(view from Cesar Chavez Park. Note moon)

Every weekend, in the morning, I accompany wifey and kids and dog to Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina. Some of you may know it as the site of the annual Berkeley Kite Festival. It’s one of the best local places for a dog to run around and meet other random dogs, well, besides Point Isabel, the legendary cluster point for thousands of dogs every day. We long ago realized Point Isabel wasn’t working for our two small children; they’re not exactly afraid of dogs, but they don’t like being jumped on and pawed. Cesar Chavez has a twentieth of the dogs on about half of the real estate, with that same feeling of both being on and observing the entire bay.

Sometimes I wonder what Dar thinks of the whole experience.

It begins with waking up, dressing, and eating: both Dar and his brother are pretty much snarfing down snack cups full of goldfish crackers, cheerios, and teddy grahams from the minute they awaken. Then they get bread from Peet’s. We put them in the car, we stop at Peet’s, wifey gets coffee for the adults while I sit with boys and R insists on getting in the front seat and playing with the buttons. Dar just sits in his car seat, not scanning as particularly jealous or even interested. Dar likes riding in cars; he’s generally happy just staring out the window. So when we arrive at Cesar Chavez, I don’t feel bad about letting our chocolate lab, Mosley, out of the car first to do his business. Dar just watches.

After Mosley’s latest deposit has been disposed, our first priority upon arrival at Cesar Chavez is to walk to the “off leash” area. If we didn’t have kids, this would take about 2 minutes. But Dar never seems to want to walk as fast as the rest of us. He stands. He shuffles. He drags. Perhaps this is an autistic thing where he’s seeing the world as a sort of impressionistic swirl of colors, like a Manet painting, and he’s hesitant to put one foot in front of the other. Wifey and I often just keep walking, trusting Dar to eventually follow us. That works about 50% of the time. In another 25%, he comes when we yell “COME HERE!” enough times. In the other 25%, one of us has to walk back and drag him. He still says “uh-puh” (=“up”) hoping that I will put him on my shoulders, but I’ve been trying to phase that out for at least a year: he’s too heavy and my back is too weak. I say “not available!” and pull his hand, and he resists, and I say “not loving the resistance, Dar.”

I hate dragging Dar. Because his cerebral palsy makes his left side weaker, I tend to drag him by his left side, because taking away his right hand is like taking away his eyes. But then, as I’m pulling his left hand, he brings over his right hand to push me off. Eventually I often just drag the sleeve of his jacket, because that’s easier. We look ridiculous, but it works, except on the rare occasion when, like Harry Houdini, he slithers out of the jacket entirely.

When we finally arrive at the off-leash area, I can exhale for a moment, until Dar finds the water fountain or a particularly large puddle, and proceeds to drench himself. In this long-awaited winter of our inclement, the first in which Dar has really noticed puddles or gushing streams, we have learned that Dar needs galoshes pretty much every day. Even then, he eventually finds a way to make his socks look like they just jumped in a swimming pool. Perhaps this is not so unlike other children, but if so, we wonder if the Good Parents are taking their kids home immediately to stave off pneumonia.

We assume Dar would jump right into the bay if it wasn’t for us and the layers of Dar-sized boulders that lie between him and the bay in all places where the landfill meets the water. He crawls along the boulders to get closer to sea level, but we always stop him well before the real waterline. Often he merely enjoys looking at the undulating waves of the bay. I know I do. Cesar Chavez Park, a mess of landfill that was green-ified by the City of Berkeley two decades ago, is surrounded on three sides by water, including an inlet between us and Berkeley, and thus it feels a bit like its own island thrust out into the bay, in a joyfully liminal space between the Bay and the Bay Area.

I consider Cesar Chavez Park a fun little playland for any kid. Besides the dogs, it’s got a fun little sundial/memorial to Chavez, a lot of migratory birds with unusual calls and colors, joggers and bicyclists doing the paved perimeter, kites, drones, random artwork, and a variety of landscapes, from high grass to sandpits to what Dar’s brother calls the “rain forest.” (It’s not a rain forest.) A friendly note to all the people using the place as their drone practice space: KEEP THOSE GODDAMN THINGS AWAY FROM MY KIDS, thanks. Wifey and I recollect our thoughts there, check in, talk about how we’re still working toward all of our goals, Dar-related and otherwise. After an hour at Cesar Chavez, Mosley is inevitably smiling or just panting, I can’t tell the difference. And I can’t really tell what Dar thinks of the place either, Dar is just Silent, Passive Dar everywhere we go. At least when he decides to launch into one of his screaming fits at Cesar Chavez, his screams are mostly absorbed by the wind. It’s nice to be out on our own island as free from judgment as we are from urbanity. It’s an important piece of what we consider home.


(someone is more into having his picture taken than his brother is)