One and a half years ago, when COVID hit, I moved my goldendoodle, Tod, my 8-month pregnant self, and far too much other stuff from the city to my parents’ place in the suburbs. As a soon-to-be mom without a significant other, it made sense to have my support network in-house.
To welcome myself back to my childhood home, I threw myself a pity party. I’d walk down the block and think about how my friend who used to live in that house is now a big-time producer in Hollywood. The one who lived next door is a successful fertility doctor with three daughters and a mansion. And the friend who lived around the corner? Married in Colorado, which seems a bit basic, but also much more exciting than being single in Arlington Heights.
And then Autumn was born.
After a few months, I realized that I didn’t just have a new baby, I had a new set of eyeballs. I was seeing the world in such a different way; nuts, marbles, pretty much anything the size of a mouth no longer had its own identity. It was all a bunch of choking hazards. Stairs weren’t just a sensible means to get from one level to another, but a potential nosedive into paralysis. And electrical outlets? Don’t even get me started.
It took about a year for me to fully understand the power of this new vision.
Those were the new fears, but there was also unexpected wonder around every corner.
We go for a walk down the block toward Hollywood’s house. Near his driveway, there are two decorative stones about the size of flour sacks. There’s a good chance they’ve been there for decades, but who notices such things?
Every day, when we pass, she rushes over and starts climbing. Up and down, up and down, for a good several minutes. She journeys back and forth on these little chunks of excitement. And just like that, the house is no longer a reminder of someone else’s success and my own shortcomings. It’s my daughter’s favorite obstacle course.
Now I see my old elementary school -- which used to make me feel like a loser for still being in this neck of the woods -- as “Yay, the place with the fun swings!”
And the creepy, silent neighbors on their porch? Our new friends! The ones who always wave back!
And where once you couldn’t pay me to get in a bathing suit and go to a water park, now I’ll pay you to let me go with my daughter.
She transforms everyday trips to the grocery store into Festivals of Autumn, as she smiles and waves to the other shoppers, whose eyes light up above their masks.
And when I follow her lead, everything becomes simpler.
I spent the whole summer dragging her to every mom-and-tot class, play group, and concert in the park. Packing, unpacking, buckling, and unbuckling, it was exhausting for us both. The car was always hot and the process arduous, often taking longer than the time we spent at the destination.
I want her to have new experiences, but to her the inside of a bathroom cabinet or the steam rising from a cooking pot is just as exciting.
If I take myself out of the equation -- which I’m still getting used to -- and see the world through her lens, we don't have to go anywhere. We also don’t have to buy a whole bunch of stuff, because the toy that comes from Amazon is just as novel as the spatula that comes from the drawer.
The more I’m with her, the more I realize that Autumn hasn’t only affected my sight, but all of my other senses as well. Music feels dancier, chimes sound twinklier, and fruit tastes juicier because she notices all the little things that become background noise as an adult.
When I was going back to work, I thought about signing us up for a gymnastics class on Saturday mornings. And then I thought twice.
This morning, she brushed her teeth a bunch of times with her toothbrush collection, and then practiced her jumps off my dad’s chair into my arms. When she wakes from her nap, we’ll head down the block; no packing or buckling or signing up.
Just walking, so my daughter can show me around my old neighborhood.