Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
So the other day I went to the pool with my friend Sarah to help out with her twin boys’ swimming class.
“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round, ’round and ’round … all through the town,” the lifeguards sang.
Their voices were a little too exaggerated, a little too high-pitched, maybe. It seemed distorted in a creepy way, like a scene in a horror movie. I was just waiting for a rotting skeleton to come out of the water and snatch one of the babies. Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many episodes of “Scream Queens” on VH1, but whatever.
Sarah’s boys turned 2 in April and they’re the product of good genetics, all tow-headed blond with light eyes, long, dark eyelashes and button noses. It wasn’t like there was any question of whether they were going to be good-looking or not when you consider the parents. They’re pretty much what women dream about when they dream about having kids, all flawless and pure like perfectly ripe fruit or something new that you just brought home from the store.
While I’m not fortunate enough to be blood-related, I happen to be their “Ankle” as in “Ankle Ali.” Sarah had an imaginary friend by that name when she was little so it just sort of stuck. It’s a term I much prefer over “Auntie” which might as well be synonymous with childless spinster, too-old-to-still-be-single and too-bad-so-sad. Suffice it to say I like being an Ankle much better.
So I embrace these opportunities to be there during these moments in their lives, cultivating stories I will likely rely on when they become captain of the football team and prom king or they just got into Harvard early and need to be humbled just a little bit.
The pool was one such instance.
“My husband had a tough time with the singing,” Sarah warned me on the bike ride over to the pool, so I made a mental note to feign comfort and enthusiasm if I had to.
Five minutes in I agreed the singing was indeed a bit much. I honestly could not get “Ring Around The Rosey” and “Pop Goes The Weasel” out of my head for at least three days after that. Like an effective advertising jingle, they have an evil way of permeating your conscience so you simply can’t shake them out of your head no matter how hard you try. They just play over and over until you feel a little bit insane, which may explain the horror movie association.
I’m not sure if it was the water or the singing that freaked the boys out, but in the midst of trying to be the best Ankle I could, the Ankle who is all cool and down with nursery rhymes, Jesse is squirming and kicking and clawing for Mommy, even though she is literally 2 inches to the left of me holding her other son. I try distracting him, I try cooing and singing and being as comforting and mothering as possible, but he’s like a bar of soap after you drop it in the bathtub, all slippery like something you just can’t grasp no matter how many times you get your hands on it.
Sarah ends up taking both boys anyway, so now I am just bouncing around in a circle in the shallow end singing “the wheels on the bus go round and round,” like I mean it.
“Sorry,” she says.
“I don’t care,” I say, my tone a bit more defensive than I want it to be. “I just wish I could help.”
Thank god the class is only a half-hour and soon we are all lying in the grass drying off on oversize towels in the sun before we go out for pizza.
At the pizza place there are a million other little ones, eating their slices or their ice cream cones, their little eyeballs staring at me without registering any reactions on their faces, as if I am somehow invisible. I am so clearly not a parent.
After that, Sarah and I will go our separate ways. She’ll take the mom route, putting the boys down for a nap and then spending every precious minute catching up with the rest of her life that is constantly being put on hold.
And I’ll go the way of the Ankle, spending my afternoon on a very long, challenging bike ride up to the summit of McClure Pass and then back up the big hill to where we’re dog sitting in Missouri Heights. It’s a tough ride, but it’s not that tough. It’s a bike ride for god’s sake. It’s play. It’s all about me.
Sarah is always saying things like, “enjoy the time while you have it,” and “soon this is going to be you.” But I gotta be honest. It’s hard to imagine.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s hard to figure out where I fit into my life in Aspen. I find myself surrounded by people who are still at the center of their world simply because they don’t have kids to worry about. They’re all in that party mode, mired in the trivial drama of their social lives, the who-said-what-about-who gossip, not really looking that far past what they see in the mirror. I get that. I was like that for a long time, too, and I felt driven and alive and filled with passion and intense emotions and adventure. I loved to be wild. I just don’t need to be wild anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how much longer I really want to be a part of that, too.
Where does that leave me? I’m thinking somewhere in the middle, like maybe Basalt.
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