We went downtown yesterday. Just me and four roving outlaws out for a good time in the sweet desert weather. We were on a grand expedition...in search of a bunny shop.
You know - stuffed bunnies dressed in cute little outfits? No, I don't really like those. What am I - five? But, I mean, I do like rabbits. They're graceful, quick little creatures, and I've always loved them. I had read about this new shop in my local paper and was eager to investigate a shop devoted to all things rabbit - for Easter gifts for the kids, of course.
We parked at the library and headed out. Berto pushed Danny in the stroller, and it was my esteemed job to shout at various intervals, "Everybody hold hands!" at which point it's usually my custom to begin singing, "People around the world - join hands! Start a love train. Love train!" while doing an electric slide-like line dance. Mostly, I do this to embarrass Matthew, though, and since he wasn't with us, the idea of drawing attention to our family didn't even occur to me.
Not that we needed help with that. People usually notice a procession of one woman followed by a bunch of little kids. Particularly if that woman is shouting at every little side-street intersection, "Stop! Are you looking for cars? I didn't think so! Look both ways. Now go!", and then running with her gaggle of kids, loping along sideways with arms extended around their moving figures as if that could somehow protect them from oncoming vehicles.
We went up and down the major streets of our small downtown. We went into a gift shop that sells souvenirs from Arizona made by actual people living in Arizona. A novel idea! I bought a book on the history of my adopted state to support the new shop. Then we circled around to the alley where people park, thinking the shop might be hidden in an unlikely place. Ana was nervous on the narrow street.
"Don't cars come down here?" she asked several times to remind me of the danger. Then she said, "I'm going to be over here, Mama."
She climbed a low wall by some dinky buildings, clear of the street. Climbing walls is contagious with children, so Berto and Ella quickly fell in line.
After circling streets we'd already trod, we stopped at the green park in the center of downtown in order to take a picture of our city's Christmas tree. It's made of tumbleweeds, and I wanted to capture it on film before they take it down or it blows away bit by bit.
Shockingly beautiful, isn't it?
We went into the historical golf resort next with our shoddy stroller. There I politely requested the concierge to direct us to the new bunny shop where the owner sews and sells stuffed bunnies and their clothing. It's an awkward question to ask, but I was woman enough to admit the child in me. After twenty minutes on the computer, the gentleman still had no clue even when given the address, so we exited the resort hastily before Ella could break a tabletop ornament, topple their fancy tree or jump on the sleek furniture.
We gazed across the next street, the last hope. Nope. No bunnies. Just an Italian eatery and a questionable sushi outfit, so we made our pilgrimage back across the major thoroughfare and started the long return walk to the library past bubbling fountains with deep stone pools around which I watched Ella Belle like a hawk. Danny Sam just sat like a little angel in the stroller, enjoying the scenery as we skirted an office building, by-passed a smelly gazebo and the city's museum of local history before finally entering the library where we purchased some cold refreshment in its gift shop, asking the lady there if she knew where the bunny shop was.
"I wonder if its south of here across from the NY sub place? Or down by the Better Than Sex Cafe?" she added, trying to lower her voice around the kids. "They sell the best cake there. I haven't been there in ages. But, anyway, if you find the bunny place, let me know. It sounds like it'd be right up my alley."
Once the kids had checked out their books, we were back outside. As they were trotting on the low wall in the courtyard (of course), I said casually, "Mama's just going to drive south a ways and see if I can spot that place. Then we'll head home."
"No let's walk!" they all began to chorus. "Please!"
I admire their lust for exercise, but I was the one walking in heeled boots. To be honest, I was tuckered out.
"Aren't you guys tired?" I asked hopefully.
"I think we should drive," I said as if negotiating with reasonable adults. "Some of us haven't gone p-o-t-t-y in a while."
I spelled it out so the littlest outlaw wouldn't get the idea suddenly that she had a bathroom emergency. The power of suggestion means everything with kids when you're talking about something you don't want them to do. On the other hand, if its something you really want them to do, words are meaningless; you'd better have candy.
"Who needs to go?" said Berto. "I can wait!"
Telling words. I should have marched them all back into the library to the restrooms. Or to the car. Instead I thought, They want exercise. Exercise is good. I could use more exercise. We're having a good time. We could walk.
The thing I forgot is that when you're having a good time with kids, you should thank the sweet heavens for that blessing, lock the memory in your heart for old age, and quickly put an end to the festivities, because things have nowhere to go but south.
And south we went. After heading west again away from the library, we turned south at the major intersection, and I strained my eyes to every little shop across the street looking for rabbits adorned in flowing dresses or men's overalls.
Berto began seeing bathrooms everywhere.
"Is that a bathroom?" he said. And a few moments later, "Do you think they have a bathroom in there?"
"I thought you said you didn't need to go," I said in exasperation.
"What?" he said defensively. Then with shifty eyes and sulky voice, "I can wait."
We reached a gas station. We went in. Not that I was going to ask the punky teenagers there where the "bunny shop" was. I thought they might have some snacks; we hadn't eaten in a few hours.
"Oh, look. They have bathrooms," said Berto casually.
Nothing quite freezes a mother's heart like the idea of taking her children into a gas station bathroom. And four at once!
"I thought you said you could wait," I said weakly, noting that the restroom doors said the facilities were only for clients. I never knew gas stations had clients. I thought they only had customers; makes you wonder what their side business is.
