Monday, April 20, 2009

Baby, You Take My Breath Away

When Nate was two years old, give or take a few hard-earned months, I stood with him for what must have been a full five minutes in the spring sunshine to watch a squirrel edge its way nervously out onto a neighborhood fence.

It scratched its way along, darting, shirking, feigning, its beady black eyes flicking toward us and then abruptly away as the silent seconds ticked slowly by, each one conforming to the moment with the pliant grace of a baby bending a toe to his mouth.

And I remember thinking: this, in essence, is parenthood.

Not the similarity to rodents, although we did retain a certain panicked expression in common, but rather the siphoning of time from the rush of our lives. Children do that, don’t they? They redirect. They take our carefully prioritized schedules and reshuffle them, carrying us--usually too tired to argue--into the current of their own unique route until we find ourselves in some backwater we never intended to visit. Until we’re lazily spiraling in an eddy of their own making.

And so what do we do? If we’re the sort of person who lives in the moment, we make the best of where we are. We pull rubber boots onto their small feet. We retrieve bug catchers and nets long buried under boxes and blankets in the garage. We watch the impossibly undisturbed reflection of a water skipper on a flat plane of stagnant water, a toddler leaning heavily over one shoulder, his breath warm in our ear.

Most days, I’m not that person.

I’m entirely too consumed with plans, schedules, and goals, or else too distracted by some alternate universe of my own making…a plotline, a character, a script running through my head.

In the mornings, the best things in my life tend to rush past in a blur: Child #1 needs a lunch, the homework sitting on the counter belongs in Backpack A, socks are found, sand is hastily knocked off the soles of shoes with a deafening smack. Come here, I’m constantly saying. Get this on, brush your teeth, no not that, eat this, why aren’t you listening? Honey are you awake yet, don't be late, just a second!

And then, they’re out the door.

When I do stop, even just for a moment--Mom, look at what I found, What’s this? Guess what happened yesterday? Help please--everything that’s ever been important skids to a stop at my feet. Children, husband, even the daily trappings of a life I’ve worked hard to create pop from a noisy, static background and into sharp relief. I see a dimple. A pair of eyes on me so blue they take my breath away. The delicate curve of a perfectly shaped lower lip as it opens for a spoon. A chin wiped, a jacket sleeve slid over a youthful arm, the flat weave of a shoelace wrapping carefully around a small finger in need of washing.

The audio track of our life lessens when in slow motion, have you noticed? This is just as true in reality as it is in fiction. The world goes quiet. I myself become mute. I hear the hum of the refrigerator, the intermittent ching of the wind chime outside the kitchen window. Even the trill of children’s voices soften as though muffled amid cotton balls stacked in a glass jar.

I was reminded of Nate’s patient encounter with the squirrel when yesterday, I once again found time languishing under the warmth of an April sun. The children had urged me outside, and after finding no other means by which to busy myself--picking up toys here and pulling a weed there--I had lain back in the oversized hammock in the yard, just enough shade dappling my face to negate the need to squint, and I had thought: I should check my email. I should do the dishes. I should at least go get my book from my bedside table.

Miraculously, I didn’t. Instead, I listened to the thump-pause-thump-pause-thump of Nate kicking a soccer ball against the side of the house, and to the water moving though the pipes of the outside faucet as Toby ‘watered’ the lawn. I stared up at the buds on the tree above me as they moved with the sashaying grace of sea anemone spines against the sky: a perfect spring green against a canvas of Easter egg blue, and then I did get up, to retrieve my camera and snap this picture.

I’m not a photographer, but even I could have improved upon this image. I could have cropped out the play structure, reduced the shadow, brought out the hue of each bursting bud until they bloomed like explanation points against their sleek brown branches. But improvement wasn’t the point. Point of view was the point. I wanted to remember what the world--unfettered, unhurried--looked like to me on April 19th, 2009 from the sanctuary of a hammock, when I allowed no personal agenda to seize me. When I listened, and looked, and simply floated in this tributary only my children can seem to carve out for me.

When, despite having a dozen things to do, I was able to lie in the sun and not feel the urge to rise.
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