Collect moments, not things.

I'd taken the trail before. It was an easy one, usually well-kept with trimmed edges and a clear path. This time it felt like the desert and looked like the badlands scene from The Lion King. There was no longer a small pond that had been there before. There was a severe lack of shade. And the brown grass was so overgrown I held S's little feet up under my armpits because I was afraid she'd get ticks. After a while the trail seemed longer than I'd remembered. S woke up from her nap and rubbed her dainty, sweaty face on my back. She started whining, and I loosed the sunshade. I knew she wanted to be done here. So did I.  {{This trail sucks.}}

There had been some fun along the way, though. Before entering the sun-scoured, dead-grassland portion of our hike, we'd crossed quite a few Woolly Bear caterpillars. I let S touch one and I talked to her about how it will turn into a moth that flies. We came upon a rather large Praying Mantis that followed us with its eyes as we circled around it. And of course she mimicked the birds' coos and caws in a way that sent laughter to my soul. She was interested in all the little treasures I found for her, and she held an impressive amount of focus for a 1 year old.

Finally we looped back around into the woods, into the relief of the shade. I headed straight back to the car to apply the essential-oil bug spray I'd forgotten to use earlier. I wasn't even sure we'd stay, but I couldn't let another moment go by without it.  {{Oh gosh, I really hope she doesn't have any bites. Oh no, what if she gets West Nile Virus because I was stupid and forgot the bug spray?! God, please protect her from it!}}  I wiggled her out of the carrier, shoved it in my car, leaned my back up against the door, and popped her up onto the seat that is my hip. We both chugged some water. Disappointed that the raptor birds are no longer on location to view, I pushed myself up and dragged my feet over to the pavilion. We ate our snacks silently until S got antsy and became fidgety. She wanted to stand on the picnic table, and then yelled when I didn't let her. I held her hand as she walked the length of the bench and jumped off the end.  {{She is such a big girl now. When will this slow down?}}

I decided to hike into the woods again for just a few minutes, this time on the shorter trail. This time I let her walk.

We got away from the trail head, passed some downed trees, and then slowly as a snail crossed the long suspension bridge. It isn't very high at all, and the water beneath was only a couple inches deep. But S stopped every few steps to bounce on it, giggling in spite of herself. She kept turning her toothy grin back toward me to make sure I was still there. Then step and bounce, step and bounce. We finally reached the end of the bridge and strolled along the dirt path. 

We reached a point on the trail where S plopped down. She started circling her delicate fingers through the dirt and rocks, humming some sort of little tune to herself. I bent down next to her and almost asked what she was doing, but decided instead to watch and observe as I let her just be a child. After a few moments of humming and singing nonsensical sounds, she picked up a rock, twisted back toward me, and held the rock an inch from my face. At first I thought she wanted me to eat it, but then I realized she just wanted me to look at it. She kept the rock still but brought her face up to it so that I could feel her breath on my nose. She examined the stone--which was bigger than her own fist--first with her eyes, and then with her finger, tracing a line down the center of it. She looked at me expectantly. She was showing it to me. She was showing me her discovery. She wanted to show me the wonder that she found, and she wanted me to tell her about it. 

I wish I could say that I took the moment as a reminder that I'm her teacher in this world. I wish I could finish this sweet story and say that I pointed to where her finger rested and told her it was a rock. I wish I'd talked to her about the color, size, and shape of it. I wish I'd shown her that one side was flat and the other was round. I wish I'd been present enough in that moment to savor it and cherish it and hold onto it.

Regrettably, I pushed the moment away. I smiled at my beautiful, wide-eyed, knowledge-thirsty child and said "Yes, I see. It's pretty. Now let's get going, punkin. We have to leave."

You see, I had places to go and things to do. I hadn't planned on staying that long; and I had to stop at the seamstress to drop off some pants for hemming before running to one store for more tea for Nick and another store for deli meat for sandwiches... and ... and ... and...

And when I pulled into the driveway and looked back through the mirror that rested on my 13 month old's sleeping face, the weight and gravity of the opportunity I'd missed fell on me all at once. It would have taken only about one more minute to create, collect, and store the memory of teaching my little girl about the first rock she fell in love with. It would have cost only a moment of my time to feed the curiosity that may carry her to her passion for life. It would have taught her that her discoveries, her treasures are important. And it's a teaching moment I can't get back.

This was yet another reminder to take my time--that it is not something to be squandered. I keep wondering when she'll slow down on growing up, but how can she ever if I never take time to slow down for her? So much of my day and life is spent picking up, running errands, cleaning, and just trying to get through the daily things. But life is about collecting moments, not things. This baby of mine--her childhood is but a series of moments together that will eventually end with her going her own way, and then our moments together will happen sparingly. They are not to be wasted or thrown away.

And so no more rushing. There is no reason for it. The grocery store will still be there. The house will not fall apart if it sits messy a little longer. No one will wither away if it takes 5 more minutes to get food on the table because my toddler was curious and captivated by something. She is worth every moment. So I will savor each one.

*Graphic image with quote at top of post via