A few days back from our very first vacation with Mallory, a road trip down to LA, which was filled with sweat, sand, family, urban liveliness, and lots of lucky napping in the car.
We kicked things off with a stop in Santa Cruz, where the three of us glowed with the kind of serenity found on a California beach at the swirly pink of sunset. Later, Mallory slept soundly on my chest while M and I devoured antipasto in the romantic outdoor seating area of a restaurant called Chocolate.
After an awful night's sleep in what is no longer our favorite Santa Cruz hotel, we ventured to San Luis Obispo and restored ourselves with culinary delights like fried herb goat cheese on roasted beet salad and brown sugar braised pork chops and salted caramel butterscotch pudding. Yum!
Back in December we'd encountered such a shockingly lackluster, poker-faced, brusque waiter at the Big Sky Cafe that we'd complained to the manager. So we were surprised to see the same waiter seven months later, this time grinning jollily at Mallory, happily engaging her stare contest. (He, of course, did not recognize us as the chagrined couple on New Year's Eve who asked for our dessert to go).
We arrived in LA on the hottest day of the summer, collapsing on a blanket in the sweaty shade of the park that M traipsed as a fifth grader. Nearby, kids in a dance troupe rehearsed for a televised contest. So LA.
Mallory met her three older cousins who loved her showy tricks (screeching like a wild night creature, sucking on her own toes, spontaneously flashing big gummy smiles) even more than the impossible twists and low-splash entries of the Olympic high-divers.
At Zuma Beach north of Malibu I dove under big, scary waves in my yellow and green striped one-piece. Mallory laughed and flailed her limbs at the kids going wild with the final days of summer vacation. M strummed his little guitar in the shade of the umbrella and dipped his daughter's toes in the water.
Mallory met her Uncle John, who's been sober a month longer than she's been alive. The last time I saw my brother was in Louisiana. I was four months pregnant and he was cat-eyed with liquor and pills and obstinate partying. He slept through my grandmother's 80th birthday party and hardly noticed the swollen bump of my belly. So it was a real treat to see him giddy with sobriety and uncle-dom. He brought Mallory a ruffle-bottomed Ralph Lauren onesie and couldn't get enough of holding her, murmuring softly, "Don't cry, don't cry."
And, thanks to Uncle John's Brazilian girlfriend Giselle, Mallory got to "swim" in her very first pool. In Beverly Hills. At the sprawling mansion of a former Warner Brother. Giant bright goldfish floated beneath a bridge that led to a shaded seating area. The pool itself was made to look like a natural watering hole, surrounded by rocks and flowering shrubbery. We all took turns swirling Mallory through the tepid water as she screamed with delight. As soon as she got out she peed on Daddy's feet and we took her right back in.
I, as always, loved the cacophony of the city, the tree-lined streets and squat 1950s buildings and effortless diversity. On our way out of town, we met up with our friend Tabitha and watched a local baseball league game. Armed with her thoughtful care package--coconut water, granola bars, ginger candy, strawberries, even a tiny bud vase with soft pink lilies--we drove the entire eight hours home, stopping a few times to feed, change, and hold our little dumpling.
Once in the front door, bags unloaded, Mallory fast asleep, M and I ate bowls of cereal and smiled sleepily at each other. We made it.