Snowflake Wishes and Ladybug Dreams: Taking Back Childish Eyes

Two women weave unsteadily down the middle of the street.

A week or so ago, our six year-old was browsing one of our bookshelves, and came across a battered leather-bound volume. He pulled it out, and asked me, “What’s this?”
“It’s a journal I kept a long time ago.”
“Can I look at it?”
“Sure,” I say.

Two women weave unsteadily down the middle of the street, fat snowflakes spiraling down slowly from a low winter sky.

He soon loses interest in the journal, but I keep it out, and after the kids have gone to bed I skim through some of the entries. I come upon one from November 7, 1990. I was twenty years old.

             The scent of burning leaves brings me back to early autumn evenings, and I can see myself going home for dinner, or sitting on the screened-in porch inventing faces for our jack-o-lanterns. I suppose one of the most compelling, and perhaps most subtle and subconscious reasons we have children is for the vicarious pleasure they bring, the voyeuristic opportunity to stroll through our own past, to distill the best essence of childhood and bestow it upon our children. I think, I hope, I want to be a great father. It’s a common enough wish, I imagine, but it takes constant concentration and evaluation and a large dose of nostalgia to do it properly.

I think my 20-year-old self was on to something. Children do bring a lot of vicarious pleasure, and we do try our best to bestow the best essence of childhood upon them. But we forget the way we were, the way we experienced the world around us, and it does take constant concentration and and a healthy dose of nostalgia. We’re often weighed down by our own adult knowledge of the world’s ills, by our careers and our concerns and our sheer busyness. We rush through our daily lives  with blinders, racing to the next place, the new frustration.

Two women weave unsteadily down the middle of the street, fat snowflakes spiraling down slowly from a low winter sky. I’m making my way to the car, concerned about icy roads, the inevitable snow-slowed traffic, slush on my shoes. The women fizz with laughter, mouths agape as they lunge about.

In 2007, the Washington Post tried a little experiment. They had Joshua Bell – one of the finest classical violinists on the planet, a man who gets paid as much as $1000/minute to perform – play at the entrance to a Washington Metro station. He was playing on his $3.5 million Stradivarius violin. Almost nobody stopped to listen, and he collected $32.17 for his 45-minute performance. At one point a mother and her 3 year-old son walk by – the boy desperately wants to stop to listen, tugs at his mom’s hand to make her stay, twists around to get a look at the musician, but she’s in a rush to get to her job as an IT director for a federal agency, and yanks him away.

I watch my boys watch the world. The smallest things, things we probably wouldn’t even see and if we did wouldn’t really perceive – a ladybug on a leaf, twin shadows on a wall, the blur of lights through the raindrops on a car window – can bring them such wonder, such joy.

Two women weave unsteadily down the middle of the street, fat snowflakes spiraling down slowly from a low winter sky. I’m making my way to the car, concerned about icy roads, the inevitable snow-slowed traffic, slush on my shoes. The women fizz with laughter, mouths agape as they lunge about, trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues.

I slow down, and I smile. They had the right idea. We should all catch snowflakes on our tongues from time to time. And climb trees, and watch ladybugs, and stop to admire the halo around a snowy streetlamp. We all need to see the world through the eyes of a child occasionally, and find joy in the smallest, the most mundane, the most unexpected places.

The boys enthralled by a grasshopper, Corfu

The boys enthralled by a grasshopper, Corfu

9 thoughts on “Snowflake Wishes and Ladybug Dreams: Taking Back Childish Eyes

  1. Thank you this is a beautiful post. It made me think of ‘mindfulness’ and how adults spend a fortune on books and courses to live in the present moment more. You have shown that all they need to do is to stop and remember what it was like to be a child.. both methods make you smile more: only one you don’t have to pay for!

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  2. So very true. My son is quite the curious one, and of course there are times when I’m rushing him along, because really, how interesting is a street light or a crack on the sidewalk? Thankfully he’s pretty firm about not being rushed, reminding me that this is important business to him, and perhaps should be to me too.

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  3. Matt, as always, an eye-opening post… thanks!
    The following happened to me on Thursday morning: Emma and I are rushing to the kindergarten, with me half-awake and in my own world of work-related daily to-dos. Emma suddenly stops in the middle of the Szabadsag square and freezes. The below dialog ensues:
    ME: what’s wrong, let’s go, we’ll be late (to be read as ‘I’ll be late, again’)! EMMA: what are those sounds?
    ME: which sounds?
    EMMA: those sounds, from the trees.
    ME (uau, my kid listens to birds!): these are birds, let’s go!
    EMMA: How many birds are there?
    ME: don’t know, but we can try counting.
    EMMA: I know, there are 3 different sounds, thus 3 birds.
    ME: no way, let’s count!
    There were 3 different birds singing that morning, none of which I would have heard had it not been for my child! makes you wanter what we probably missed before they came along…

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