Reuniting with Awe
My daughter is on the brink of everything.
She’s just started walking. She toddles towards the waist-high, wooden gate near our home and opens it. She walks a few steps out, visibly bouncing with the delight of freedom, then quickly swivels around to make sure that I’m following. She’s just started talking. She looked up at the moon on Sunday and pointed. I said “moon,” not expecting anything, and then she said “moon” like it was the most natural thing in the world. She’s just starting to use a spoon, all on her own. Last night she scooped haphazard little bits of cottage cheese into her mouth and then clapped for herself between each and every bite.
I’m learning so much from watching her. About being proud. About noticing. About all the senses that I take for granted. She was in the bathtub the other day splashing around when all of the sudden she froze, brought one tiny pointer finger to her lips, and said, “Dog.” Amid all the urban chaos, she heard her very favorite creature — a dog — making itself known. She makes me feel like I’m probably accessing only a quarter of the sensory experience available to me on a regular basis.
I’m also learning about awe. The other day I brought her over to this obscenely beautiful jasmine vine that has grown bushy and fragrant near our mailboxes. I picked her up and we put our noses right up to the petite white flowers and took in the scent. Then I set her down and she walked over to a jade plant that some neighbors and I recently migrated to a bigger pot, leaned over, and took a big, satisfied whiff. Jade plants, of course, are many things, but they are not fragrant. And yet, if you’d seen her there — neck craned, eyes closed — you would have assumed that she was smelling the most potent thing in the world.
Maybe she doesn’t really get what smell is yet. But after I let out a surprised giggle, I realized that there was something so moving about a little human smelling a jade plant. She has no reason not to expect it to smell wonderful. She has no reason not to expect everything to be wonderful.
Part of becoming an adult is learning how to lower your expectations — of your loved ones, of yourself, of particularly charged moments (Your wedding day! New Year’s Eve! That long-awaited vacation!). There’s such wisdom in that. As I have written before in this space, I am constantly working on my friend Arnold’s advice to “expect less and love more.”
And yet, the paradox is that there’s something that sort of transcends maturity about being open to the potential pleasure of every single moment. Maya is free of specific expectations, so she approaches the world with only one giant, indiscriminate expectation: delight me.
Keys go in mailboxes and miniature doors open to reveal pieces of paper inside, left there by a friendly person in a funny outfit? Fascinating! Dominoes can be sorted into various sizes of beautifully colored baskets in whichever way I want? Sign me up! Lotion is a white substance that comes out of a metal tube and you can rub it on someone’s hand and it disappears and they feel soft? Holy moly!
The mundane becomes miraculous through the eyes of my 16-month-old daughter. She’s rarely disappointed, and when she is, she simply moves on to the next miracle waiting in a kitchen drawer or nestled in the soil in the garden beds. As she marvels, I’m marveling anew. You know what? Lotion is kind of amazing when you pause to think about it. The postal system does sort of knock my socks off. And dominoes? They’re so pleasing when you hold them in your hand — the cold weight of them, those little black indented dots. We’ve discovered they spin on the concrete floor and make a great noise when Papa propels them from his mouth across the room.
Before Maya was born, I once asked my husband, John, what he was most excited about and he surprised me by answering, “I can’t wait to take slow walks with her.” This is a guy who runs marathons and prides himself on responding to emails at lightning speed. He doesn’t do slow.
But he already knew that part of the gift of having a child is rediscovering discovery, of reuniting with awe. It’s perhaps my second favorite part of parenting, second only to the slow, mind-blowing, heartsploding reveal of who our tiniest teacher is.
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