Family Nature

Taking a walk on toddler time

Nothing has taught me as much about slowing down and experiencing the moment like accompanying my toddler on a walk around the block. (And I thought living through the early days of the pandemic was an exercise in presence!)

My knee-jerk reaction is to keep her moving — to make our walk the verb that it’s supposed to be. But Maeve wants to stop and pick up rocks. She wants to point out balls in neighbors’ yards and to touch the tulips. She’s delighted when she can spend several minutes with the cats down the block. She knows when we get to a certain hedge, we’ll probably play a quick game of hide-and-seek.

So I’ve learned to slow down and to let her lead, even when she doesn’t take us anywhere but to a particular flowering rosemary bush to watch the bees do their work for several long minutes.

As Jenny Odell says in Saving Time, “Letting go of one overwhelming rhythm, you invite the presence of others. Perhaps more important, you remember that the arrangement is yours to make.”


Baking cake and eating it, too

I’ve been working from home for two years now, living mostly in sweatpants and trying my best to keep the days from blurring together. There’s a lot that I love about our slower life, and a big lesson in it, too: If I want to mark the passing of time by celebrating holidays and seasons, I have to (and can!) create those traditions for myself.

Annie Dillard says it beautifully:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

Whenever I find myself getting restless and crabby because I miss the silly little parties and accessories of my former office life, I try to remind myself that I can create a haven like Dillard suggests — I can throw my own celebrations. So I crank up a seasonal playlist or bake a cake, and in my own small way, I fight off the chaos.

Most recently, I made Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate and Almond Tiger Cake for Mardi Gras. (I have my eye on Yossy Arafi’s Snacking Cakes for future holiday — or ordinary day — ideas.)

Painter Wayne Thiebaud, who died in 2021 at age 101, knew about the lush allure of dessert. In the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s text project, when you query “send me desire,” the service replies with Thiebaud’s “Display Cakes.”