"Oh, alright. Let's go."
But then I saw a guy open the men's restroom door with a key. Now, usually a key makes one feel privileged, gives one a sense of ownership. Here's the keys to your new car. I'm picking up the keys to my timeshare today. Don't forget the hotel key. Oh, damn! Left my work keys at home!
Gas station restroom keys make you feel desperate. Common. A little seedy. Germy.
"Can I have the key to the women's restroom?" I asked the teenager in charge.
He looked me over.
"Sure. It's right there."
The bathroom wasn't too bad. Everyone took their turn, and we made as clean an exit from that den of germiness as we could, including opening the door with paper towels. But I couldn't save myself from the key; it had to be returned. Thank God I'd brought that sanitizer on our long pilgrimage in search of the non-existent bunny shop.
We picked out snacks. Our options were nuts, chips, candy or doughnuts. The healthy nuts were out, because of Berto's allergies. I knew we shouldn't get anything. We'd already had treats of chocolate, marshmallows and pie at home, but we'd done all that walking, after all. And why does one exercise if not to reward oneself with junk? Besides, those doughnuts looked good.
Three donuts and a box of candy, please.
We're going to find a quiet place to enjoy our snack, " I said to the kids once in the clean sunshine again. Berto pointed out a city bus terminal hopefully. "No!" I said immediately.
I gave the bunny shop a last ditch effort by asking some ladies emerging from a car if they might know where it was.
They looked around vaguely. "Is it there?" they asked each other. "Maybe by the fish and chips place? Down by the market area with that realtor's office? No..in that little house, maybe?"
I gave up and moved on. I was tired. My suede boots were dusty, and Ella wanted a piggy back ride. So I gave her one, but she had to push my backpack purse out of the way. I hobbled along pushing the stroller with a preschooler hanging on like a chimpanzee to my shoulders. It didn't last long. Ella wanted to climb the public art. We passed the new city hall - again. The old town family Mexican food place - again. We finally turned on the street with the library, and I told everyone to halt. We sat on some benches in the shade outside a closed breakfast eatery and pulled out our snacks.
I took a bite of my chosen doughnut. It was nasty. Never buy gas station doughnuts in the afternoon, I told myself. But I took another bite to make sure my taste buds weren't foolin'. Wow, it really was bad! I turned the pastry around to test the other end of it. Maybe it was only the one side. No, it was horrible at both ends, and now I was beginning to think it was poisoned. Okay, I have a good imagination, but I thought I tasted anti-freeze. It seemed probable that I was going to end up on the evening news as a warning to others about buying doughnuts after 3pm on a weekday; I just hoped I wouldn't die before the segment aired.
Ah, well. Might as well enjoy my last moments. So I moved on to eating Ella's; she was too busy playing on the sidewalk, anyway.
Then Ana began to admonish me gently.
"Well, Mama, I do love you," she began. "Even though I don't think this was the healthiest snack."
I glared at her with chocolate frosting on my mouth.
"It's just that, well...we already had treats today...."
"I know, Ana. But we were hungry. We've been getting lots of exercise, and those were our choices. We'll do better tomorrow."
She gave me a shrug and a hug. "Okay."
I tried the ugly doughnut again and quickly spit out the bite into the bag. Yep, the thing was definitely poisoned. I threw it in the trash, my cheerful mood destroyed as I worried about my immediate future.
Later, when we had almost reached the library again, and I was arguing with Berto about just how many more hot tamales I was going to let him eat before I chucked them in a trash can, Ana started in again with the guilt.
"Do you think a doughnut is as bad as a piece of pie?" she asked sweetly. "Because..."
I was not going to take it anymore. I mean, for goodness sake, wicked pastry poisoning could be setting in at that very moment; I had bigger fish to worry about.
"Look, Ana," I said irritably, all my good humor and patience gone. "We had lots of treats today. It's not going to kill us unless Mama's doughnut was poisoned. Tomorrow we'll do much better. In fact, we just won't eat sweets ever again, okay?"
"Okay," she said, giving me one of her super-squeeze hugs that always crushes my ribs and seems an incredible feat for a child so skinny.
We entered the library parking lot. I was experiencing black thoughts and a bad taste in my mouth as I herded the kids into the car and threw them their library books. I started mumbling, "We should have just driven. Papa would never let you guys dictate what we do. Never. And I was tired; I'm the one wearing suede high-heeled boots. And that donut was bad! Bad, I tell you...and Papa would never let you do this!"
I thought about that life lesson all the way home as Danny Sam fussed from his carseat. Sometimes Matthew's lack of serendipity gets my dander up. The kids will ask to do something on the spur of the moment - like stay a little longer at the park, and he'll say immediately, "No it's time to go." I want to scream, "Just let's live, damn it!" But Matthew understands that kids shouldn't rule your life; I don't. Sometimes I'll be talking to Matthew about some minor decision, and I'll turn to the kids as if they are my very own appointed team of advisers and say, "What do you think?" And Matthew cuts it short with a, "They don't need to be in on this. It's not up to them." I always wonder why he won't let them participate in planning the details of our familial existence. Then I find myself walking downtown for an hour and a half longer than planned and eating poisonous doughnuts as if they were real food, and I get Matthew's point.