Eating locally produced food means eating according to what is in season and preserving the bounty of the harvest when a crop ripens. I’ve been canning my own jam this year, and as each berry or fruit comes into season there is a rush to eat, freeze and can as much as possible before they’re gone. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it game: my friend didn’t go out to her farm the week before and missed all the rest of those golden plums. When we import food on airplanes from trees and farms around the world we forget about the fleeting nature of a fruit tree that ripens and is finished producing within the space of one or two weeks.
Children ripen and mature more slowly than plums on a tree, but the big developmental milestones happen in much the same way. An unripe fruit grows on the branch for weeks and months before suddenly ripening overnight. Beatrice wanted to walk while holding on to our fingers for a good two months before she took her first steps solo, but once she started walking she never looked back and had it mastered in a couple of weeks. Claire is standing at the threshold of language right now, using a hodgepodge of her own made up words, grunts and ASL signs to communicate with us. She obviously understands a good deal of what we are saying, despite lacking the skills to talk back. I can see the fruit of language hanging there on the branch, and I have a feeling that once she is able to figure out how to form words with her mouth she will add words to her vocabulary faster than I can keep track of them.
When Beatrice was a toddler I often looked forward to the next developmental stage, and I still catch myself doing it sometimes. “What fun we will have when she is reading!” I think to myself. Or, “I can’t wait till she is brushing her own teeth reliably.” What I didn’t appreciate during her toddler stage was just how short each phase is in the big picture, and how the achievement of a developmental milestone changes a child in a permanent way. The pre-talking child is still there beneath the surface of the child who has learned to master language, in the same way that adults are composites of their selves as children, teenagers and young adults. But once a child knows how to use words you don’t get to hear those not-quite-words again. The season for them has passed.
Now, instead of wishing my child and I on to the next developmental stage, I am making a conscious choice to savor the particular developments that are currently in season. These stages of almost speaking and almost reading are sweet and ephemeral. I am storing up these memories as my way of making baby-babble jam, preserving a small part of this golden summer.