Walking to a country mailbox with a newly mobile toddler is a lesson..." /> Debbie Weingarten on PATIENCE AND THE AERODYNAMICS OF CATS - Mutha Magazine

On Balance

Published on May 24th, 2016 | by Debbie Weingarten



Walking to a country mailbox with a newly mobile toddler is a lesson in patience. The once-five-minute walk now takes twenty. There are important things to do, after all. He must squat to poke at an ant, lick the fence, stomp in a leftover monsoon puddle, climb carefully onto an old tractor implement, and collapse on the ground in a fit of disappointment because the rock he wants to throw at the dog is too heavy to pick up.

When we finally get the mail, my son wants to carry it under his arm, put envelopes on his head, and throw the seed catalogue on the ground. And when we finally make it back to the house, he wants to take his shoes off and put them back on again. He wants to dance to Macklemore and conduct bizarre yoga moves on the floor. He wants to push every button on the stereo while my back is turned.

When he knocks over the freshly folded laundry pile, and it cascades to the ground in a mess of cloth diapers, flannel shirts, and miniature socks, I coach myself through my own fit of exasperation. Patience, I say to myself, as I gather it all into a laundry basket. You have the rest of your life to be organized and efficient and well-rested.


I am a child of the Internet, an entrepreneuring adult. I fill my days with busyness and multitasking. In my constant state of self-employed stress, of financial woe, I struggle to embrace the practice of meandering. Of course, I understand it in theory—that it is a gift to watch my son stop to negotiate each hill; that it is a blessing to witness him stoop low in that curious way of toddlers. But the wandering grates against my conditioned desire for efficiency, and I have to fight the urge to scoop him up and carry him instead.

Around the house, the amaranth has erupted into a wild green mess, obscuring Tonka trucks, shovels, tricycles, action figures, the giant winter woodpile. The goats spend all day feasting on the prickliest of weeds and snoring in the shade, their round full bellies twitching off the flies. And I, in my signature overalls and yesterday’s tank top, exist in a kind of sleep-deprived, early parenthood stupor. The days and the nights blur together—my nursling son is forever glued to my hip or my breasts, leaving moon-shaped fingernail marks in rows along my chest.

There is a monotonous rigor to summer on a vegetable farm: cucumbers, summer squash, and beans need to be picked every other day. If a bed gets skipped accidentally, we end up with summer squash big enough to hit a baseball with and cucumbers too large and bitter to use. The work is endless, as is the guilt I feel for being mediocre at farming and writing and mothering and being a friend, all because I am trying to do it simultaneously on virtually zero sleep. I am a puppet, pulled in ten directions, coming apart at the heart.


My son appears sturdy and balanced—still so ergonomically correct—as he bends to inspect the intricacies of a gopher hole. I have a thousand other things I need to do, but instead I try to channel the spandex lady in my prenatal yoga DVD, to meditate on this moment and imprint it into my mind—the way my son’s hair shifts forward as he bends, catching the sun; his baby pink mouth exposing a toothy grin; his attention redirecting entirely to the bug scuttling loudly along the edge of the brick wall.

I could learn some things from my son—slowness, for one; spontaneity; the boldness to express myself authentically, even in socially unacceptable places like the grocery store. All day long, he emits bursts of unbridled emotion: he is first angry, then gleeful, at times defeated. He is astounded by the aerodynamics of the cat. He is too exhausted to think clearly, so he screams instead.

On another walk, this time at night, the stars are pinpricks and the moon hangs in a giant ball in the sky. Between the toads calling out and the electric buzzing of summer insects, my son settles against my chest. He smells like dirt and applesauce. Through the dark, I nuzzle the soft white of his baby neck. We listen to the palo verde beetles, their feet tip-toeing through the weeds. From the hillside, a coyote yips. Then another and another, and I cross my fingers for the safe passages of yellow-eyed rodents.


We tilt our heads up. A sky full of country stars is the very thing of expansiveness—of infinite possibilities, of perspective. Now in my thirties, it feels cliche to look up at the sky and realize profoundly—yet again—how very small I am. But tonight is different. My son points, says Mama in a soft voice, pulls gently at the string of my hoodie. His eyes are round globes. I watch as he takes it all in for the first time—the glittering black sky, the entirety of the Big Dipper—his brain making new connections that light up the dark.

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About the Author

Debbie Weingarten is a writer and single mom based in Tucson, Arizona and a fellow at Community Change. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesGuernica, The Guardian, Longreads, and Vela, among many other outlets, including the Best of Food Writing 2016 and 2017 anthologies. She was the nonfiction winner of the 2017 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, a 2017 Best of the Net nonfiction winner, and received Honorable Mention for the National Press Foundation’s 2017 Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting. She is nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award for Investigative Reporting.

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