In 2003 we moved from San Francisco to live in Mendocino for a year. Our property was situated right up against a nature preserve “fern canyon.” The little house had a back yard with miles of deep canyon full of redwoods, tall grass, ferns and, they said, mountain lions. Ben would pack up everyday at 8:00 a.m. and drive his truck from Little River to Ft. Bragg where he attended woodworking school. Then it was just Sophie and me. Most days we we went out to the beach-she loved the ocean. We were there for the second year of her life. I was so immersed in her and now when I look at the old home movies, I see that I was a good mother: in love with my baby, responsive, building loving experiences around her, adoring her. But, on the inside-at times-lots of times there was anxiety and frustration. Maybe these were normal brief bouts during early motherhood. Ben was at the woodworking school 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. He had received a large severance from his previous programming job in San Francisco so neither of us had to work that year. Really, what an amazing gift to have that time with my infant daughter, free of financial worry. I suppose I could have been resentful that Ben was gone so much, but honestly, I was so obsessed with Sophie that the arrangement was ok with me. Most days we would go into Mendocino’s little town (one street with several stores and restaurants) and stop at the Café where we would get Chicken Empanadas: fresh dough and savory soft chicken. Sophie loved them and would hold one in her little chubby hands and eat almost the whole thing.
We would go to the Little River beach, a stunning beach down below a bluff along which ran route 1. The natural beauty was breathtaking any time of year: a little stream ran parallel to the ocean and intersected it at the shore. Because of the constantly moving water and low tide, a thick bed of silt lay in between the two bodies of water. Sophie would immerse her whole body in the silt, and lay there with her hair face, and chubby baby body covered in the thick brown sandy mud. She would pull herself up and dash towards the ocean. She would run right into the crashing waves, hardly able to walk but somehow fearless of the water. The vastness and power of the Pacific was never lost on me; I always felt a surge of panic and an uneasiness with her little frame there juxtaposed against the powerful ocean, knowing its force could take her instantly. In that rushing anxiety, I also felt the sense of power that motherhood had given to me. The power to protect and save someone. The imperative was so visceral and spiritual, that it seemed super-human. After spending my life feeling so powerless, being Sophie’s mother was a resurrection. I can see now how tenuous that really was. How, yes that is love, and the love is real, but the power to make tame the ocean was a myth that I’d needed to survive early motherhood, during Sophie’s first few years. These stories I told myself were likely biological, what most new mother’s feel. So that was me. A mother. Sitting on the beach in Mendocino with Sophie, watching her lay down full-body in the wet, silty sand. I felt pleasantly tired. I followed her small frame against the horizon as she ran towards the edge of the shallow river at low tide. Just as I’d rise to keep watch over her near the water, she’d scoop a hand full of wet sand and rub it on her cheeks. She’d look at me and smile. “What happened?” she’d say to me in her cherub, baby voice.