Joys of studying with a baby

I am sitting at my old wooden desk. Its surface is littered with a mess of things: flashcards, a notebook, a series of botanical illustrations. Pens, pencils. A black eraser. As I study, I find myself saying certain words out loud: xylem, I murmur. Phloem. Cork cambium. 

A baby's hand touches an adult's hand over study notes

My six-month-old daughter looks up from her highchair and babbles, a big smile on her face. Her two bottom teeth stick out of an otherwise toothless mouth. I smile back and repeat, cork cambium! She finds this inexplicably funny and giggles. I say to her, another word for cork cambium is phellogen and then I try and define the term for her. She looks at me seriously as she chews on a wooden toy. 

When she is quiet and calm, I like to tell her about what I’m learning. I find that reviewing terms and concepts out loud engages a different part of my brain than when I try and study in silence. I’d like to think that hearing a large variety of words is helping us both build our vocabularies. 

These days, my daughter is discovering the joys of screaming. She grins and yells and there are the times where I find it a challenge to write down a single sentence in my notes. I leave words half written. I read the same sentence twice, six times, ten. But I love the balance of being a mother and studying biology.

Outside, the sky is turning dusky blue. Three geese fly high overhead in a solitary line. I start to think of dinner. I look at my daughter, who has just started to eat solid foods. Pear sauce? I ask. I tell her that the gritty texture in pears comes from sclerenchyma cells. Sclerids, I say. Small, irregularly shaped cells with a thick secondary cell wall. She looks up at me as my brain tucks the definition away and my heart overflows.

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