PaR Cooked

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An Open Letter to Phoebe

Dear Phoebe,

I feel like I’ve been stepping out on our exercise relationship.

I remember how hard we fought against getting up so early go to the gym. We tried evening, mid-morning, and even the laughably impossible late afternoon workouts before we finally gave in and set our alarm clocks to stun. Both of us had already spent years as sleep-deprived mothers and it seemed wrong to choose to wake up during those few magical hours when everyone in the house was finally and uniformly asleep.

I never got used to setting an alarm and waking up before the sun rose. The sound of the alarm never stopped being a shock. I never relished throwing back the covers before the furnace clicked on in the winter, or during the brief time when it was finally cool enough to need a blanket in the summer. For a moment I would rest on the edge of the bed, listening to the even breath of three people sleeping. I would resist the urge to sink back down into the bed, which was still imprinted with my body. I would know you were out there doing the same and this would finally compel me to trade loose, soft pajamas for the tight snap of workout clothes. Even as I laced my shoes, grabbed my water, and picked up my keys there would be a whisper of doubt. It was never until the door clicked shut, locking me out of my home, that it felt right.  I often stood for just a moment, never longer because I was almost always running late, under the dome of stars or the early morning cloud wisps in a morning not yet marked by cars engines, or voices, or bird songs, or light. Meeting up with you always felt a little clandestine, a little like we were teenagers sneaking out. The gym at that hour always felt a little like a private club.  There was no wait for machines and only rarely a wait for mat space. The handful of us at the gym had our routines, which we all stuck to with surprising regularity. Though we rarely spoke to anyone but each other, and even then only a few snippets of conversation before and after working out, it felt like a community.

I don’t have a gym here or you, but I thought maybe I could still maintain our routine and keep it as if we were working out together, just with more space between us. I couldn’t. Working out at home may be physically the same, but it lacks the mental separation from household rhythms and tasks. I started going outside to walk and exercise along the Rambla.  There are public exercise areas with metal machines, which while less sleek and appealing than the those in a gym make my muscles quake and ache for days.  I did squats and lunges looking out over the water and felt pretty lucky.  I found benches where I could do crunches and felt pretty pleased with myself.

Public exercise machines.

Public exercise machines.

And all this was fine. None of this felt like was being untrue, but this week something unexpected happened that brought me to this letter. I ran. Not from something or to anything just, you know, for exercise. Oh, how hard it was to write those words. How many times have we talked about how running is fine exercise for other people, but not for us because we’re just not runners? And I’m not a runner. When I ran I did not at all resemble those herds of human gazelles we see galloping across campus.  I was more like a giant tortoise, which has a maximum speed of .17 miles per hour. I only just managed to keep ahead of the older man speed walking and talking on the phone behind me. Though he was wearing some very fancy looking sneakers, which may have given him an assist. I also had to stop to walk a lot.  It was really more like I jogged and walked. I guess if I’m being brutally honest I wogged.  But this is all beside the point, which is that there was running involved.  And I wish I could say that it was just one time.  That I tried to avoid some dog poop, tripped, and accidentally ran a bit. That it will never happen again, but I can’t. I hope you can forgive me. I went for a run and I think I may do it again.

Your friend,




The Other Day on the Bus

The other day I had to take the bus downtown for a meeting. I knew about where I was going, but I still get a little nervous about recognizing landmarks and finding my way. The buses and streets get crowded closer to the center of the city, and I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize the plaza that marked my stopped. I could  have asked the driver, but I couldn’t remember the name of the plaza, which I had written down and then lost. Also, the driver had a plaque at the front of the bus that read, “Warning: Sex Addict.” I’m sure he meant it as a…I don’t know how he meant it, but it wasn’t encouraging me to run up front and ask his advice.

So I was nervous about getting there and I was watching the street signs long before I needed to watch them and I was wrapped up in my thoughts about getting to this meeting and not being late and finding my way and what I would say during the meeting, when the bus stopped and a man with a guitar got on.  He and the driver spoke for a moment. The driver turned off the radio.  The man with the guitar walked to the back of bus where I was sitting. And I was thinking about how I needed to get to the plaza and trying to remember where I needed to get off and wondering if this was the place where the road forked or if it was farther along.

The man with guitar started to talk about the song he would play. I wasn’t really listening because I was wondering if, like a couple of weeks ago, the bus would without any warning take a detour for half the route, and if it did if I could still find my way. The man strummed the first notes of his song. I noticed the smell of his body, unwashed but not really unclean, just musky and tangy and powerfully strong. I thought about how I was not in the mood for some guy who smelled so strongly to be playing music just behind my head.

He started to sing. I forgot about my meeting. I forgot about my forgotten directions. I forgot about the woman next to me, yawning incessantly like she was Dorothy in the poppy field. I forgot about my annoyance and about his pungent smell. His voice was so purely beautiful and so unexpected that I cried. I heard the words of the song and I understood them, but I can’t remember a single one. I only remember his voice and how it sounded singing just behind my ear.

Just as suddenly as he had started he was done. He thanked us for our applause and pointed out that money was nice, too. He collected a some coins from passengers and he was gone. My plaza came up and I recognized it and I went to my meeting and eventually I went home on another bus.

What’s the point of this story? I guess the point could be a lot of things.  It could be that a man with a voice that beautiful is bus hopping, getting pesos for his songs while no talent hacks are making millions.  It could be that my fretting nearly distracted me from something amazing. It could be that beauty shows up in unexpected places.  In the moment and now, it’s not so much any of those things or it’s all of those things. It’s that the other day I was riding a bus and I heard the man sing so beautifully that I cried.


