April 7, 2002
Maternal Voyeurism


The tea water is boiling.

Carefully -- so I don't disturb any of the Sunday afternoon nappers in the apartment -- I ease myself out of the squeaky computer chair, where I have been downloading pictures off the digital camera, then quietly fix myself an emergency cup of triple-strength Fast Lane Tea. It has been an intense, dramatic, jam-packed weekend -- including a bicycle theft, non-stop sightseeing/shopping runs to San Francisco every day AND the dreaded switch to Daylight Savings Time, plunk in the middle of the weekend -- and I am tired. It is the deep and elemental kind of tired that comes from very large outlays of *Energy/Emotion/MasterCard Molecules* within a very small period of time.  Unlike the rest of the household, I can't afford the luxury of a nap right now. 

Caffeine is going to have to keep me vertical until we get home from the airport tonight.

Ten feet from where I stand in the kitchen, dumping double tablespoons of sugar into my tea, Daughter #1 snoozes peacefully on the sofa. She fell asleep the instant we got home from the Richmond District this afternoon: it will be another hour before I'm required to wake her up for the trip to the airport. Beneath the green afghan, I can see the slow rise and fall of her shoulders. Her suitcases are parked next to the door, packed and ready for the return flight home. While my tea steeps on the kitchen counter, I stand in the doorway and watch her sleep for a while. When she was little, this was one of my very favorite things to do in the world: watching her when she didn't know I was watching her.

It's still one of my very most favorite things in the world.

I must have taken 43,897,621 photos of her this weekend. I posed her in front of the fountain at Ghirardelli Square, and next to a wall of sea lion skulls at the Natural History Museum. I photographed her eating Bananas Flambé at Le Cheval, and eating Eggplant Parmagiana at Fior d'Italia (rumored to be San Francisco's oldest Italian restaurant). I took pictures of her smiling and squinting and brushing her hair and walking through Golden Gate Park with her stepdad. I even have a shot of her sitting in the back seat of the Subaru, trying not to look bored as David drove us around The Embarcadero for the bazillionth time. ("Here's where the freeway used to be, before the earthquake!") She was a remarkably good sport about the relentless picture-taking: at least, she was a good sport about it MOST of the time. She understands that Mommy has a groovy new toy, and that until some of the novelty wears off -- or until somebody breaks into the apartment and STEALS Mommy's new digital camera, hopefully -- Mommy is probably going to be pretty fudking annoying to be around.

Most of the pictures I've downloaded so far have turned out pretty good, too. Eventually, I want to put them all on a photo CD. I might even add some music (a little "Nellie The Elephant," maybe?) and create one of those spiffy slideshow presentations my pal Bev is so good at. It would be an incredibly groovy souvenir of our most recent -- and most eventful -- Mommy/Daughter Weekend to date. 

Still, as nice as it is to have all of this photo documentation of our time together, I do believe that it was the undocumented moments this weekend that I enjoyed the most: the moments when I could watch her without her knowing I was watching her.

I call it "Mommy Voyeurism" ... and I got plenty of opportunity to practice it this weekend.

Department stores are good. A determinedly Voyeuristic Mom can plant herself at the top of an escalator, or behind a mannequin, or in the middle of the Old Navy clearance rack, pretending to look at hiphuggers ... and from there she can spy on her offspring, undetected, for upwards of fifteen minutes or so without being spotted. Watching her browse through the swimsuit selection. Watching her chat with store clerks. Watching her brush the occasional errant strand of hair from her face. 

Museums and aquariums are good, too. Mom can trail along behind at a discreet twenty yards or so, camera in hand, acting like she's critically interested in the Patagonian Toothfish exhibit ... when what she's really interested in is watching her daughter absent-mindedly scratching her left earlobe. Also good: rear-view mirrors, store windows and any other shiny reflective surfaces ... parking garages ... fast food restaurants ... perfume counters ... any place, basically, where a mom can stand at the back of the room or across the hall or off to one side, unobserved, and quietly fill up on the sight of her progeny, like a Jenny Craig drop-out filling up on Girl Scout cookies.

And -- of course -- there is this perennial favorite of mothers everywhere: watching them sleep.

Her mouth is open, the tiniest bit, and her eyelashes flutter against her cheek whenever she exhales. She doesn't look twenty years old. As a matter of fact, I'll bet that if I try -- if I concentrate as hard as I can, and tune out the A's game blasting from Upstairs Neighbor Guy's TV -- I can make myself believe that it's 1984 again, and that she's a pigtailed two-year-old in a Strawberry Shortcake swimsuit, catching an afternoon nap on the living room sofa before "Sesame Street." The image is so lovely -- so unexpectedly heart-squeezingly poignant -- that I consider unplugging the digital camera from the computer and capturing this moment for posterity. I could caption it "Puss in Repose."  Or, "Daughter Dreaming."

I could post it here on *FootNotes!*

Almost as though she read my mind -- as though she telepathically intercepted this potential violation of privacy in mid-transmission -- her eyes pop open. Don't you dare, her expression warns.

"Hi, Puss!" I chirp. "Would you like some Fast Lane Tea?" And I smile innocently, holding up my tea mug for her to see. See? No camera. Just tea. 

She nods. "That would be nice," she says sleepily. I retreat back into the kitchen to make her tea, using the still-hot water from the tea kettle. As I'm brewing and stirring, I maintain a steady stream of momjabber ... all about how much I've enjoyed our weekend, especially Ghirardelli Square and pizza at Giorgio's, and about how glad I am that she's flying on Alaska and not on Southwest this time, because at least we know she's got an assigned seat: none of this stoopid 'boarding lottery' stuff, and about how we should probably start planning our next visit right away, so we can both arrange the time off from work. 

"You know," I tell her, "I'm actually glad you were here the same weekend my bike got stolen." It was a lousy way to start the visit, true, but having her here kept me too busy and too distracted to brood much. Plus it helped keep me focused on what really matters. "I think we both learned something from the experience," I say, stirring two packets of Sweet & Low into her mug. (She learned that her Mom no longer falls to pieces in a crisis ... and *I* learned that kryptonite isn't just for comic books anymore.) When her tea is ready finally, I carry the steaming mug -- along with a plate of crackers and Asiago, a folded paper towel and a vitamin -- out to the living room.

She's asleep again.

That's OK. We still have forty-five minutes until we have to head for the airport. I quietly set the tea on the end table, next to the sofa ... and then I just stand there, looking at her for a little longer.

While I've got the chance.



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