A friend of mine told me a story about sitting on his front steps on a summer evening many years ago. His two-year-old daughter, clad only in a diaper after her evening bath, sat next to him on the warm bricks. The little girl was staring intently at one of two small magnolia trees in the front yard; her gaze locked on one before moving to the other then back to the first. This pattern continued for a full 2-3 minutes. My friend knew her little mind was churning with curiosity and discovery so he waited to see what would result.
“Daddy,” she whispered, finally, while tapping him on the arm, “Trees only have one leg.”
Through the prism of purity, it’s amazing what we can all discover. Trees do only have one leg! But it takes a child or an adult that has reclaimed that “child within” to make such an observation. It takes looking at the world a little differently. Or going back to the way you viewed the world when you were only knee-high to a grasshopper.
If you’re a parent of school-aged children, no doubt your kids have headed back to the classroom, or soon will. (My daughter started fifth-grade and my little guy started third-grade last week.) Supplies have been bought, along with new shoes and first-day-of-school outfits, and some kids will become bus-riders or enter a new school for the first time. As much as the little ones groan when the gut-punch of back-to-school advertising hits and summer vacation ends, they generally harbor a sense of adventure and excitement under all that whininess when it’s time to climb back in the saddle and see if “the next grade” truly is tougher than the last.
What will my homeroom teacher be like?
Who will I sit next to?
Will there be any new kids in my class?
Where’s the boys’ or girls’ room, and the water fountain and the lunchroom, and how long do we have for lunch, anyway?
Where will our field trips take us?
When do I get to go to the playground?
And what will I get to do that’s new and different?
These are all important questions and priorities that emerge from youthful curiosity and wonderment as they ready for the next challenge. And by and large, they generally always are ready for the next challenge. Bring it on!
I can’t help but wonder myself: Why can’t we, as adults, stride confidently into new situations with that same thirst for knowledge, sense of adventure, and desire to discover that our kids have? In so many ways, the ones we work so hard to protect are actually quite fearless. Or, perhaps more appropriately, why can’t we choose to try out a new prism and see if the seemingly familiar world around us can actually be viewed differently?
It’s all about perspective.
How else do you explain young ones singing joyfully at the top of their lungs in the Kids’ Chorus (even if they can’t carry a tune in a sturdy bucket)? Or the cute, little pig-tailed girl happily lugging a trombone case half her size to the bus stop each morning? Or kids that grab Crayons or paint brushes and create stick-figure artwork of family and friends and beam like mini-Michelangelos when their masterpiece is posted on the ‘fridge.
We’re all born great artists, and poets, and dancers, and singers, and sculptors, and actors, and musicians. It’s only later in the life that we discover we’re probably only good (perhaps great) at one or two of those disciplines and nobody gets the full package. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still pursue activities that we may not excel at but can still turn to for pure pleasure. It’s quite OK to have some fun along the way … because that “way” is not endless.
Stop and Watch the Ants
Parenting experts encourage adults to be slow and deliberate when taking young children for a stroll. They recommend allowing time and opportunity for exploration and learning. Physically, the little ones are closer to the ground, their eyesight is sharp, their mind open, and they want to stop and see what those ants are building, or collect those colorful leaves, or imagine what type of exotic animal left that paw print that looks amazingly like the yappy chihuahua’s next door.
This is important because, unlike most of us adults, they’re still in discovery and exploration mode. They want to learn. They’re curious. They wonder. And, perhaps most importantly, they allow themselves to be fascinated by the world around them, including other people. And just as you give them the time to satisfy their curiosity and wonderment, you need to do the same for yourself.
Yes, you have deadlines approaching. Yes, money is tight. Yes, your spouse was a bit of a crank this morning. Yes, traffic sucked today, just as it did yesterday. And, yes, you work for an overly demanding boss, or with some co-workers who spend more time protecting turf than they do being productive. You may think you already have too much on your plate and that it’s too late to do something new and different – that you can’t teach the proverbial “old dog” new tricks – but I call BS on all that.
There are 1,440 minutes in one 24-hour day. Surely, we can spare a few of those minutes each day to turn back time and feel the wonder and excitement that simple things like toys in cereal boxes or catching fireflies at night brought us all. Five or 10 minutes spent joyfully can probably offset the toughest of days at the office. But you must be open to allowing …
If you learn one thing this “school year”, let it be that the playground is always, always open.
Make a point each day to carve 5-10 minutes from your busy schedule to look, observe and learn. That brief return to wonder and curiosity can renew your spirit!