Le blé en herbe

"I’ll shake the bees
from the thyme-heads for you,
and gather mint."
-Hilda Doolittle, American poet

Since the first day we had Flynn at home, I've been working on a morning ritual. After her breakfast bottle (which she chugs like a thirsty frat boy at the keg), and after her four standard hearty burps, we go outside to sit on the garden rail and smell the herbs. I started with mint, figuring it for the sweetest and most beguiling. I would tear off a sprig and sniff it myself, then wave it in front of her nose. Then I'd crush a leaf or two between my hands and pass them under her chin, letting the fragrance rise up over her damp and sticky face.
At first, she couldn't have cared less. The poor kid was jetlagged, getting no more than 3-4 hours of sleep a night, and don't forget she's not a morning person to begin with. To top it all off, she'd come home with a kickin' sinus infection. I had no real concept of how much she could smell, between her cleft and the tortured sinuses.
But here's the thing: herbs and spices are a big deal in my family. My mom is half French, and I was raised spending a portion of every year in the fragrant garrigues of Provence, where every footstep out-of-doors raises the warm, mingled odor of thyme, rosemary, lavender and sun-warmed limestone.
My father was Mexican-American, and also a terrific cook... his standard cuisine dealing heavily in turmeric, saffron, pumkin seed and a variety of pulverized chilies.
And then there's my husband, the former chef, whose tastes run the gamut of every exotic cuisine known to man, with a spice rack to match.
Herbs - the smell and taste of herbs - have been an essential part of my life from the get-go. And of course, when it comes to memory, smell is the most vital of the senses. As a beginner parent, I deal in memories. Every day, I am weaving the tapestry of memories that Flynn will carry with her throughout her lifetime.
So, I'm covering my bases: I'm starting early with the herbs.

After a few days, I moved on from mint to thyme...a scent for a slightly more mature palate.
Two weeks in, free of her sinus infection and beginning to lose her institutional hobbles, QQ is beginning to warm to my ritual. This morning, I noticed her watching my hammed-up example with unprecedented eagerness, widening her eyes, holding her breath and jiggling her hands a little in anticipation as I raised the first sprig of chocolate mint to my nose and inhaled with elaborate theater. (OK, so maybe I'm overplaying it a little...but toddlers can be a tough crowd!) A slow smile spread over her face, and before I was done, she was actually reaching for my wrist, hastening the hand-off.
When I passed her the sprig, instead of looking at it as if I'd just handed her a cold herring, she pinched it in two fingers, waved it under her nose like an oenophile sniffing a glass of good
Pouilly -Fuissé, and inhaled deeply, closing her eyes a little and throwing back her head.
Now, folks, I repeat: I don't know whether she can really smell this or not. She may be just learning to imitate, and doing a bang-up job of mimicking her mom.
Either way, though... she makes me proud!

And there's her zen face - total herb-induced contentment.

...Of course, like I said, morning isn't her best time. Once through with the herb garden ritual, she quickly loses interest in the great outdoors, pulling apathetically at a few blades of grass before making her true feelings known.

OK, you're pushing it mom. The herbs are nice, but I'm just not in the mood for weeding. Look at these brimming eyes. You're treading a fine line, here.

Oh, yeah. I'm about ten seconds from critical meltdown. You're playing with fire.

The horror. THE HORROR!!!!

(OK, I guess the zucchini patch was too much for her. And who can really blame the girl? We've all experienced the mixed blessing of a bumper zucchini crop, and wondered just how far garlic and olive oil really go...but I digress. Don't worry, I didn't torture her with the garden for more than fifteen minutes. Then we went inside and stared despondently at a pack of Chinese vocabulary cards until it was time for lunch. By afternoon, she was in a much better mood and thoroughly enjoyed our marathon trip to Tar-jay, in spite of the fact that she had drenched herself from head to toe in apple juice during the ten-minute drive from Berkeley Park over to Kipling.
Me, if I were soaking-wet, malodorous, and forced to sit in a basket full of powdered rice cereal, printer cartridges and family-sized packs of toilet paper, I might get a little cranky after the first 30 minutes or so. But apparently, even soaking wet, any change of scenery makes QQ a happy girl!)


Stefanie said...

How I LOVE the way you write! And what a joy it is to see Flynn at home, finally, and seeming to settle in to a wonderful routine. She is such a beauty, even teary eyed amongst the zucchini!

Juliette said...

Lovely morning ritual...I think you're right to start early with these beautiful smells and building these memories.
It seems you both are finding a great routine together. And Miss QiuQiu is a happy trooper almost every where (forget about the zucchini :-))
The party for Flynn looked great and the cake really yummy indeed!
Have a wonderful week!

Brynn said...

lovely ritual. funny post. we have a less than eager morning person over here, too. maybe we need to reinvent our morning ritual. we can never get past, "My body wants to be awake, but I don't. What should I dooooo?"

Tish said...

just catching up on your posts and wanted to say how much i loved your "keeping it real" post. it is a big challenge to float between the old life and the new life...and to not let yourself be overtaken with guilt because of the times when you miss and crave the independence and freedom of your days pre-motherhood. i think our year of sleep deprivation has definitely been a factor in this issue for me. i hope you are completely healed and well very soon!

Yoli said...

Of course she is happy being taken from place to place. She is the Wanderer's Daughter.

This is a beautiful post. I had not given thought to the smells that my children encounter. Here we wake up to Dad's American coffee and Mom's Cuban expresso. She bathes before going to bed with lavendar bath soap and gets her violet cologne applied. This has been her smells since the beginning. Thank you for this post, you made me stop and think what will remind my children of their parents.

I love the hand to the face that Flynn does. Makes me want to pick her up and kiss her whole face.

MotherMotherOcean said...

That is a very nice ritual. You really should read "Heaven on Earth." It talks about having rituals and rhythms in your day. You would like it.

kris said...

what a beautiful ritual Maia- I love that it's something that you 2 do together, and that she is so into it now :) And that hand on the cheek ALWAYS gets me!

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

It is like she has been with you forever... Miss Flynn is so precious...
Thought of you when we were in CO... fun, fun, fun... take care

Cavatica said...

I bet she will have strong early memories because of all the smells.

Tamara said...

Start her early on the sensory and future culinary pleasures I say.

I am with Flynn on the zucchini, it overwhelms me too in the garden. I wait until I go inside to cry about it though. :)

Vivian M said...

For us it's the smell of the basil plant Kerri planted this spring. It is so fragrant, and we love checking it's growth and smelling it's perfume every morning (and I am putting it in every dish I can!).
By the way, that last "horror" picture just cracked me up! She is definately not camera shy!