A few weekends ago, I took the kids up to visit my parents. It was a difficult five-hour drive. My little girl was unusually crabby and cried the whole time. She usually just hangs out and looks at books and sings. She cried because she missed seeing the police. She cried because she couldn’t see cows. I pointed out the window and said, “Look, horses!” She said she didn’t want to. Then she cried for 30 minutes because she missed seeing the horses. In the midst of her crying and O’s normal barrage of questions, my irritation growing, I looked out my window. In an instant, the irritation was gone. The sky was spectacular. It wasn’t quite a sunset, yet. The sun was veiled behind a patchwork of clouds, like little dabs of a paintbrush dotted across the sky. You could see the exact, perfect sphere of the sun burning behind the cloud curtain. The sky in Texas is so big and seems to go on forever and looking into its infinite vastness is somehow comforting and unsettling at the same time. I was thinking about how beautiful it was, and how miserable my kids were and wondering about how two things could exist at the same time. Then baby girl stopped crying and said, “Look mama! Look at the cwouds!” O said, “I need to take a picture!” He got out his camera his Auntie Em got him for Christmas and started snapping and angling his camera this way and that. My little one said, “But it’s not pink, mama, or orange. Just blue!” And O said, “I want to put those clouds in my pocket”.
We spent the next ten minutes trying to speed up or slow down to capture the perfect shot for him. Baby girl continued to giggle gleefully and point at the sky. As we rounded the curve into our home stretch, the clouds took their bow and began to slide away and the sun began its business of setting. And the sky exploded into color- fuchsia and orange and gold mingling into a swirly rose gold fire. I couldn’t stop looking at it, this majestic showing-off.
Looking at my kids’ faces in the rearview mirror, I felt that familiar glow of peace and joy and pain that marks these kind of moments- that it’s-so-beautiful-it-hurts kind of feeling. I was quiet and still, almost holding my breath so as not to disturb these creatures in the wild. One false move and the moment would slip away.
Like all parents, I think often of what I want my kids to know, of how I want to parent them, of what I hope I am teaching them. There are the typical things- to be kind, to be curious, to love deep and well, to find passion, to be bold. To be independent and stand up for themselves. Laugh a lot. Know it’s okay to cry. But there is this other, intangible thing I desperately wish for them to know. And it’s moments like this. I want them to be awed by the world. I want them to walk outside and have to stop and stand still because the sight of the moon in the night sky is just too overwhelming. I want them to really see the world, it’s beauty and it’s pain, the magic and the mess. And I have no idea how to teach that. There are no instruction books on how to fall in love with the wildness of the world.
So when it happens, I simply give a silent prayer of thanks. I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know if it’s something innate in them, I don’t know if all kids have it and lose it. I have no idea if they pick up on it from me. All that matters is that it happens, now and again, this stilling of the world. It lasted until the sunset finally burned itself out. Then we had a dance party, the exhilaration carrying us a bit further. Then baby girl started crying because it was too loud and she didn’t like that song and she wanted Cheetos. And O started his questions: “How many minutes to Gram and Pop’s? How many seconds are in a thousand minutes? Can you count to infinity? How many seconds are in infinity? Are there such thing as army ants?” The moment passed, slipping away into a memory. It was a terrible four and a half hour drive, with thirty minutes of magic. It was so worth it.