I've got a new sidekick when it comes to morning chores.
I can't even utter the word "outside" unless I have her completely bundled. Otherwise, I'll be attempting to dress, shoe and bundle a baby squirming and wailing at the mudroom door, eager to break free from her indoor jail.
Some days, we can't even be bothered with shoes. I'm lucky if I can get a sweater over her head and a hat secured under her chin before she's pushing through the door.
She often brings her morning banana. I try not to think about where and how many times it is dropped. And what bits of dirt and whoknowswhat that cling to it. Or which animals she's offered a lick before taking another tiger-sized bite off the end.
Instead of lugging her on my hip, we've discovered the garden cart makes a pretty convenient way to trek back and forth to the chicken coop.
I put her on the concrete pad in front of the coop while I work.
She sits in the pile of chicken feed like it was a sandbox created just for her. The hens eye her cautiously, pecking around her, as she tries to feed them from her chubby palms. This must be why the hens follow her around so closely. They know she offers food.
I collect eggs, check on the babies, freshen up water, and throw clumps of soft, fresh green grass into their pen.
When we cross back over the little wooden bridge on the way home, she is thrilled by the water running under our feet. I'm amazed at her ability to perch on the very edge of the bridge, crouched down, babbling at the water. I miss that kind of flexibility and balance. She's telling me a lot of things about that little stream. I talk back to her like I understand every word.
Eventually, I convince her there's more to see on the other side of the bridge. But before she hits that slippery, muddy patch, I swoop her up and plop her back in our farmer's stroller.
Her favorite friend blocks our path with a croquet ball in her mouth. A leaf dangles from her lips. She's relentless.
If I'd let her, she'd stay out here all day. The only way I can coax her back inside is to bring the dog and a small furry kitten with me. She finally follows, waving goodbye to the crowd of animals gathered around her, like the queen of the animal kingdom.
I peel off layers, wipe her runny nose and notice her muddy sleeper-feet. And she's gone again. Disappearing into the belly of the house. Following the dog. Calling for her sisters. And I'm left to hang up sweaters, shove hats back in the basket and pry the barn boots from my feet.
The house feels warmer now than it did when we first set out this morning.
So does my heart.