When my children were small I would tell them, “we are going on a scavenger hunt,” because they were busy and curious, and endlessly in need of being entertained, and we would set off, hunting for rocks or snails, or spiders, or stars in the sky up above. “Find me something strange,” I would say, and they would come running with bits of wood shaped like an ocean wave, or a rock the colors of the sunset, and we would practice hearing the earth beneath our feet, or listening to the sun, or tasting the blue sky like a fountain of shivering strands around us creating out of the quotidian crush a new view of the wonders of the world, and the stardust out of which it was shaped.
When my children were small we became students of the way the world is shaped by our presence in it, the waves we kicked up as we wandered along a beach at low tide, with the wind tangling through our hair and the sun dipping towards the horizon, of walking down a trail with no other intention than to experience the clear edged shine of the morning air as it danced along the rocks and pebbles in the path, glinting off bits of mica and quartz as we scooped them from their dusty bed and rolled them in the palms of our hands, to become familiar with the slick slip feel of water against skin and the sandy softness of packed dirt on feet and the scritch and scratch of grass prickling along palms and the thousands of other sensory experiences we found throughout our day as we wandered from meal to meal and lesson to lesson and bedtime to bedtime, writing lessons as we went.
When my children were small we would spend long hours and short days digging in the dirt to find earthworms and plant seeds, to sit still in the grass, to catch bugs in glass jars and watch the turn of the leaves in the wind. I was never more aware of the way a ladybug crawls hesitantly across my hand than when I was showing the small six-legged beetle off to my children, reveling in their wide eyes and grubby hands as they tried to count the black spots across its vivid red back before placing it gently on a stick or in the garden to wander along the squash and carrots and beans that were just sprouting in their untidy beds.
When my children were small time felt different—expansive and transient, fleeting and infinite, swift and sharp and full of the bits and pieces of questions and quests, the constant chatter of a day full of queries, and the quiet of naps, the yearning for adults to talk to, and the appreciation of the kind of odd and interesting conversation to be had with children who wonder about everything and anything, who see the world through a lens I do not remember from my own childhood and wish I could slip on for just a while—and although I don’t regret the growing older I mourn the pace and the patience and the perfect painted picture I have of the days when my children were small.
It has been a long time.
Years, really, have come and gone since my children were that small, and yet I can close my eyes and it is early evening on a warm spring day and the light is lasting longer and longer into the evening and the shouts of playing, laughing, running, shouting ring over everything with a bright shiver and dinner has been cleared away and the doors are open to the sight of neighbors walking past and bedtime is coming, soon, but not yet, and we sit, my husband and I, on the front step where we always planned to get a bench, but still have not, and watch our children tumble across the grass, all awkward arms and legs, not yet coordinated, not yet graceful in the way they have become with time and practice and experience, sitting on that front step, shoulders close together, as we talk of everything and nothing and nod to people passing by or wander across the road for a chat with friends before night presses in and small bodies are rushed inside towards bathtime and storytime and bedtime as silence settles in along the street.
Do you remember the feeling of being small, and noticing for perhaps the first time the way the world around you worked? Of marveling at the masterpiece of just breathing in and out, of the way your body was in harmony with all other living things? Of noticing the small, soft sounds of birds and bees in the summer and the feel of the sun on your skin? Do you remember the scent of your grandmother’s soap, the special bar you weren’t allowed to use, the one for guests, but that you would hold to your nose and smell, the floral scent of it lingering on your fingers all day? Do you remember curling under blankets on porches or backyards while adults talked late and you fell into sleep in the softness of twilight? Do you remember wonder?
Here is my favorite line by the poet and essayist e.e.cummings: “Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” That’s the crux of it for me, really. The ability to believe. To nurture is to believe in the coming of something greater—to plant a seed implies hope that the seed will sprout and something will grow, something larger than the tiny, shriveled speck with which you begin.
One day as I was driving to work I saw a couple planting a tree in their yard—an unremarkable event, except for the fact that the couple was old—much older than I am now, or even my parents, and I remember thinking what an act of faith it was to plant a tree they would never see grow.
But that’s what parenting is, isn’t it? To have children is to believe in the future, a future you may not experience, but hope they will. It is to believe that they will grow and learn and become something more than what you remember in the snapshots you can recollect from their childhood or your own. My children changed, irrevocably, the way I see the corner of the world that I inhabit—the importance I place on slowing down, on talking, on writing, on reaching out to things and people, on experiencing the moment, on hoping for tomorrow. I’m calling it seeing, but it feels like meditation. Like prayer. Like a devotion to something larger and grander than myself.
It feels like all those beautiful moments of hunting for wonder from when my children were small.