The thermostat climbs, here in our house built facing the summer sun. Unwilling to turn up the air conditioning but desperate for relief, I put on my swimsuit, gather my towel and my flip-flops and my daughter. She laughs as I rub sunscreen into her round cheeks, squirms in excitement as I tug the swim diaper over her perfectly chunky thighs. She knows what is coming. I breathe a prayer of gratitude for the pool in our backyard and the afternoon diversion it provides.
When we first bought this place, I was unsure of that pool. Swimming pools are for the rich, for those with wads of cash lying about, waiting to be spent. Owning one seemed luxurious, ridiculous, unnecessary. Then summer came, and with it the endless heat, and my perspective shifted. Perhaps a pool is still all those things, but as the sun beats down and the mercury rises, I indulge in its ridiculous, unnecessary luxury more often than I care to admit.
We head outside to enjoy its cool waters after her afternoon nap, when the temperature in the house feels stifling and the shimmering blue beckons. I sit on the edge, my feet on the top step, and stand her between my legs. The water is brisk, and she tenses, five of her tiny fingers clenched tightly around one of mine, her other hand reaching for my arm, my swimsuit, my face – anything to give her purchase as the water swirls around her calves. I murmur encouragement to her, assure her of my presence, of her safety.
She sways for a few minutes, staring across the vast length of the pool. When it no longer seems as though she is trying to escape, I lower her to a sitting position. This is the moment of truth: she scrunches her nose, begins to open her mouth in protest, and I think perhaps our nice afternoon diversion might not be so nice after all. In her agitation, her hand falls, flat against the water. The droplets fly into the air. As the water hits her face, she starts, but then her mouth curves up in a grin and she laughs. In the space between one breath and the next, her protests have turned to splashes, her hesitation to excitement. I exhale, a sigh of relief; we will be able to enjoy the cool relief of the pool after all.
She sits on the step and I move down into the water, turn to face her, ready to catch her if she falls. That happened once – the falling. She became over-excited, lost her center of balance, and was under the water before I could react, putting an end to an otherwise fun time. Today, however, she seems aware of the danger, remaining perfectly upright as she splashes and yells and grins and splashes some more. I love her smile, her laughter, the way she squints her eyes and turns her head when the water hits her face.
Though she would be content to sit here, splashing, the entire afternoon, I coax her out into the deeper water with me. I hold her underneath her arms, pulling her toward me so that she floats on her stomach, her head held high out of the water. Her eyes follow my mouth as I lower it to the water, encourage her to blow bubbles, and she gives me a quizzical look, brows slightly raised, as though she doesn’t quite understand my odd behavior. I move to the edge and stand her on the sidewalk, my hands around her wrists. She locks her knees and I count down from three and she jumps into my arms. Or rather, I pull her toward me as I float backwards, her body coming to rest against my chest, her head beneath my chin. She laughs at the sensation, the feeling of flight, the weightlessness.
Later, we dry off, and I sit on the warm cement, settling her on my lap. Her towel is yellow, the hood fitted with an orange bill and small black eyes. My little duck, I call her, and we sit there in the sunshine, watching the trees, listening to the sounds of the birds. She is fascinated by the pine needles on the ground around us and I take one, tickle her legs with it. She laughs. I lean back, resting my weight on my hands. Her arms dart out from underneath the towel to explore a crack in the cement. The duck head swivels back and forth to follow the path of a hawk, to investigate the sound of the wind in the trees. Our black lab trots up, showers her face with wet, slobbery puppy kisses, and she giggles, pushes him away with a pudgy hand.
I could sit here with this girl in my lap, this sun on my face, these trees all around, for a lifetime. Eternity is here, in this fleeting moment of joy, of happiness, of love. Would that I could stop time, that I could stay, but the world calls my name, and duty beckons, and a little girl grows fidgety, needing water, needing a snack, needing to be busy, doing, learning. I gather her in my arms, get to my feet, make my way inside to the place where chores await, where the dishes need washing and the dog needs feeding and a little girl needs changing. The moment is gone, past, done.
After dinner, however, after she is tucked, safe and warm, in her bed, after the sun sets and the temperature drops and the world heads toward sleep, I put my fingers to the keyboard and I write. I write about sun and water and sky, about splashing and swimming and laughing, about a baby girl and a ducky towel and a playful puppy. I close my eyes, rewind time, go back a few hours and try to capture it all.
In the writing, in the capturing, there is remembering, and in the remembering I am changed. Science tells me that long-term memories, these snippets of eternity lodged inside my heart and my mind, cause permanent changes to my brain, that new synapses are formed and new structures created as I dwell on moments from my past, as I record and relive and remember. And so I do. I sit here, in the late evening, hush all around me, and my fingers dance on the keys as I search for the words to describe this place, this time, this life.
That eternal moment, with the girl in my lap, the sun on my face, the trees all around, that small glimpse of heaven – it’s gone. But the memory is mine forever, has literally changed me forever. To capture it, to savor it, to take an active part in the creation of the mind I want to have, I sit here in the gathering dusk and I write.