In the Southern Hemisphere, the rain has begun. Our laundry hangs on sagging lines, the clothes weighted down by three days of downpour. I hung the last load beneath a clear sky but by afternoon I looked up from working on a chapter to see that the sky had gone grey and our clothes were soaked. Winters in New Zealand are not easy for me. I have to find my way moment by moment through the cold, the grey, and the pervasive dampness.
This afternoon I bundled up my five month old in his new stroller – a gift given to me by my parents. I tried to focus on gratitude for the stroller instead of the frustration I was feeling at having to take my baby out in the rain. My daughter’s daycare is a few blocks away and our family has one car, so we do what we have to; we juggle schedules and commutes and I pack up my baby to walk in the rain.
Halfway down the block, I began to relax. Joaquin snuggled in the stroller, protected from the elements, watched me with a sly smile on his face. That smile was like a hand reaching into my mind and pulling back the drapes to let the light shine in. I noticed the smell of wood burning just beneath the clean smell of rain. The trees shivered. Leaves glistened. Instead of the winter sky being oppressive, it wrapped itself around the land. It became an intimate and protective presence.
It occurred to me that when I was a child, this is the way I saw the world, and that this is the world my children wake up to every day. I thought, “If only I could remain in this place, imagine how different things would be. I’d be a better mother, wife, and friend.”
As I struggled with the daycare gate, the stroller banging up against my legs, Joaquin beginning to cry, I felt the drapes fall closed in my mind. Once again, my mind became a crowded, chaotic room with too many voices competing for my attention.
On the way home, my daughter weaved back and forth across the sidewalk. She never travels in straight lines. She twirls and pounces and back tracks and skips and then sits down without warning, refusing to move. I battle with the fact that I often hurry her along. I am afraid of those moments she might decide to sit down and the struggle I will have getting her back on track again. By afternoon, I am weighted down by all of the things that need to be done and the fear that if I don’t keep up my pace, I will find myself sitting on the sidewalk next to her.
Pushing the stroller, I watched her perfect little legs carry her forward and I wanted to cry – she was that beautiful. I wanted to shake off the tension that had wrapped itself around my bones. I wanted to see the world as she was seeing it.
She suddenly veered off path and jumped into a deep puddle.
Instead of laughter, she went silent. She looked down, horrified.
“Oh noooooo,” she cried, her voice stretching into a whine. “My dancing shoes! I’m all wet now!”
She was outraged, betrayed by the fact that the puddle had filled her favorite shiny black shoes with water.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I let my shoulders shake with the laughter. I let it open up my chest.
“Well, what did you expect? A puddle is wet, that’s why you jumped in it!”
She stepped out of the puddle, disgusted. Frowning, she took off her shoes and then hurled them at the grass as if they had offended her. She stood with her hands on her hips glaring.
“Come on sweetheart,” I said. “Pick up your shoes. We’ll go home and get you into a warm bath.”
Joaquin had begun to stir, his small hand reaching out toward me from the darkness of the stroller.
After a few minutes of walking next to me, complaining about her wet clothes and her sore feet, she pounced into another puddle. This time she declared, “Yay! Puddle!” before looking down to realize she had once again been betrayed. The puddle was just as wet as the last one. For the next three blocks, she repeated this process and I began to wonder if the annoyance at the wetness of water was just as much fun as the jumping in. She moved effortlessly from one emotion to the other, only lingering for as long as the emotion remained an adventure.
Tonight, as I cuddled up in bed with her, our limbs tangled, her fingers in my hair, I rested in this one act of motherhood I know I do perfectly – I know how to snuggle with my babies. Every few minutes she startled, whispering something or singing a few lines from a song, and then sinking back into sleep. I closed my eyes and began to drift. I found myself standing at the edge of a puddle in my dreams. I looked down into its mirror-like surface and I saw my daughter looking back at me. I understood that the things I love unconditionally in her are no different from the things I judge in myself. I love my daughter’s fierce, irrational puddle jumping. Every day she teaches me a little more about being authentically alive. Sometimes it means hurrying us along before the rain starts, sometimes it means hurling our favorite shiny, black shoes in the grass and returning to the puddle for another round.