In my other life, I didn’t know about so many of these other worlds that existed so closely to mine. Now, my footprint is bigger, my clock runs slower, and it is possible to accomplish a lot less in one day. It is more likely that strange children will take my hand, and my breasts see more action than ever. I am uncomfortable and shy and slow and awkward but I belong. Sort of. On a new train, on a new track, going who knows where.
Whenever I found out something surprising about my mom as a child, I would say to her, when were you ___? Like, when were you a ballerina?? When did you travel to Germany? As if, because I didn’t already know about it, it seemed unlikely or impossible that it had happened at all. Wasn’t my mom always my mom? She would smile, wistfully or playfully, depending on the day, and answer, ‘Why, in my other life of course’.
Well. In my other life, I was a 5’7″, 140 lbs, able-bodied white woman moving through the world with a purse or a backpack. Everything I needed for that day or week was inside, and I became rather adept at placing it neatly between my legs to take up less space when necessary, as when riding a train. Then I got pregnant, and traded backpack for belly, and people became kinder and more conciliatory, as if taking up more space in this way were totally acceptable and understandable. I took a seat when offered, practicing accepting help and kindness, and thought about it little. I figured, subconsciously or otherwise, that when the baby came I’d carry him or her around the same as a backpack and off I’d go, moving through the world in the same way.
Then Q was born, and I began to return to my ‘normal’ life, (do not be fooled, that is not a thing). I took the stroller that I had generously received from family and friends out of its box. On its maiden voyage, impressed as I was by the smooth roll and the thoughtful and seamless engineering (it’s a Bumbleride Indie, if you happen to be in that hopefully very small window of your life spent researching strollers and decide you want one that costs a small fortune), I couldn’t stop worrying that Q was far away from me. Less than 2 months old, and he couldn’t hear my heartbeat, couldn’t see my face, couldn’t smell me. I fretted that he would think he was alone.
Meanwhile, he gave us every indication that he loved his new home away from home. He stared at the trees, sky and clouds passing within his eyesight. He cooed to himself when the wind blew gently across his face, and got sleepier the bigger the bumps we went over. And when he did fall asleep, we covered him with the broad, generous, delightfully designed canopy for portable shelter and he slept longer and more soundly, shaded from the light. Then he would wake up and do it all over again (after eating and getting changed, of course).
Meanwhile, this new mother was left at the handlebars of the baby Cadillac, wondering how on earth to go about her new, daily life, now with a footprint in the world that was 5’7″, 200 or so pounds, at least one meter wide, with wheels.
In my other life, indeed.
* * * * *
‘Crossing tracks is both dangerous and illegal’ says the conductor on my first train ride to Toronto as a mama while I am home visiting family this summer. I think about how rare it is to do just that, to cross the lines, to get a peek into a different reality or another life.
I was so worried about commuters getting upset about the space my stroller took up on the train ride that day that I didn’t even consider the new world that would open up in front of me inside the accessibility car. There were no commuters there, no dirty looks for talking. The woman in the wheelchair smiled when Q cried, remarking on the cuteness, even in anger. The conductor in charge of the ramp chatted openly to the riders nearby. A little girl grabbed my hand to say ‘come see!’ and her mother joked, smoothly stepping in, ‘any mother will do’. Kids met each other over the seats, mothers smiling shyly and kindly, hiding their friendly or longing selves behind their kids’ defenceless approach of a stranger. Partners traded kids back and forth, providing care and entertainment as needed throughout the ride.
I watched in awe, mesmerized as any amateur watching the pros, marvelling at the rabbit hole I’d suddenly fallen down. In my other life, I hadn’t even realized this car existed. It’s like I had been riding a train on an entirely different track.
I spent the day going about my business in the city. I ran errands and visited friends, adding to my approach the regular search for the blue wheelchair sign at every transition. My new reality came with minor challenges, as most do. I walked well out of my way to find elevators and door open buttons. I stood awkwardly on a city bus, uncomfortable about the partial obstruction I was causing of the front door access to the seats behind but not brave enough to ask someone to move or fumble to flip the seats up (they do that, I think?). I chided myself at the bottom of several staircases, forgetting the facts in this inaugural attempt to build a new habit.
As with all of parenting, there’s no owner’s manual for this. The genius engineers at Bumbleride did not tell me what to say when I don’t fit into the restaurant where I want to eat, or when the bus driver won’t lower the floor, and I have yet to face any external criticism for my choices, what words will I use then?
However, despite my resistance to change and discomfort about taking up more space in my already privileged life, moving through the world in this entirely new way is having one useful side effect: I cannot stop thinking of ALL the people moving through the world in their own, different ways. I do not know what it’s like to move through the world in dark skin, overweight, or with one leg. I have never journeyed this simple, city day without money, or alone with 3 kids in tow. I cannot imagine traveling this same day without the brain capacity and intelligence that I am used to, and now I have only a very small taste of what it is like to do so on wheels.
So. Many. Experiences. So many different views and daily realities, so many lives upon lives upon lives.
Maybe you want to argue that falling in love, moving in together, and having a wedding, are all on the path to making babies but that is not my experience of how it feels to be the main character in that cultural narrative. I didn’t know if we’d have kids, and we still don’t know where we’ll live or work, or what we want to do when we grow up. To me, having Q feels like crossing the tracks. We were going down one path, backpacks in hand, and here we are, on a completely different train on a completely different track. The vector we were riding through space and time has suddenly, inexplicably bent in the wind and we are off, full speed, in a parallel universe.