After two out of town business trips in just as many weeks, I finally took a day off from work to work on the business of being a mother. On Wednesday I went straight from the airport to my daughter’s day care to give us a long afternoon of joint recuperation, a few extra hours of books upon books read with her sitting on my lap in our living room, and it was beautiful, just what the holistic medicine doctor ordered, but it was not nearly enough. When Thursday came I decided that there would be no baby university for baby, no private college for mom. Today we would play hookie.
As if she knew that today would be a vacation day, Koukla slept in and woke up grinning ear to ear. She banged around the house with her crocodile walker, then read few books on the living room floor before settling in at her music table while I cooked us a pot of oatmeal with milk and cinnamon and fresh, bright berries on top. After breakfast there was a nap for the baby and time for me to check emails and check in with the office. And then we had a party.
Koukla dressed for the occasion in hot pink leggings, fuchsia tennis shoes, and her favorite polka dot hat, so excited about her outfit and her surprise day off that for the first time in weeks she didn’t fight me on the changing table. I put on my weekend jeans and my own brightly colored running shoes, then I slathered sunscreen all over the baby to prepare her for the big adventure of the day – the far away land of our back yard. I know that it has been winter, but this is Southern California and there really is no good excuse for how little time Koukla and I have been spending in our backyard. There have been weekends in the office, midterms to write, lessons to plan. And, of course, there have been the trips far away and all of the preparation and aftermath they have involved. Finding time for something so simple as walking out the backdoor has become so very complicated.
Koukla relished her time outside. She laughed and played on her little slide, insisting upon climbing up the incline instead of going up the stairs in the back. She showed me that she is big enough now to climb and sit by herself on the grown up bench and that she knows how to get off of it too. Again and again she ran around yelling bubbles bubbles until I blew bubbles for her, at which point she would run away, laughing.
For Koukla’s lunch I made a big serving of giant white beans turned orange by roasted butternut squash, but for my own lunch I found that we had nothing in the house for grown ups to eat. This meant that Koukla would get an adventure even further afield than our backyard – the grocery store. Koukla loves the grocery store, and today she was just as excited as ever, kicking her feet in the cart, craning her neck to see everything, giving the stink eye to any grown up who tried to make her smile. As usual, she asked for a banana when we passed the display near the store entrance and as usual I gave her one, which she alternately ate and shook in the air like a club, smiling and talking at me the whole time. And all I could think while walking up and down the freezer aisle was how blessed I was to have this day, how blessed I am to have this wonderful, good natured if strong willed child who makes being a mother so easy and so full of joy.
When Koukla went down for another nap in the afternoon I rushed to catch up on more work, realizing that I hadn’t so much as checked my email since her first nap in the morning. All day I had simply been present with my child, so engrossed in my experience of her that I had almost forgotten that anything else existed.
The computer got turned off again when she woke, pushed aside to make room for more playtime and for a snack of yogurt, fruit and teething biscuits, then we ended the day with a special daylight trip to the famers’ market. Koukla saw her favorite farmers, and though she still refused to smile for them, she laughed with so much joy as she ran up and down the rows, me giving chase, barely keeping up.
I see how much my daughter changes every day, and I know the only way to slow down this time is to slow down my own life, to make more room in my schedule for days like these in which the goal is not to get caught up on emails or prepare myself for a meeting or finish my homework. I need more of these days where I am simply a mom rather than a mom at work.
I made more bright colors for Koukla’s dinner, sweet potato with broccoli swirls, and then just like that it was time for bed, for bathtime and then storytime with Koukla sitting in my lap and her big stuffed rabbit sitting in her lap and her dad reading aloud in the funny British accent he’s assigned to an owl in one of her bedtime books. And finally we had the go to sleep bottle, that most beautiful moment of my day, the two of us rocking in her dark nursery, her snuggled up against me, me whispering and singing made up lullabies to her in Greek, her eyes focused so intently on me until slowly, slowly, they close for the night.
I know how fleeting this time is. My daughter already is almost too heavy to rock, almost too big to cradle. Soon there will be no more bottles, the changing table won’t be an issue, and she’ll be asking for Cheetos and Cheerios instead of food made by mom with love. I know what a gift this day was. I hope it doesn’t take me two trips away to have another one like it soon.