Yesterday my daughter and I spent the afternoon riding our bicycles up and down the road behind our house. We packed the bike trailer with water and apples, a picnic blanket, and Alyosha’s stuffed dog Snoozles, who “really just needed to get out of the house for a while.” (Testify, Snoozles, testify.)
Such an afternoon sounds idyllic—mother, daughter, bicycles, country road, sunshine. And it was idyllic, in moments. But within all such times, there arise for me several small but unmistakable pockets of agony. I do not mention these moments out loud. I do not allow them to derail the day. And I can never tell if these moments are a part of my personality or if they are partner to every parent. But the truth is, I cannot comfortably function the way my daughter functions. If I took a bike ride by myself, then I would ride to, and I would ride from, and that would be the end of it. Maybe I would try to beat my previous time. Maybe I would challenge myself to a greater number of miles.
My dear Alyosha’s goal, however, is to stretch out every pleasant moment for as long as possible. In my younger years, I could have covered forty miles in the time we took. Yesterday Alyosha and I covered a grand total of seven. It’s not even that she’s a slow cyclist, it’s just that she’s constantly stopping. For a drink. For an itch. For a better look at the water. To read a sign. To eat an apple. To set a world record for Longest Time Ever Spent Eating an Apple. The agonies lie in my having to let go, over and over, of my own momentum, of my own will.
E.B. White wrote, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy it.” Together, Alyosha and I total one E.B. White. I usually find myself preoccupied with improving the state of our little world, while Alyosha fiddles around with new ways of enjoying it. Yesterday, as she lolled about in the grass with her apple, taking her languorous, microscopic nibbles, I asked her what she liked best about herself. She thought for a while. “I like that I make things fun,” she finally said. “I know how to take something that’s maybe not very enjoyable and turn it into a good time.”
And she’s right, she does that. With school, with chores, with riding long distances in the car. And this ability of hers seems to spring from a belief that nearly everything could and should be enjoyed, that one need only cultivate the right attitude and the right approach.
I don’t want to malign myself here. As a working mother, I can’t get too caught up with enjoyment because there is simply too much to be done, especially now with homeschool and 24/7 childcare thrown into the mix. My children can follow their whimsy because their father and I are working long days earning the money, washing the laundry, procuring the food, and accomplishing the myriad of other tasks required to build a safe and happy home.
But when I can accept the small agonies and dedicate a part of the day to drifting along after my children, I remember that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. To my daily work, I can bring a fresh mind, a new posture. There is still time to savor and to yield. There is still time to sit in the grass and eat an apple and taste every bite.