Magical realism is, as a term, a real drag. That is, in as much as it is applied to a certain kind of Latin American literature. However, the implied integration of the fantastic into the ordinary does work when you are describing your baby learning how to walk. Because this happens in plain old secular time in which you bump into things, you need a shave, the third drink makes you drunk, and dreamtime, in which you are being chased by robbers again, there is a flood coming, it turns out your dead relatives aren’t dead, etc. Such are the lacunae in the chronicle that I don’t remember when Adam developed his crawl, which was not your traditional four on the floor ambulation, with both legs providing the body motion, but the three wheeler model, viz, tucking one leg up and extending the other leg behind him. It was surprisingly speedy, due to his ability to pivot with that tucked up leg. We worried, though. Was there some reason he seemed to be nursing that front leg? Somehow, though, I recognized this crawl. That’s because it resembles something I do when I am in the position (which I very rarely am) of having to crawl across a roof four stories over the ground. I once spent a summer working at an apartment complex, and occassionally I was ordered to clean out the gutters, so I would mount up to the roof on a long ladder and making it down the peak to the side, where of course the abyss called to me. Or hissed. In any case, I would not walk to the edge in a crouch, as a man does, but would crouch crawl there, and tucking one leg up under my chest, I’d lean out tentatively with my little spade and dig into the leafs and sticks and crap clogging the gutters, tossing it down to the ground. After a while, of course, the ground didn’t seem that far down, but I still kept my tripod-al attitude. And here is Adam, whose instinct is to take the same stance. A meaningless coincidence, but parenthood is all about the semiotics of meaningless coincidences.
Anyway, for a while, now, he has been rising up to clutch at the wall, or the chair, or the table, or the sofa, unsteadily tottering there; and every day he had been doing more and more moving on his pins this way. Two weeks ago, he even launched out and made a few brave steps, a balletic leap that always ended in him either falling back to the floor or sliding back to it. We said, he’s going to walk any day now.
We thought we were expecting this.
But this Monday, we come back from an expedition and there is our sitter, and she says we’ve been walking! And there is Adam. He no longer walks like the newborn foal, but like the gazelle! Or if not the gazelle, not in fact at all like the gazelle, then like Charlie Chaplin, wobbling a bit but able to cross the entire room. If Adam had sprouted wings and was flying around the room, it wouldn’t have astonished me more. It was a moment of gestalt – the whole thing of walking like that, I just hadn’t quite thought it through.
I’m sure I will forget this eventually. I once thought that having a baby would teach me to see the baby in adults – I’d look at the balding, badly shaven man with the gut and I’d see the bald headed toddler he was, somehow. I’d have this magic insight. In fact, however, I only see the badly shaven man with the gut. It is a great disappointment – I was sure that I would become morally exalted and exude compassion like a super-Buddha. And I am sure that Adam’s walk, in two or three months, will just seem normal to me. The experience will melt in my hand.
So I will put this down instead, and hope that it does not become a dead letter to my imagination.