so, are you going
to write today? Or not?”
Ultimately, this act would have failed to be a motivator for me, never mind the fact that I don’t own a handgun nor am prone to such
theatrics. Rather, I could envision talking myself out of both options. I would rationalize not writing. I would certainly rationalize not pulling the trigger.
But I have always known that somewhere betwixt the two choices was a simple truth: choosing to not write was choosing to not
fully live.

The astrologer’s answer to my question about writing was not entirely satisfying.
“You’ll write,” she said, through a voice graveled by years of smoking, “but not until you’re about 35.” (Flash forward: I was one month shy of 36 when I began writing this column, and have been writing regularly ever since.)
She passed over the writing stuff quickly, with conviction, while I mentally whined something like it’ll take me that long??
The reading then began a gentle segue into the subject of children, namely mine, which was studded with this baffling statement:
“Your youngest will be your most challenging.”
At the time, Chiara played that role, and I assumed she always would. She had just turned one and had yet to give me a indication that she would be any trouble. Ever.
In fact, her general consciousness level registered an average of only a few notches above comatose on any given day. At some
point around the time that she became mobile she began to register opinions here and there, but not a single person who knew the
kid would ever look at her and think “challenging.”
She is now 8, and ever the delighted little space cadet. I wonder what the world looks like through her eyes. I wonder too what it sounds like, especially after I have to call her name five times to get her attention. Especially especially when on the fifth call
she blithely smiles at me and still doesn’t respond … then finally offers a lilting “what?” to the sixth attempt.
I know her hearing is fine, it’s just that it takes her awhile to switch off the banter in her head. Or something like that.
She and Soren share what we’ve come to call the “Redhead syndrome.” Far from being fiery, these two kids share both hair
color and a penchant for zoning out entirely. It makes for maddeningly surreal moments.
Most recently, I experienced what I have come to call my “Zen and the Art of Interminable Handwashing in the Target Ladies Room” moment.
Excuse me, moments. Plural.
I know I once wrote about the intensity with which Chiara often talks to her socks in the morning (in lieu of putting them on her feet
or in any other way getting ready to go) but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that she also talks to a host of other things. Her hands, for instance, as she’s washing them. I can certainly allow for the fact that perhaps she’s talking to some imaginary friend or maybe just to herself, but upon proceeding to wash up, that afternoon in Target, she was staring at her hands and moving her lips while her facial expressions ran the gamut from happy to sad to surprised before she chuckled to herself conspiratorially.
Meanwhile, I watched the people come and go. I watched them watch her. I watched her rinse the soap off her hands for what felt like
hours, then also watched as she proceeded to slowly dry them on a mere scrap of paper towel, though she still had bubbles curling around her wrists. I didn’t dare point them out.
And despite my urge to hurry her along and get the heck out of the bathroom, already, I said nothing, just watched.
After drying her hands Chiara looked up at me and grinned from ear to ear. Her smile lights up her face. And I wished in that moment
that I could have just a smidgen of that oblivious joy back. Mine has all but slipped away into the nether regions of adulthood, like a lost skate key.
Waiting in that restroom and bearing witness to Chiara’s delighted Zen space was certainly challenging, in its own way, but I’m fairly certain that the astrologer wasn’t referring to that sort of thing on that long-ago afternoon.
Rather, she must have picked up the vibe from the one who was not yet conceived — Graysen … who as I type this is absolutely sawing logs in the other room after yet another evening full of anything but Zen.

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