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Girl Botanist

My daughter’s becoming quite the nature lover.  She’s always enjoyed heading outside – no temperature too cold for her – and we’ve been taking daily morning walks since she was maybe four weeks old.  As the weather’s warmed up we’ve frequently added a second walk for the day, and eat lunch out in our back garden a few times a week.  She can’t get enough of the outdoors, and is turning her considerable attention to the flora and fauna of the area.

Madeleine can identify several words by sound, even if she can’t say them.  “Tree” is one of the first she learned: she loves to lie on the couch and look up at the tree outside our big picture window.  She’ll point at it over and over, asking what it is.  Now if I say, “tree”, she’ll point out the window to her favorite sycamore.  Unless, that is, we’re reading a book, in which case she’ll point to whatever tree is on the page.

During breakfast or lunch she’ll gaze longingly out the window and occasionally point imperiously out the window – “Gah!”.  When she gets strapped into her stroller she kicks and screams until it begins to move out, at which point she settles serenely and anticipatorily in for the ride.

We cruise up and down the streets checking out all the neighbors’ front flower gardens.  We chat about what’s in season – azaleas – and what’s soon to come into season – roses.  We make note of which streets have the best (stroller) eye-level views, what lanes have buds about to open.  When the cherry blossoms were in full swing we’d stop under a huge tree and gaze in respectful silence, and the dogwood a block away from us still has a few simple but lovely blooms on it.  And whenever possible, of course, we stop so Maddie can smell the flowers.

Brian’s been teaching Madeleine how to smell with the “Pat the Bunny” book and she’s grooving on it now. On Mother’s Day I took a long bubble bath with lavender and when I came out she couldn’t stop sniffing my arm, eyeing me with wonderment. She’ll hold a rose petal in her hand respectfully, not trying to eat it, rolling it softly in her fingers and bringing it reflectively up for the occasional smell.

Maddie’s so into flowers she’s added the word to her vocabulary. She points to the flower on my shirt, to the flower in the book, and says her version of the word over and over again. Then when we’re out for a walk we’ll stop in front of a blooming rosebush and breathe deeply of a new blossom. “Flower”, I’ll say, and she’ll point to my shirt again.

Have I mentioned my child is a genius?

She loves to take a tour of our backyard at least once a day and is learning which plants smell good, which ones should be touched gently, and which ones (poison ivy) shouldn’t be touched at all. She points out the new buds coming in on our honeysuckle, the dying azalea flowers, the teeny tiny grape clusters forming on our vine.

Her all-time favorite in the backyard, though, is the mint plant. She saves it for last, picks a leaf, crushed it between her fingers, inhales deeply, and eats it. A palate cleanser, if you will.

I know that sometime this summer, once she’s walking, her feet will touch the ground outdoors for the first time and she’ll be off and running in the grass. Paranoid New Mommy that I am, I’m hoping she won’t want to eat the dirt and give Mommy one more lead poisoning thing to worry about. But I do look forward to seeing her experience the full sensation of nature all around her, of lying in the grass and feeling it tickle her ears, of watching strawberries grow in an inch from the ground. And eating them.

I’ve enjoyed experiencing these “firsts” with Madeleine and I have to confess that my child’s given me a new eye for nature in my everyday world. Just yesterday I was walking to the subway from work and saw a rose bush growing in front of an apartment, pink blooms decadently spilling onto the sidewalk. “Look! Flowers! Smell! Pretty!” I said to my friend walking with me.

She eyed me askance. “ I understand complete sentences, you know, Jen,” she said. But I wasn’t listening – I was busy smelling the roses.


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