I almost missed my daughter’s first summer.
Don’t get me wrong, I was with her – we were at home together – but in my cloak of attentiveness, preoccupied with feedings and changings and tummy time, I failed to notice summer.
I orbited around her, as a planet does the sun, perfunctorily providing all the necessary elements to ensure her timely development. I planned our days in increments of fluid-ounce intake and plotted our weeks in growth-curves. My self-esteem hinged upon how my daughter’s progress compared with the illustrated babies depicted in The Books, several of which I consulted daily. I read about sensory-stimulation, sensitive learning periods, invisible sunburns, and mosquito-borne viruses.
I made shape-mazes and texture-tunnels to trigger the appropriate cognitive areas in her developing brain; I shunned toxic sunscreen and lethal bug spray; I shaded the windows in her bedroom to block out the bright sunlight, which The Books said interfered with circadian cycles; and I kept our house buttoned up against particulate pollutants, setting the thermostat at the recommended 75°, regardless of the outside temperature (or air-conditioning bill).
By early July, I was burned-out, anxious, and exhausted from straining against the rhythm of the natural world. My daughter gained, grew, and moved as projected, but barely napped and seemed restless. I, too, longed for a reprieve but worried any lapse in assiduousness would result in her not reaching her full potential. My mind played a nervous thought loop: Babies are impressionable and malleable and dependent; my daughter needs me. I must be on guard to protect her, nurture her, show her...be everything, know everything, control everything…
“Relax,” said my mother when I asked her advice. “Enjoy your summer.”
“Summer? Really?!” I balked. “I have a baby!”
“The two are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “Enjoy summer with her.”
Tired of the nagging fear of inadequacy that the books gave me and desperate to silence the voice saying, you should be doing more, I took my mom’s advice and, with my daughter in tow, stepped into summer.
The air outside, sweet and heavy, surrounds us, and my daughter breathes a deep sigh. We venture down to the pond by our house, escorted by a cadence of crickets and frogs hidden in the feathery reeds. We crouch amidst these noisemakers, my daughter’s eyes wide, her head cocked, listening. We brush our hands over the tops of the dry grass; gone to seed, it feels at once sharp and soft. The pond entices my daughter with its filmy stillness, a dark reflection of her and me, until she splashes through the wet surface and chortles in surprise. I hold her baby hands, wadded in concentration, as she dips a curved foot into the pond’s mucky bottom. She reaches for the dripping mud, wanting to feel its slow fluidity with her mouth. More sensory stimulation than she’s ever encountered.
By the time we head in, we’re both flushed and sweaty; my daughter, nearly asleep in my arms and I, calm and utterly refreshed. I put her down, confident she’ll nap, and set out to do what I had decided at the pond.
I go room to room collecting The Books from my various reading stashes, my arms laden with pages of doubt, chapters of worry, volumes of second-guessing. I take the stack of books out to the garage and dump them in the garbage. Back inside, the house is stuffy and quiet, so I open all the windows and air out my soul.