Momma Chat: On the First Three Pages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

_1060539There’s a particularly vicious dog in our neighborhood, one who had gotten in a fight with Dot and left a hole in our dog, and who had come tearing after me and Cy one day, ready to attack, until I turned around and “Hssst!” loudly at it so it backed off. Yesterday, Toby was out walking with Cy and Dot, when this dog came around the bend. Dot, having learned her lesson, hightailed it for home to hide in her bed. Toby saw the dog take off–and then heard what sounded like a dog fight and then shrieking. Hurrying to make sure the commotion didn’t involve Dot, he found the dog…and the source of the shrieking. A neighborhood cat was clamped in the dog’s jaws, dead.

For this, I’m particularly thankful I know enough about dogs that I had an intuition about how to react when it charged at me and Cy–though honestly I feel lucky it worked. Many Thais respond to Dot by putting their hand out in a way that looks like they’ll strike her, so she responds by barking and growling at them. I shudder to think what would have happened with this dog if it encounters a person who responds that way.

That story doesn’t actually have anything to do with the rest of this post. I just had to get that off my chest.

_1060545I’ve been reading¬†Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance lately. It’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, but every time I tried picking it up before, I just couldn’t get into it. My head wasn’t in the right place. Sometimes books require not just the right reader, but the right time.

It’s one of Toby’s favorites, and at his urging, I picked it up and this time it clicked. “I’m happy to be riding back into this country,” Pirsig writes. “It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this.” I’m ready for that road, one where absence makes the most sense. And the first three pages coin phrases that pinpoint various thoughts I’ve been thinking with uncanny precision.

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You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

When Toby and I first moved to Thailand, we didn’t have a car, we had a motorcycle and a scooter. I’d ridden on the back of his motorcycle at home in the States, but never driven one myself. But it’s the best way to get around here, and seeing two people on a motorcycle puttering cheerfully through the countryside with rice paddies and mountains in the background is a quintessential scene in Thailand and the one that has always meant “home” to me, even though I never grew up around anything like it.

At first, I was a little afraid about learning to ride the scooter. Within a month, I began to love it. There’s a freedom you feel, moving through space with nothing but the air around you and the ground below you. There’s no filter: you feel the heat and the cold, you smell the grease and the grass, you can slip in small spaces unhindered and park on the sidewalk and at doorsteps. You are in the scene, not passing it by.

Except for tiny jaunts in our own neighborhood, I haven’t driven the scooter since I first got pregnant. I miss it.

Sometimes, when Cy falls asleep in the car, Toby and I go for long drives as it’s easier to just let him sleep than to get home, wake him up, and then get him back down for a nap. On one of these drives, Toby decided to take some back roads–ones where there’s nothing happening. Except it’s not nothing at all. We slipped into the countryside, where there’s wooden houses and makeshift bamboo structures, rice paddies, buffaloes, and a stream, and Toby remarked, “Oh yeah, we live in Thailand.” It catches us by surprise sometimes because Chiang Mai is an urban center, with fancy cappuccinos, plush-seated theaters, sushi, and H&M. We could be anywhere.

Normally, I’m in agreement with him when one of us makes this observation. But this time, I didn’t. My life since baby is one lived primarily in the house, the car, and the mall (where there’s both A/C and things to distract Cy). I don’t live in Thailand, I’m passing it by.

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“…where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you’re from and how long you’ve been riding.”

Early every morning, while it’s still relatively cool, we take Cy for a walk around the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is so quiet, I often make this trip in a T-shirt and fisherman pants, which is sort of okay for public viewing, but is really actually my pajamas. Towards the end of the walk, we always come across a group of lady gardeners, each one wearing heavy makeup barely visible under the wide-brim hat and scarves they wear to shield from the sun. “Maa laew, maa laew!” they call to each other when they see us coming, and they crowd around to get a good look at Cy, squeeze his calves, and try to elicit from him a hello. Generally, I like this kind of attention because it makes me feel like we’re a part of the community, but I always find these particular stops longer than I like primarily because I’m still in my PJs, sans makeup, and haven’t yet had my coffee. Did I mention no coffee? But it’s sweet, and yes, okay, maybe I do live in Thailand after all.

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For me this is all mixed with memories that he doesn’t have.

I’m feeling just a little homesick these days and am looking forward to our trip to the States in June, but I realize this time we won’t have a chance to get back to Santa Barbara, which for me is home home. It’s a special place for me and Toby; it’s where everything happened, where everything comes back to. Where we found ourselves, where we met each other, where we loved, where we fell apart and put everything back together, where we married and became us. And I think, Cy won’t know Santa Barbara the way we know it. We can visit it as much as we like, and it will never be imbued with the same meaning for him as it has for us. And I wonder, can he really know me without knowing Santa Barbara? Because I can’t see myself separate from my history which is so deeply intertwined in that place, and I’m a little sad at the thought that he might not really get me.

Then I think: do children ever really know their parents? In some ways, they know them more deeply than any other person on the planet, I think, in ways that aren’t always conscious. But no number of stories or facts about personal history tells a child who their parent really was before children, apart from the parent-child relationship. Parenthood changes us too. So what they see of us is not the same as what was.

Cy has started to enjoy head and back massages. I tried them a couple times when he was younger but he didn’t like them before. Suddenly now, he relaxes beneath my hand and it’s one way I can help him unwind before bed at night. We lie in the dark together, with just the soft glow of a night light, and I rub gentle circles over his back and run my fingers through his hair. His breath slows and his eyes begin to close, and I love doing this because it feels like such an intimate and loving thing to do.

And I think maybe Cy will know everything about me that actually matters.

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Thing I Love About Cy Today: I love the way he has figured out about how to climb up the step between his play area in the living room and the hallway leading to the staircase. He gets right up to the step, very deliberately he puts each hand one after the other on the step, then he gets his bum way up in the air, waddles his bum up to the step where his feet can feel the edge, and then finally pulls his legs over the threshold. It’s smart, systematic, and utterly adorable to watch.

 

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4 thoughts on “Momma Chat: On the First Three Pages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  1. Gorgeous pictures, as always, but I find this a bit troubling. A vicious dog, a murdered cat, invasive neighbors grabbing at Cy, homesickness… did I mention no coffee?

    Then you said: "And I wonder, can he really know me without knowing Santa Barbara?" Oh, dear. How very different it must be to be married to someone who does share your home place. I've never had that luxury. It has also troubled me that my children never got to spend time with the family or in the place I came from. I've always felt a bit shut out or disconnected because of it. Still, I do think it's more important for your mate to "really get you" and I'm so thankful that you and Toby have that.

    • Admittedly that anecdote was probably not the best way to start this piece, kinds of sets the tone wrong. I just felt so compelled to share it somewhere! Oh well.

  2. Maybe kids don't really know their parents. They don't know them before they've become parents and the type of people they were then. Old pictures, stories from family, those only fill out part of the picture. But I imagine that's one of the neat things about being a parent, is seeing part of you – the part before parenthood – in your child

  3. Poor cat! That was traumatic! Did you learn the Hssst! from the Dog Whisperer?

    You've made me remember that I keep thinking how one of my graduating students would love Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm going to have to read it myself, first. And how right you are about books requiring the right time.