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It’s the clothes that’ll get you. The onesies, striped summer dresses, sleep sacks, ‘Mummy loves me’ t-shirts, skinny jeans. Size N, zero to three, three to six.
Sure, there are the photographs, but they don’t have the same effect. Even the earliest ones, those trembling, sweaty delivery room aftermath snapshots and more relaxed recovery room swaddle pictures, where she’s so impossibly small and yet (this has to be a cliche, it has to) so incredibly huge.
You can look through all the photographs in chronological order, the staged ones that your wife takes every Wednesday weekiversary, the candid “look at what she’s doing now isn’t it cute quick where’s my camera” shots, the visiting relative beaming while holding squirmy blur pictures; they won’t get you in the same way.
The photos don’t get you because they’re not about things lost, or gone by. They’re brimming with potential, with the future, with possibilities.
But the clothes are a different story. The half dozen shirts and onesies from Baby Gap from that time when you were passing by and sure, let’s just go and see, we’ll have to start buying clothes at some point, we’ll just have a look, and everything was so cute that you came away having spent a small fortune and quickly learned why Walmart and Costco’s clothes came so highly recommended.
The loaners from your serially procreating friends who are currently between babies four and five. The unworn tiny outfits loaned to you by friends whose baby was born the size of a Galapogos tortoise. The fuzzy footed sleepers from shrieking coworkers at baby showers. The dinosaur t-shirt from Great Aunt Hilda that was accidentally put with the bigger clothes so it never got worn and you still feel incredibly guilty about.
It starts when the first ones start to tug; you see signs of tightness, and so they go into an unused shelf in a closet. Then the shelf gets too full so you take an empty box of six thousand Pampers and put them in that. When it’s full it goes under a bed and you start another box.
You’re saving it all for the next one, you say.
And then it gets you. You pull the boxes out because you have a bunch more clothes to add, and it gets you. It’s all there. The drive home. The first night. The frantic, desperate first trip to the lactation consultant. Waiting in the ER with the Olympic opening ceremony in the background. The first smiles, the first blowout, the first miraculous all-night sleep. The past, contained in tiny dresses and outfits, memories and ghosts.
So you rock her to sleep later that night, and the boxes are still on the floor, and as her face smooshes into your arm in the sudden darkness you hold her closer, as close as you can without waking her up. Because she’ll never be this small again.
I met a famous author once and I asked him what he does when he can’t think of anything to write.
“I just write,” he said. “I don’t think, I just write. I put pen to paper and let my subconscious take hold. Then, when I’ve finished, I look back and see what I came up with.”
It was good advice.
The next time I looked down at the paper with no idea what I needed to write I thought back to that conversation and decided to give it a go. I put the pen to the paper and I didn’t stop until the paper was full.
I wrote about perverted balloonists and jealous high divers, about a talking mouse who was swallowed whole by a snake and tried to chat with the serpent’s insides.
I wrote of what crocodiles think about when they bask in the sun, and where cobwebs go when they die. I wrote of a bathroom tile who discovered the meaning of life but whose theories went unpublished as he was two rows across and one row down from a wall-mounted soap dispenser.
I wrote of a groom who accidentally swallowed his bride’s wedding ring during the service and was deemed by the priest to be married to his own stomach. I wrote eight paragraphs in a new language I invented myself called “Ip”. I then wrote a first-person narrative of the Victorian-era explorer who discovered the fabled translation key for the Ip language and discovered that the previous eight paragraphs were actually a shopping list.
I wrote all this on page after page, without once attempting to bring conscious thought to my writing. I paused only when I got to the end the page, at which point I ripped it out of my book and placed it under the windscreen wiper of the illegally-parked car in front of me. I hastily moved to the next vehicle and started writing on the next page of my ticket book.
Apparently all of the parking violations that occurred that day were deemed void, and fines were uncollectable due to irregularities in the issued tickets.
When I think about writing about thinking about running, I am usually thinking about writing too much to think about running. Then when I think about running, I can’t actually think about writing because my mind is concentrating on the running. I have to really try hard to think about both writing and running, and then I remember that I need to think about writing about thinking about running, because usually when I think about writing all I can think about is mysterious women with intriguing earlobes.
Last week I sat down and started thinking about writing about thinking about running, and I couldn’t help but feel that running itself is very different to thinking about running, and that writing about thinking about running is very different to thinking about writing about running. And that cats with human names are hilarious.
I once tried running about writing about thinking, but it gave me a headache and my typewriter broke.
Sometimes when I think about writing about thinking about running, I think that the thoughts of running actually exist in a separate area of my brain to the thoughts of writing, and that I can only cross the gap between them using magical shining unicorn skulls. Then I have some spaghetti and listen to some jazz and call my friend Jay Rubin and we chat about stuff. Then we chat about thinking about running and writing about thinking about running about town, and then he asks me if I’ve decided whether I’m going to use him or Alfred Birnbaum to translate my next book and I’m like, “Jay, I’ve told you before I’ll let you know when I’ve decided” and then he cheapens the whole thing by pleading and I have to put the phone down.
Then I think about running, and while I’m thinking about running in my head, the me who is running in my head is thinking about a bunch of regular people to whom a bunch of odd stuff happens which they react to in a world-weary nonchalance and then I write the stuff that I think about when I think about running and I sell a million copies and buy some more jazz albums.