I spent last summer slowed by the sweet weight of Iris, first in my belly, then in my arms. The summer before that, I was barely emerging from the fog of the first year of motherhood, and afraid, still, of getting my baby dirty. The previous year I was frozen in the heat, shuffling through sweaty, milky postpartum days. And before that trails a string of nondescript grownup summers, indistinguishable, almost, from winter in their bland air-conditioned office chill.
But this summer. This summer the weather is gentle and we spend hours at the park, the girls and me, getting filthy. A joins us after work for picnic dinners, and we add watermelon juice to the layers of sweat and sand and sunscreen. Ingrid is brave on the ladders up to the big slides, even swings alone on her tummy while A and I eat and Iris showers her own back with fistfuls of sand.
Ingrid is in an easy time—eager, interested, easily soothed. During Iris’s morning nap, we do special fun things together. I build us an obstacle course (“oxtable horse”) in the backyard, and we follow each other under the low pear tree branches, over the picnic table, and along the winding line of the garden hose in the grass.
We raid the fridge and empty all the eggs into a bowl so we can cut the carton into cardboard caterpillars. We each paint one, sitting on the warm backyard path, and then rinse our purple hands in the sandy wading pool.
I lay paper over an ivy leaf and rub across it with the breadth of a blue crayon, touching foreheads, almost, with Ingrid, as we watch the veins of the leaf emerge—the thick, prominent lines first, then the finer ones…more on the paper than we can see in the leaf itself.
One night last weekend after Iris was in bed, I was cleaning up the kitchen, and A and Ingrid were in the backyard. “Caro,” I heard him say. “Come here for a sec.” I dried my hands and stepped out the back door to see him lying on his back on the concrete walkway, his head resting on the bottom porch step. “Lie down here with me. The ground is warm, and the air is just perfect.”
The ground was warm; the air was perfect. We lay watching the high-up wind drag the thinnest veil of cloud across the sky. We could hear cars on the next street over and each leaf of the neighbors’ elm tree rattling just slightly. Ingrid puttered between porch and living room, bringing blankets and stuffed animals to drape over our chests and nestle near our necks—we were her dental patients, receiving rewards for our “good cooperating”. We lay there for minutes and minutes, quiet, resting.
We drive to the CSA pickup spot with the windows open, nixing the A/C and letting the breeze cool us and mess up our hair, blasting the Music Together CD and singing Jumpin’ Josie with every set of words we can think of, wearing clothes that have seen a day of play. We pull up in the driveway next to a spotless Saab. I watch a well-pressed suited woman emerging from the cool of her car on her way home from work. Looking at all that neatness, all that control, I am surprised to realize that for a change I lack envy. This is what I want. This is freedom.