Touch. Listen. See. Smell. Feel.
We set out on our walk to do these things: examine the spring grass, take fresh air into our lungs. The park down the road is perfect for such excursions. It’s a small strip of land enclosed by privet with a few trees and shrubs and lots of open grass. Technically it’s a private park for the surrounding residents, but nobody has turned away our raggle-taggle band yet. With Moira strapped to my chest, I let Maggie go on ahead. She climbs to the top of a pile of sticks and leaves a careless landscaper has left behind, the wood damp and mulchy in our noses. I keep my distance; while I’d love to point out every robin’s nest and budding branch, she needs the independent play more–she needs to take it into her senses and leave my side. How many piles of dirt were in my two-year-old childhood? More, I fear, than hers.
Walking back along the road, we pass a house under construction and a laborer smoking a cigarette. While I find the smell of the chronic smoker disgusting, I actually find the odd puff of smoke pleasant. It reminds me of my father; a bit of cigarette smoke in a working-man’s truck, Old Spice, cut through with Barbasol. He’s not a cologne man, but that was how I knew him when I was small. I finger my keys as I watch Maggie run ahead and think of how I always knew my mother was there, keys jangling when she came to pick us up from this activity or that. How long did she carry that one leather brown purse? A year? Five years? Even after nearly twenty years of chronic sinus problems, I know when a leather purse has held original Trident; mint on suede and the metallic hint of keys on a simple fob and I know my mother. When Maggie is following her children through the park, how will they know her? What secrets lie in Moira’s scent for her babies to follow?
And how will they know me? The smell of coconut oil on my hands as I rub their skin? A compelling bitter roast from my ever-present coffee mug–no sugar to sweeten my cup? And what words will these smells carry? What will they feel, see, hear when the past calls to claim them? The good with the bad, surely–my best intentions are not always equal to my sharp temper, despite my constant struggle to keep it in check. I have never–will never–laid hands on my children in anger, but sharp words do escape. They’ll carry that with them like the vanilla notes of my favorite perfume.
Maggie stops ten feet behind and I cajole her into following me, promising her stars–pasta stars in sauce, from a can, a convenience lunch treat she gets when I’m feeling lazy. My creative urges are legion, but almost never extend to food preparation. Highly processed food with the guilt-easing “organic” tag is fine now and then. Even the promise of such a treat isn’t enough to break her concentration: she has focused on a young tree, freshly planted, still supported by a planter’s post. The world around her ceases to exist as she wraps her arms and then legs around the trunk. I take in the curve of her back and the length of her fingers, seeing how every inch of a toddler is built for exploration. Every molecule in their bodies radiates vibrant purpose. Extending a long, curled tongue, she leans in and licks the bark.
I say nothing. For her, I’m not even there. Nobody is. She uses her focus to discover a tree as new to the world as she, exploring the world in all the ways a child knows how. It would be impolite of me to intrude.
Moira stirs on my chest; my baby, my love. I whisper to her, as I always do and know I shouldn’t, to stay little and small and next to me forever. I have to stop doing that, because I know perfectly well that it’s such an unfair thing to ask–she will march on without me, and best that she do so with no guilt or remorse about leaving her mother’s side. One day she’ll be conquering wood piles and looking at trees with her sister, and I’ll have to be content with the memories of how I saw them, felt them, knew them when they were small.