Maybe it was, as they say, something in the water. Perchance peer pressure got the best of us. Or, more likely, the timing was just right. But it took just a year of living in Salem for my husband and me to succumb to its most powerful motif, its strongest running metaphor:
Salem is a great place to raise a family.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this almost ubiquitous phrase since the birth of my first child last December. Depending on your age or your frame of mind, it could hold quite a few meanings.
Said with an ironic smirk, it harbors a deep truth about the lack of satisfying late nightlife on Salem’s streets. Spoken with a twinkle, it bespeaks a community where families run rampant and kids grow up well. Said in a whisper and with a raised eyebrow, as one of my friends suggested, it could mean something even more menacing: a nod to Salem’s highly “safe” (read: segregated) neighborhoods. Said with a blank stare, it smacks of my least favorite kind of person – the one who repeats the obvious without a second thought.
I’ve had a lot of time for second thoughts about Salem lately. My transition from rabid late-20s Culture Vulture to exhausted Mama Bear has been swift. What I saw as my very public life has shifted dramatically to the extreme private in less time than it takes to grow an inch and a half of hair.
Gone are the days when I lingered over dinner for hours with my husband. These are the days of stuffing our faces full as fast as we can, of long nights with a tiny tyrant who rules our lives like a malevolent despot. We have entered what looks to be a long haul punctuated with moments of bliss.
Sure, in some ways, my life hasn’t changed at all. I still work out – I just get my exercise from the squat thrusts needed to bounce my big baby to sleep. I still listen to live music – my husband rocking out with baby to “50 Ways to Be Your Mother” (our variation on the Paul Simon original). I still take part in Salem’s night life – it’s just the shared journey of hundreds of new moms across the city rocking their wee ones into the night as their neighbors’ lights go dark around them.
I love this new life, both my baby’s and my own. But I am already feeling anxious about what this could mean. The dangers of loving your family life too much just might be that you cast off the world outside, that it is much too easy to retreat into your smaller sphere.
So this is my vow. I will never have a television with a screen larger than a window pane. I will teach this child to suck the marrow out of the life around him. He will love the cottony pink blossoms of the cherry trees near the capitol. He will stare with wonder when we pass the crumbling facade of the State Hospital. He will run off the paths at Bush’s Pasture Park. He will remember the smell of the popcorn at the Salem Saturday Market. He will volunteer with his family at the food bank. I will be like Sacagawea, woman on the move, with her baby strapped to her body. He won’t be strapped so tight that he can’t look around.
We will do all these things together – just as soon my little Hun decides I can get some sleep.