A Walk With Jaycie

by Robin Mitzcavitch, Director of Religious Exploration & Education

Spring is my favorite season. It’s Jaycie’s too.

Within moments of arrival at my house, Jaycie says, “Come on-let’s take a walk.” 

She’s almost four, and she brings so much joy to my husband and me. Sometimes we go back and forth over whether she really needs her coat, but soon we’re out the door. She loves to be in the middle, swinging between both of our hands.

Often when Jaycie and I are alone, she prefers the walking “yard tour,” where she craves the familiar routine of visiting important “sites”. This spring has been especially wonderful, as she is older, and has more questions, and loves to listen to my stories. She adores flowers, but also wants to lift rocks to discover bugs. Her favorite is a centipede because she finds it hilarious when I say, “Ewwww!”

And the trees, as they sway in the wind… she wants to know them. She studies the buds and her Uncle “Gaga’s” cherry tree, the first tree to blossom into beauty. It is so tall. I tell her the story of how I planted it 28 years ago. It was just a small stick that I had to protect, and it grew and grew like my son Alex did. He ran around it and he played soccer and baseball with his friends in the yard near it, and one time, his friend Cody peeled bark off of it, and I told him not too because it hurt the tree.  

“The tree can get a boo-boo,” announces Jaycie. She’s right. Sometimes, children know better than adults about the things that live and breathe around them. “Why? Why did Gaga’s friend hurt the bark?”

He didn’t mean to. Often people don’t know how their actions can impact the earth. I never knew all the things. How can we? But we can walk and we can learn.

We move across the yard along the stone wall, the property line, which is like an apartment building for chipmunks and others, their heads popping out here and there, warranting squeals of delight from my little co-journeyer. 

One time, my husband lifted a larger rock for Jaycie to peer under, and they discovered a garter snake. She called it a “garden” snake, like we all did when we were little, before we knew better, before we knew what a garter was. There are so many words to learn when you’re almost four.

Jaycie can say the word “forsythia”, which I don’t think I could say properly until I was forty. She recognizes forsythia bushes, she says they make the day look beautiful. Oh Jaycie, my darling, I agree. They are the promise of spring, their golden yellow is the invitation for us all to bloom. She picks a dandelion and pulls off the tightly clustered petals, “I love you, I love you, I don’t love you, no, I love you.”

Mommy’s tree has buds, but no leaves yet. It’s a Dogwood, and I planted it, like Gaga’s, as a tiny stick, when my daughter was born. It’s hard to imagine that it was thirty years ago. It’s a bendy tree with a few lower limbs, so it became a climbing tree in its later years. Jaycie wants to be in that tree. It’s her Mommy’s, so I lift her. She gets a tiny scratch, but it’s ok, because “it’s Mommy’s tree and it didn’t mean it”. Her delicate arms hug a branch, she smiles down on me, and I know true happiness in that moment.

She looks into a hole in the lawn, wondering who lives there. We think maybe it’s the chipmunks’ hole. They seem to appear all over the place in our yard. They scurry, tail up like a sail, from the holes, to their stone wall apartments, to the front gardens where they dig and dig. Jaycie pretends to dig like a chipmunk, her bare hands flinging dirt.

We both especially enjoy watching the birds, she gravitates to the cardinals, just like me, or because of me. I tell her that the red one over there is probably my mother. Once she asked why. 

“I believe that when people and animals die, they don’t disappear entirely, but move into the world, the universe, the wind, the tree, or the bird.”

“To the clouds?” Jaycie asks.

“Yes, there too.”

She gets it; I don’t know quite how.

When it’s rainy, she also wants to walk. I say, “But it’s rainy!”

“I love rain.”

“You love puddles!”

She has such a little devilish grin.

Brianna, Jimmy, and Jaycie are moving to California in a week. My heart is already missing our yard walks.

In their backyard is the small Japanese Maple that Jaycie’s great grandparents gave her for her 3rd birthday. I want to dig it up and we do. We plant it in our yard with Jaycie’s help. It has its own perfect spot in between her mother’s and her uncle’s trees.

Jaycie’s tree will grow here as she grows over there, across the country. We’ll watch from afar, over Facetime and Zoom. We’ll hold hands only after occasional airplane trips. The ways we will have to visit seem so antithetical to nature, so opposite of our yard walks. But as humans do, we will survive. We’ll create the new normal, and learn to cherish these budding, new experiences all the same.