By Susan Hellings
“Smash acorns?” My toddler asks me hopefully one cold, blustery Sunday afternoon in October. The library in our town has a large oak tree that stands guard over the main path to the entrance and every week when he and I go to story time we take a few minutes to step on acorns, crushing them into the ground. Currently we are both bored with toy cars and I am trying to find a way to keep him occupied by something other than the tv, a trick I use far too often according to my mom-guilt addled brain.
“Smash acorns?” I echo. “That sounds like a good idea.” I grab a sweatshirt for me, wrangle shoes on him, lock up the house, and drive into town to the deserted library parking lot. We get out of the car and I let him run around the empty spots as I watch the entrance, pacing and circling around him to provide a protective barrier. It should be safe to let him run free in this space where he is normally required to hold my hand. I don’t think anyone else will be coming to a closed library so I give him a little more freedom by taking on a little more worry, a task I’m sure I will be doing over and over as he gets older.
He walks up to the stone path alongside the building to find and crush any unblemished acorns, to stomp on them with all the might of his little toddler feet. I follow and join in, enjoying the feel as the fragile shell gives in to the pressure. I sweep the mess off the stones and onto the grass, making space for more acorns, more stomping. This keeps us busy for some time, looking amongst the leaves on the ground for more and more piles of acorns. Every so often one he picks one up and presents it to me for inspection and to ooh and aah over what he has found. Whole nuts, caps, cracked pieces, I admire them all. He throws a few and watches them roll down the hill, delighted with himself and what he’s doing.
I am surprised by this whole motherhood thing. How much I like it and how I’m okay at it. He seems to like me. I seem to like him. When I was pregnant, I remember at one point saying to my husband, “I’m sure I’ll interact with it” and him laughing at my word choice. I had put this unknown entity, this being I created into the category of person I’m sure I would like but would take a long time to get to know. What I didn’t expect was to want to be around him so much, much less to find enjoyment in running around in public and stepping on nuts that fall from trees, but here we are and that is what we are doing.
He grabs my hand, interrupting my thoughts. “More acorns?” he asks, and leads me back down the path to the base of the large oak to find more acorns to step on. I see a broken one and with the toe of my sneaker I push it into the ground, hoping it stays there, takes root. Maybe it will burrow down deeper and be allowed to grow, to become a concrete piece of a memory bearing witness to the perfection that this chilly fall afternoon has brought to the two of us.
Susan Hellings lives in Montgomery County, Pa. She hangs out with her kid during the day, works at night, and writes when she can.