I am sitting in my bed frowning at my computer screen when my daughter lays a tampon wrapper in my lap. Saturday is job search day. I am a graduate student in the humanities, a field whose demise is prophesied every other news week. Schools are going corporate and I don’t have a job prospect or a finished dissertation. I’d planned to finish last year, and this was supposed to be the summer we could afford to go a theme park. That was before Florida became a place in which I wouldn’t step foot, a place where men are allowed to stalk in defense of themselves. My daughter doesn’t care about any of this as she frees the tampon from its applicator and makes sisters. “Golly, chase me!”
“I’m chasing you Gollia!”
“You’re chasing me, Golly! Mommy, Golly’s chasing Gollia!”
I look up from my computer long enough to wonder what she’s got against the playroom. Bright colors abound, there’s a full-wall mirror, an artist’s easel, and a microphone. She has blocks, train tracks and an A.M.E. Zion choir stand full of stuffed animals. That she chose a generic box of tampons over the things I’d hoarded for her is a testament against the lie that is capitalism.
I’d been planning a playroom since the first hard months of my pregnancy. I spent too much time explaining the reasons I’d chosen to make a family of two. “What about money?” was the standard question. A graduate student’s stipend is for single people with full-grown, working roommates who don’t mind tricky plumbing. My friends and family knew my money had no spandex.
“I don doe,” I’d say, suffering from pregnancy-induced congestion. “We bite dot have bunny dow, but when she’s dree, I should have a job.”
I was often told some version of “Well, at least she won’t be old enough to notice what she doesn’t have.”
Now she’s three. I didn’t finish my dissertation according to plan, and she’s old enough to notice the places we can’t go.
What I remember of my trip to the theme parks, the middle-class Mecca of private enterprise, is the cool, soft skin of my grandmother’s hand while we waited our turn. I remember my grandfather’s spare laughter, his tongue heavy with words he could not speak about Alabama and the army. I remember that we were a sun-kissed trio, claiming what felt like the entire park as our own. More than the park, I remember the time spent in the shadows of people who loved me.
Such is true about my own childhood Saturdays. I spent them ashy-kneed and only-at-home dressed, running around the house with my brothers. We often found ourselves “under foot,” giddy as we were to be stomping through the house in rain boots and baseball caps. We shared Ninja Turtles, Barbies, and WWF collectors’ cards. What I remember more than our toys is our “we,” the antithesis of the American individual who thinks himself in an empty room.
Now connection is the great commodity. I pay to touch my friends and families from the solitude of my room. I buy toys for my daughter to fill a room away from my own. It is Saturday, I’m anxiously looking for academic jobs because I can’t afford this month’s gymnastics bill, and my daughter reminds me that “we” are free.
Another tampon falls into my lap. “Play with me, Mommy!” my daughter yells. Golly has pulled Gollia’s hair (the strings), so she has to take a timeout in her paper wrapper. These sisters need mediation, and my three-already(?) daughter wants to play. I close my laptop. She is old enough to notice if what she doesn’t have is me, so I chase Golly and Gollia around a room full of squeals. Our hanging strings are the ties that bind.