THE WATER ARCS upward into the summer air, then down into the fragrant leaves of the lavender, and in between the arcing up and the arcing down there is a small constant trickle that falls straight to the earth, and that is where my daughter is running. "Lou, Lou, skip to my Lou!" she sings as she dashes under the stream of water from the hose. Then, ecstatic, she turns and dashes again.
It is a dusky twilight in early June. I am standing in the front yard watering the perennial bed, my thumb against the nozzle so the water spreads and catches not only the lavender but also the columbine, the creeping thyme, the variegated sage, the Shasta daisies. From this description you might think that my garden is lush and beautiful, but I'm thinking precisely the opposite: I am overwhelmed by dissatisfaction, noting that the coneflowers have not grown as much as I'd expected and that the coreopsis has totally disappeared and that, while the hollyhock blossoms are a marvelous purple-black, I can't wait till next year when there will be several stalks and more blossoms still. In other words, as always in the garden, I am wishing my life away. Even this early in the growing season I am thinking the summer is shot, a bust, the garden is here and it is not nearly what I had hoped. Next year, I am thinking. Let it be next year already!
At the same time I am looking at my daughter, thinking: Next year, stay away!
What I mean to say is, while studying the flowers I am studying her feet, noticing how they, unlike the flowers, have grown remarkably, how over the winter they have become the feet not of a toddler but of a girl. They have lengthened and gotten thinner, as have her legs. She has shot up so quickly that some of her dresses went from being too long to too short with no time, it seemed, when they actually fit. On her heels are hardened blisters from wearing sneakers with no socks -- the same blisters she will have as a woman, clattering down the sidewalk in stockingless pumps. Why is it -- I wonder suddenly -- that my garden refuses to grow nearly as fast as I want, while my daughter seems to do nothing but grow?
She, I know, would not understand this desperate question. What child would? She feels toward herself exactly the way I feel toward the garden. She wants to grow. She wants to be big and strong. She wants the future to get here now. When she is 5, she has been told, she will be allowed to accompany her dad and her godfather, Rob, on their annual excursion to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play at home; when she is 10, she will be allowed to have her ears pierced. "Let's pretend I'm 10!" she says. I don't want her to be 10. I mean, I do -- of course I want her to get on with her life. I hate that saccharine slogan on the Carter's baby outfits that says, "If they could just stay little!" I hate it when strangers look at your baby and say something deflating like, "They're so sweet now; just wait till they grow up!" I'm sure that at 10 she'll be a fascinating person, a person I'll want to be 10 forever, but I also want her to be eternally 31/2, eternally willing to forsake whatever is on TV and come out with me into the yard. I want her always to be with me, beside me, running under the hose and singing, in her cracked happy voice, "Skip to My Lou." And so, as I move to water the hibiscus, I try to memorize not just her voice but her feet, as they are now, pale small grassy feet with chipped pink toenail polish, just as I try to memorize the summer-blond hair matted to her head with the sheen of water droplets, the red Pirates T-shirt hanging damply off her growing frame.
Being a gardener, I'm learning, means obsessively plotting the future: standing on the porch looking at your heat-wilted yard, trying to imagine what it might look like 10 years from now, when it's right and perfect and the day lilies have multiplied and the old weedy grass has been dug up and the new seed put down and the pond has been created and stocked with goldfish and the hostas are nodding and the fig has prospered and the irises have grown so thick they need to be divided.
Being a parent means memorizing the here and now so that it will be burned eternally in your brain. It means willing yourself never to forget those skipping feet, that matted hair, the way she smiled up from her crib as an infant, the way, at 11 months, she abruptly looked up at the ceiling and said, distinctly, her first word: light.
Now, though, the light is failing. It's 8:45. Almost dark. Tomorrow is a school day. Well, a preschool day. "One more time!" Anna begs, giddy with the pleasure of running and singing and being wet. And so I let her run under the water a while longer. "Lou, Lou, skip to my Lou!" she sings as she dashes, getting bigger and stronger with each pass, willing herself, exactly as I will the flowers, into a lovely maturity while I, her mother, stand there feeling deeply ambivalent about the passage of time, wanting the future to get here and wanting the future to stay away, caught between the promised splendor of tomorrow and the breathtaking beauty of today.
Liza Mundy's e-mail address is email@example.com.