Sometimes, We Just Stay Home

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that this is an Amazing Experience™, a Unique Opportunity™, and that Life is Short ™.  We forget that we’re here for longer than a vacation and we don’t have to cram everything we want to see, do, and experience into a few days, weeks, or even months.    Which is good to remember, because sometimes in life you just need to cancel everything, put on pajamas, and hole up at home for a few days.  So we did.

We convinced the boy to skip what would have been his fourth birthday party in three weeks.  Until Montevideo, all our kid birthday party experiences had been homespun, low-key affairs.  So for us the parties here were a total shock.  The boy adored each and every one and would happily attend a perfect stranger’s party, but they left him exhausted for days.  They were held in places with names like La Manzana Azul, Adorato, and Abrakadabra, which specialize in kids’ birthday parties. Employees checked the children in at the door while the parents left a cell phone number before leaving altogether.  For three hours the children were entertained by magicians, bouncy castles, dance music, food, cake, cotton candy, candy, piñatas, puppets, video games, and more.  The arrival of each invitation, while met with great excitement, reminded us of how much we still live on the fringes of the average Uruguayan schedule.  These parties  went from around afternoon tea until dinner, which for our still very much American schedule was more between dinner and please-just-go-to-sleep-already. So this one party raged on without him while he happily stayed home, drew his way through half a ream of paper, and played quiet games of go-fish.

By Sunday afternoon the paper was running low and the games were running more toward yelling and jumping.  Plus, we couldn’t ignore the sunlight and warm air filtering in from outside.  After much blustering and procrastinating we finally made it outside into a day that felt almost like Spring.  Even the trees looked a little greener around the edges.  We wandered out without much direction until we remembered that on Sunday afternoons the golf course changes over from private club to public park. It felt strange to walk through the guarded gate and out onto the golf course, but before long the pull of those acres of rolling green grass, the faint smell of the eucalyptus trees, and the hushed silence of being farther from cars and machines than we have been in two months took over.  The next hour was spent charging over fairways, watching flocks of parrots and Southern Lapwings, collecting pinecones, feathers, and sticks, climbing trees, and rolling rapturously on the grass.

On Monday with the kids back in school–possibly being exposed to the latest in their infectious tour of Uruguay, Scarlet Fever and Gastroenteritis–I finally broke the barrier of the five block radius around our apartment.  I know there are other neighborhoods to explore.  There are side-streets and avenues.  There are coffee shops, panaderias, museums and much more out there to find.  But, when the sun shines bright and the children are not my responsibility, I can’t turn my feet away from the Rambla–that ribbon of pedestrian walk that follows the coast in and out along its wavy line.  Sometimes the wind whips off the water  with such force that I have to lean into it to move forward.  Trees growing in the fields between sidewalk and water have given into the will of the wind and permanently lean toward the land.  The water stretches out to the horizon as if it were the ocean. On the grass there are often dogs running free, stopping now and then to deposit feces on the ground that their owners studiously ignore.  In the mornings when I go there are always groups of older men walking in groups of two or four always debating and pontificating.  There are younger people out for jogs and strolls. There are workers resting against the wall or on the rocks sharing a mate.  And as the weather warms, lip-locked couples have begun to sprout from benches and walls.  The open space, even if it is flanked on one side by a busy highway, feels like a short escape from closeness of the city.

Finally, I turned back inland. As I walked into the shadows of buildings, I started thinking about about how unoccupied  the apartment buildings and houses  can look from the street level.  I remember feeling the same way when I first got to the Burg.  The houses were pretty from the front, but the facades set right against the sidewalk gave little hint of the lives lived inside.  I would walk instead through the alleys where there were glimpses of gardens and play equipment. There were sounds of people talking, laughing, and laughing.  It wasn’t just an exercise in voyeurism.  When I didn’t have my own life in the Burg, it was immensely comforting to see and hear people living theirs.  I haven’t seen an alley yet in Montevideo, but I’m finding the same comfort in seeing other people’s laundry drying outside apartment windows or flapping on lines strung across rooftops.  There is something humanizing and intimate about seeing the textile components of strangers’ lives hanging out in what is still, to me, an otherwise largely unknown city.

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I have reached the point of the evening where dusting the children with water from the tap feels like sprinkling them with holy water.  Instantly washing away the dirt from a days activities.
Listening to joyful laughter coming from the third floor upstairs does not motivate me to move from the couch in the kitchen (why did I think it was a good idea to put a couch in the kitchen?) to the sink to wash the dishes, to the bathroom to wash the children.
It’s a Monday night, Monday of a holiday weekend which means tomorrow is really kind of Monday all over again.  Bookbags are packed, library books have been found.  Notes to retrieve children early for dentist appointments are written, signed, sealed and delivered to the all-important yellow folder.  Looking ahead to this weeks schedule sees no week day night with less than two activities.  Somehow I have failed miserably in the “I will not overscheduled my children or family” goal.
Still it all seems a trivial nuisance when I remember that this is the week, hopefully, fingers crossed, that airline gods will come together for us and we will buy our tickets for South America.  Months before journey, let the dreams begin.
Before tickets can be purchased, before dreams become reality, there are dishes to do and childre’sn hair to scrub.  Jammies to find and bedtime stories to read. Tucking in to happen and re-tucking in along with glasses of water and reminders that even if you slept for an hour in the car ride home today it is still bedtime and tomorrow is another day.