May 15, 2001

"Children are very good at pulling you into the moment,
if you will let them."

I watched a mother I know play with her two year old son, trying to wear him out so he would sleep when she took him downstairs to his bedroom. He lay back on a huge, floppy stuffed lion, commanded "onetwothree," then squirmed and giggled as his mother blew on his side, tickling him with her hair. Evidently, "onetwothree" was inadvertent education. His parents used it as a drumroll when playing games with him. "Get ready..." Now, the child says it back, onetwothree, make me laugh, onetwothree, play with me.

His joy was infectious, and I giggled as I watched them. And I wondered what kind of toddler I had been. Had I ever been that wide-eyed, that split with laughter, that innocent? I suppose I must have been, but I don't remember it. For reasons miscellaneous and sundry, I turned my back on childhood early, hurrying toward "grown up" just as fast as my child-legs could carry me. Mom says I demanded to ride the school bus to my very first day of school; I told my first grade teachers to call me by my full name, not my nickname. I wanted my dresses long, like Mom's. I wanted to stay up late. I seem to remember leaving off play and silliness when I was young, and looking down on my sixth grade classmates for their lack of maturity.

Was it worth it? In my rush to grow up, what did I abandon? I worry about the future almost constantly and have an extraordinarily difficult time simply enjoying the now. I make lists and plan my days; if I could put together a five-year plan for my life, I probably would, even though experience has already taught me such efforts are generally useless.

It seems the one thing I have managed to hold onto in my hurry is a wonder at the natural world. I can sit at my desk, pen in hand, and spend small eternities making idle ink smears on the page while I stare at the purple violas outside. I marvel at the richness of their color, the petals that look like velvet, the rippled leaves, the pointed buds, the star shape left behind when the seed pod pours its contents to the soil.

It's a simple joy, this wonder at my flowers. But it's so rare, considering the heft and weave of the rest of my life. Did I once have more of it? If I knew what hurrying off to maturity would cost me, would I do it again?

A week or so ago, I passed a street performer outside the Virgin Mega Store. Spread around him, a fantastic collection of buckets and pails, pots and pans, all different sizes, all different materials, all upside down. The man looked a little run down by life, but as he beat a rhythm on his improvised drum collection, he had to have been the happiest person I'd seen in ages. A child approached, slipping a dollar in the gentlemen's tip bucket, and I thought the man's face would split as his smile became even wider, even brighter.

This was a man, all grown up, simply thrumming with wonder and joy. In at that moment, he was the most alive person present. If he could have given off light, he would have bathed the gathering crowd in bright yellows and pinks.

Onetwothree, let there be wonder, onetwothree, let there be joy.