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Doing Nothing Is Everything

The last few weeks, my toddler and I have been meeting my parents at a local restaurant for dinner. After we order, Autumn and I explore, commenting on the decor – huge fake flowers – and other patrons – 25 times her age.

And then, the other night, after we scooched back into the booth, my dad asked an interesting question.

“What would you say has been the best thing you did so far this summer?” Then he rattled off suggestions.

“The kids’ museum in Milwaukee?” he said. Watching Autumn play veterinarian and grocery shopper in the makeshift town had been fun – and funny – but I wasn’t convinced it deserved superlative status.

“Lake Geneva?” Our first time traveling with another mom-daughter was memorable – running around the lobby, sliding in the toddler pool, wading in the waves – but did other summer activities stand out more?

“Camping?” Hauling our gear to a suburban field, playing lawn games, and watching, on a big screen, Puss In Boots had been an adventure, but also, equally stressful, unworthy of the blue ribbon.

And then I recalled the Simplicity Parenting podcast I heard several days prior titled, “Low Key Holidays”. The host discussed peoples’ most memorable vacations and found that it often wasn’t Disney World or Universal Studios. Instead, it was long days at a lake and somewhere in nature, visiting with family and seeing good friends. I interpreted it as everywhere with love and openness, and nowhere with admission and closings.

There is an empty field at the end of my parents’ block. On random afternoons, Autumn, Tod and I leave my car at NanaPapa’s. We exchange hugs and smiles – and in the case of Tod, kisses and wags – then the five of us head out – the toddler ‘driving’ her car, the doodle pulling his leash, the adults keeping up with both. Halfway there, I unhook Tod’s collar, toss his orange ball, and he’s off, full throttle toward the oasis – to chase squirrels and roll in grass, sniff flowers and make friends.

Right on his heels, we arrive, our adventures there always the same, but also different. Autumn snacks on freeze-dried strawberries and performs her butterfly show. She lays with Tod and cuddles Papa. And then, if she needs more excitement – like an exclamatory sentence to a paragraph full of statements – she says to me:

“I’m going to run far away. Then I’m going to stop, turn around, put my arms out, and run to you.”

And then there we are. Dramatic music playing over invisible speakers as we journey toward each other, as if not having been apart for seconds, but overseas for years. I embrace her and we swirl, an Oscar-worthy performance we’ll repeat time and again.

“The park at the end of your block,” I tell my dad. “That’s been the best thing about summer.”

He thinks for a minute and then says:

“Autumn’s favorite thing must be her new friend next door.”

And I realize I’m not the only one who gets it.

Some days, we laze around reading books. I love it, but also feel stir crazy. The time seems endless, but I know that in two hours, she’ll be napping, and in two weeks, two months, two years – other places.

One morning, I pushed her on the swing, and as I stood there for many minutes, I wanted time to freeze. I wondered if there was any way possible to stay in that moment until she got too big to fit or learned to power herself – whichever came first. But then, Autumn broke the news:

“I want to stop,” she said.

Moments later, she found a puddle and ran back and forth and back and forth barefoot. I thought about how sometimes, when you think things are the best, they can still get better, and also about how, when I’m asked about my summer, I won’t have stories about traveling around the world, but around the corner.

And those will be invaluable.

Mommy On.

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