From my desk, if I don’t have the shade down to protect my eyes from the morning sun (definitely not an issue this time of year), I have a view out the window of the sloping Outer Richmond neighborhoods, the tops of the trees of Lands End toward the VA hospital up the hill in one direction and the tops of the trees in Golden Gate Park in the other. Described this way, my view sounds lovely. When I tell you that the immediate view, the predominant and overwhelming aspect, is the Safeway across the street and the surrounding parking lot, the picture changes.
There is quite a lot of activity at this Safeway, at all times of day. There are the regular shoppers, of course, including the regular regular shoppers: I recognize familiar characters going about their daily or weekly routines. The old man who I honestly worry about driving who takes five tries to do even then a shoddy crooked parking job, takes bags from his trunk to bring inside, and who takes longer to shop in the morning than I ever remain at my desk long enough to see return. There is the old Chinese woman who I either see doing Tai Chi against the side of my apartment building toward the beach if I’m up and out running, or swinging her arms next to the shopping carts under the Wells Fargo sign in her purple puffy coat. There is the Safeway employee who arrives to work on a silver scooter with stickers covering the cargo box, parking it on the cement next to the bike rack. I see parents and kids doing last-minute trips to pick up snacks for school and imagine the conversation the night before when it is discovered that tomorrow is the day the kid is supposed to bring cookies for the entire class.
There are the Safeway delivery trucks parked at an angle against the building, the drivers in their brown uniforms putting in the final refrigerated items before backing out — beep-beep-beep — and heading out on their route. There are the even larger, semi-sized delivery trucks, that rumble in around impossibly navigate the tight turns and parked cars to make their delivery.
There is the ubiquitous presence of a range of homeless, semi-homeless, van life, sober, not sober, quiet, yelling, sane, mentally ill, groups, individuals. They come and go from their secret or not-so-secret camps in the park, in vestibules, or from their vans and RVs parked at the beach, some of them regulars themselves, sometimes cracked out enough to start yelling at a tree or attempt to steal liquor from Safeway, sometimes just buying food like anyone else.
So perhaps the view isn’t the most un-distracting thing to have in front of me as I work, but it’s good to look up every once in a while.
I have a note in my pretty pathetic list of potential blog topics (since I usually just train-of-thought the moment I sit down to write): “girl doing cartwheels in Safeway parking lot.”
One weekend afternoon I was sitting here, a woman and two children entering the store caught my attention. I hadn’t seen them get out of their car, but I saw them as they progressed down the sidewalk between the parking lot and the store. Progressed is a generous word. The mother seemed like the hurrying type, polished and put together, a large shiny purse on her shoulder, tight ponytail. She held the little boy by his hand. He kept pulling to check out an interesting mark on the sidewalk, a pigeon, to touch a shopping cart. I could tell she was exasperated, and she kept on a straight line as best she could, not stopping to entertain the boy’s curiosity, instead focused on the task of getting these two kids into the store and run whatever errand she had to run.
The little girl wasn’t running or being distracted. She was turning cartwheels. From one end of the sidewalk to the other, not stopping, she flung her little body in her pink dress around and around. And, not that it matters, but these were objectively good cartwheels: not the bent-over version but with heels flying straight up over her head, arms extended, body straight. She ended up moving faster than the woman and the boy, on the account of the boy’s dodging about, and as she passed them, I could see the woman’s lips move. The little girl abruptly stopped her spinning, head down. I of course didn’t know what the woman was saying, but could only imagine some form of “watch where you’re going, the ground is filthy, that isn’t ladylike, you’re going to make yourself dizzy, stop that.” Judging by the girl’s downcast expression and the woman’s tight lips, there had been no, “Wow, you’ve been practicing, look how well you’re doing cartwheels.”
This made me sad, thinking about how quickly we lose our childlike curiosity, our ability to play without motive, our desire to want to turn cartwheels just because it’s fun. We lose it, anyway, and now this woman was hurrying it along, not on purpose of course but being so caught up in her own task of being efficient that time for her had mutated so that she couldn’t see that the little boy’s wanderings, the little girl’s cartwheels, weren’t really taking more than a few seconds, they weren’t doing it on purpose to make her late, they were just being kids.
This isn’t a commentary on parenting. It is a commentary on playing. I want to use that little girl as an example, to find ways to play and be free even doing the most mundane of tasks. I want to let those around me do the same, to be curious about their curiosity, to ask them what they’re seeing and interested in instead of pulling them along by their arm. I want to stick my tongue out to anyone who moves too fast to appreciate the joy of turning a cartwheel or pointing at an interesting speck on the sidewalk.
I haven’t told you the end of the story.
After being told to stop, the little girl stood for a second as the woman and the boy kept walking, her white shoes kicking at the ground. As soon as the woman had her back, the little girl didn’t hesitate: she threw two more dervish cartwheels before running to catch up.