“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” —Henry David Thoreau
My newly four-year-old Jonah has an adventurous spirit. In a past life he must have flown fighter planes or climbed mountains. He loves to go to new places and together we have already begun a sort of “bucket list” of adventures we can look forward to exploring together when the time is right. At the top of his list is visiting “the desert,” riding on a roller-coaster and going on an African Safari. He is also fascinated by space and imagines himself becoming an astronaut. Sometimes when I am lying in his bed with him—erroneously believing he is about to drift off to sleep—he will suddenly perk up and announce, “Mommy, do you know that it is really, really hard to get up into space? And did you know that the sun is very, very hot?” With a long-standing wanderlust of my own, I very much enjoy imagining the experiences to come. I try not to think of the many adventures he will choose to have without me.
It was with this curiosity, this need for exploration in mind that I decided recently to go outside of our normal routine and take my two boys to a community play space that we had never been to before. Clearly not Kenya, but still a little farther from our home than we would normally travel and unexpected, so exciting for Jonah. I felt excited too as we journeyed down the highway, glancing in the rear view mirror at two happy boys.
The play space was very “hip” feeling and very promising with it’s industrial frame, cafe with lattes on the menu and a wide variety of toys new to my boys. All three of us bibliophiles, we bee-lined for the book room. There was an old Walter Farley book, “Little Black Goes to the Circus,” that we read. I winced at the themes, the images that seemed so coarse now. Adrian—my littler guy—found a familiar book, “Mr. Brown Can Moo,” only this version had even more sounds to make than our smaller copy at home. We snuggled up. I felt at peace. I hadn’t eaten though and there was that cafe so we ordered some food next and the boys wandered off finding various other toys and children to play with. After a while I noticed another mother come in with her two children similar in age to mine. They settled into play at a large barn with many animal figures surrounding them. Jonah became interested in these new faces and in what they were playing and found his way to them.
In the meantime, I was sprawled out on a fluffy couch with Adrian where he was surrounding himself with cushioned blocks. I needed to stay near because I thought he might bounce right off if I left him. Jonah was not far and I could see that he was struggling. His horses were acting rough, like they were wild—a little too wild. I thought it might be a tip-off to his being tired, too much “travel and adventure” after a full morning of play at nursery school. Or maybe this was Jonah’s way of exploring the full range of how life can be. Jonah is well acquainted with the beautiful—the kind doctor and heroic life guard, the delicate nature of a flower petal, a sweet song. He seems now— as his 3T’s become high-waters—to want to complete that circle of knowledge. He is so interested in discovering and understanding the scary dragon now, the “mean guy.” Oh, how I wish I could keep him from ever wanting to know about the “mean guys” of the world.Sometimes when I give my boys a bath I will sit on the floor beside them reading as they play. Tonight though, bathing them before coming out to write, I curled up on a towel in front of the tub and emptied myself to them. I set aside my worries for what life could do to them. I set aside my fears for how I will handle it all. I even set aside my hopes and dreams for all of the beautiful ways in which the world will open up and allow them to unfold. I dedicated those moments instead to truly seeing them. I saw them outside of what I want them to do and or not do. I saw them for more than what I hope for them and fear for them. I saw them only as the incredibly beautiful and magical creatures in my midst that they are—new and fresh and oh-so-very-full-of-life. First I witnessed Adrian, reveling in a little time in the tub all by himself. It is rare for him—play without the directives of a bigger boy hovering over him—and he seemed so at peace. He spun three little wash cloths around with his still-tiny-hands and toyed with a baby duck sitting in an inner tube. When Jonah joined him, the water became less calm, but I observed how they moved about each other like a flock of birds flying in a v-formation, only rarely running into each other and causing a commotion. Then I saw Jonah. For a brief moment, the boy he is so very quickly becoming—older, more aware, less pure, decisive—was gone. Instead I saw him in a total state of purity, knowing that on some level this still remains. This still remains in all of us. I saw his rosy cheeks. I saw how earnestly he played with a little plastic monster, joyously squirting water from it’s mouth. I saw his body, so vulnerable still. Leaning forward I asked if he would like for the monster to sing a little song. He wasn’t sure at first but then suddenly, eagerly agreed and I took the monster and sung a silly song with a funny voice that I hadn’t done in a while. He remembered and his face absolutely lit up and he began to laugh. His laugh is contagious and his brother and I both began laughing too. There was no listening or not listening in that moment. There was no getting along or not getting along. There was no past or future. There was only bliss. Pure, simple, heart-warming bliss.