Monday morning begins with hating the world. She’s not yet two, but this universal feeling makes its way to the very young on this particular late March Monday. Her rupturing gums, burdened by four new molars are bringing the agony. This 21-month old is screaming and flailing in my arms and I can’t seem to provide a smidgen of consolation this time…so I leave her melodramatically frozen in mid-tantrum on the matted floor, take a few deep breaths and walk over to the kitchen to pop my vitamins, which include a homeopathic patience-booster, called L-Theanine, found in green tea.
The rain is supposed to arrive in a few hours. I get the stroller, which she still fits for now, from the garage and bring it to the front. Step on the brake after arranging the fussy girl with her buckles and hat. Gloomy and windy with varieties of gray above. The older dog chooses to poop before we head off. Collect and deposit into trash. Into their harnesses and off we go.
Strolling is a misnomer when you have two dogs and hills to navigate. I’m used to it by now, and soon she’ll be walking beside us. Time moves quickly with a child. When we moved to this neighborhood, a seemingly 9 or 10 year-old girl would take her beagle on loops around the block. Now, she’s practically full-grown, maybe 5’6. That didn’t seem like five years ago at all.
We make our way up the hill and a conveyor belt/ladder is moving stacks of maroon shingles up to a rooftop, where a roofer is waiting to collect each stack. We stop the stroller and watch the action as the dogs sniff about the sidewalk’s grassy edges. She is transfixed. We make our way along the route, a different leg than our recent non-rainy morning route. Another road crew is getting ready to dig things up. A construction worker walks by, coffee in hand, delighted by the Keeshonds. “You’ve got two cuties there.” I tell him their names, and the little one loves the brief flirtation. Gradually, we’ve descended the hill and make our way back home. After depositing the dogs inside, I choose to head straight to the car, in order to minimize the transition fuss. After a few wardrobe adjustments, and toddler food prep, we’re off toward the library for storytime.
When I realize we have an extra half-hour and the coffee I’ve poured into my thermos needed reheating before entering the thermos, I make a pit-stop at Peet’s Coffee, finding an ideal parking spot, not considering the time or the crowd. As I get out and head over to the parking meter, I see a meter maid writing up a ticket. A man comes rushing over, but he’s too late. “First time in 20 years!” he claims in exasperation. Meter maid wisely doesn’t engage. A different man passes by and smiles. I say, “There’s a first time for everything,” and get a chuckle. I pay for 30 minutes and head in. There isn’t an open seat, so I figure we’re eating our pumpkin bread back in the car. After receiving our baked goodies and a medium cup of coffee, I realize a bag would’ve been useful. Other than my daughter, I’m currently carrying a small George and Martha the Elephants paperback, a green sippy cup, and a circular Tupperware for the upcoming snack. I ask the barista to place the plastic cup of water directly on top of the coffee, and I cautiously navigate my way toward the door. Suddenly, a leather chair has opened up and I sneak in, positioning the sleepy girl to stand between my knees while I take out the pumpkin bread. The posh 60 year-old woman in the chair to my left looks up from her pastry and mentions, “Well, that looks harder…” trailing off without a predicate. In a few minutes, she’s on the phone talking about a faculty meeting while the surprisingly well-behaved little girl examines her. This little one is always checking people out with healthy suspicion. I somehow manage to pour the cup of water into her sippy cup without spilling or dropping anything. The coffee, steam rising, waits for me. As I sip it, I realize my mistake. Boiling hot for the common folks who usually add cream or milk. If you like black coffee, you have to wait five minutes. We won’t be back to this Peet’s anytime soon, though.
As I sit among the sedate crowd, there’s barely enough room for my daughter to stand. She taps on the blue jacket draped over a chair about a foot in front of my knee. During the 15 minutes we sit in the cafe, three people bend and straddle their way around us, while I protect her from the giants doing their accidental calisthenics.
As we make our way out to the car, an accordionist is setting up his street shop. After securing the little girl back in her car seat, with pumpkin crumbs on the edges of her mouth, I take my place in the driver’s seat. I watch the 50 year-old busker with neatly trimmed beard and sideburns and black wide-brimmed cowboy hat. He goes through what seems like an old routine. Undoing the hinges and opening up the hard plastic cases. Setting up a table with a cloth. Tips in the middle. CDs to either side. The accordion comes out and is neatly placed on the sidewalk. I find a dollar from the console and step out of the car to add to his tips. Surprised, he exclaims, “I haven’t even started playing yet!” I say, “You’re about to! Good luck.” Back in the car, I notice the other man. Fifteen feet down the block, likely homeless, sitting on an upturned plastic milk crate. I bring a dollar out to him as well. He gestures thanks.
We back out into the busy street, passing cars coming into view. A motorist in a hurry doesn’t slow down, so we wait. Not everyone has the time to be generous today. Not in this overcast American moment. The elections are coming in only nineteen months, at which point this little girl will be closing in on four years old. Generosity isn’t dead yet, and those of us looking toward the future won’t let it die.