I always believed I’d have a girl. A little mini-me in pigtails and polka dots, fancy shoes and frilly tutus. We’d bond over all things girlie: hair brushing, nail painting, craft making, cookie baking. But I’d also teach her that sweetness can be strong. She’d learn how to smack a tennis ball, when to speak her mind, how to fish while looking fabulous, how to choose which guy was right. I had all the life lessons lined up in my mind. Waiting for the day that “Chloe” arrived. But fate had something else in mind.
Princess pipe dreams up in smoke…and in their place, dirty toilets, tackles and tears, tiny hands meticulously dismantling every door hinge and futile attempt at haute décor.Despite the lack of a little girl bestie, I look at my boys and couldn’t possibly imagine loving anyone or anything more. There are different life lessons for them, and they’re sponges, soaking up answers and knowledge—and everything really— with rabid curiosity. Yet what amazes me most is not what they can learn from me, but how much I learn from them.
With age comes a certain kind of wisdom…book smarts, even street smarts. But when I look at them, watch from afar, listen behind the door as they whisper under covers and sing in the bathroom, they teach me about the things that really matter. The things you forget then you become a “grown up,” when you put on your polished, professional face and wade into the weighty issues of life and work, politics and the so-called pursuit of happiness.
Magic Powers and Mash-ups
Last summer, we took a family trip to six flags great america. I'll just go on record to say that amusement parks aren’t exactly my thing, but the boys were brimming with excitement so I took one for the team, surrendering to the snaking lines and sweltering heat, muffin tops and fashion emergencies. After all, it was only a day, and there would be funnel cakes, so hey, I’d survive.
Inside the gates, we were welcomed by the massive, double decker carousel. We picked out our magical painted ponies and went for a spin. With each revolution, I felt…lighter. I looked at their faces: bright, beaming grins. Hands petting the horses’ manes as if they were real, racing like the wind toward an imaginary finish line.
Windblown and wistful, we scanned the map for our next destination. Bam! The log ride was my jam as a kid, and it was one of the few rides that could accommodate gigandor, the little speed demon, and two oldies whose rollercoaster riding days were long gone.
In order to get to logger’s run, you had to weave through the carnival game village. We sped up our pace to try and fend off the sensory assault: flashing lights, fluorescent colors, life-sized plushies, and shiny, happy people preying on poor gullible kids with dollars to burn and dreams of winning big.
We were almost in the clear, when the little one stopped dead in his tracks. His laser eyes fixated precisely on the target: a Superman cape. naturally, being a superhero, he had to have it.
“Daddy, I want that Superman cape.”
“Nope, come on buddy, we gotta get in line so we can go down that giant hill and get splashed! It’s going to be so fun!”
“Noooo. PLLLLEEEAAASSE!!! I can win that. I’m going to throw the baseball at those fuzzy guys and win.”
Stone face. Sheer determination. Not a molecule of doubt in his body.
Out of pity, guilt and the earnest desire to avoid a meltdown, daddy caved and pulled out his wallet. I mean, all of us wise folks know that the cute, fuzzy hair on the smiling clowns, goading young passers-by on, exists only to cover the gaping chasm between one target and the next. The poor little guy didn’t have a chance.
Ok. 5 dollars. 6 balls. Time to win the kid a cape. He’d let the boy toss a couple for good measure, then step in to save to day…
But the little man had other plans. His tiny hands grabbed a baseball.
Aim. Wind up. Toss. Miss.
The ball tore through the tufts of hair, hit the back wall, and plummeted like a lead balloon.
Aim. Wind up. Toss. Miss.
Aim. Wind up. Here we go again.
My husband started to sweat. He grabbed two balls to stop the impending catastrophe.
“Let me try, bud.”
Aim. Wind up. Toss. Miss. “Shit! I mean shoot!”
“NOW ME!” Bright-eyed. Rotal belief.
Aim. Wind up. Toss. HIT!!!
“DING! DING! DING! We have a winner!”
And just like that, our four-year-old boy wonder claimed what was rightfully his.
We were giddy…and in shock. Here we were, convinced he’d fail, sure that we’d have to swoop in, protect him from the disappointment, fill the inevitable void he’d experience by trying, then losing. And there he was, convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he’d emerge victorious. And he did.
That belief. In magic. In superpowers. In good trumping evil. That unwavering belief in himself.
It was awe-inspiring. I marvel at these boys and their xrays eyes. They see beneath the surface, beyond the solid lines and concrete objects. Rocks are magic amulets or heart-shaped tokens of their love. Dandelions are bouquets and wishes that come true. Legos and marbles and feathers and coins are a “circus exercise place with spinning rides” because duh, wouldn’t that be cool.
Their toy boxes are a disaster, and when they play, they dump the entire contents of mismatched game pieces, stuffed animals and fake food onto the floor. I flinch, and groan, and try to stifle the nagging and finger-wagging about cleaning up your room. And when I’m called back for the grand reveal, it’s always a delicious mash-up, an original masterpiece born straight from their imaginations—that looks nothing like the picture on the box.
They speak their own language. Make up their own rules. Believe they can do anything.
It made me ponder when exactly the moment is when we lose that in ourselves. When did self-doubt and cynicism stain our view of the world and what was possible? Was it the handslap you got when you dared to color outside the lines? Was it at school or a first job? Was it a trauma or tragedy? Or was it not a moment at all—but rather a slow and steady erosion of your sense of wonder?
You need only watch the news or step outside your door to find the world is a rough, harsh place. And rules and structure and boxes and cubes will be there to keep you in line. But these boys remind me to see the other side, to look for it.
They sink their teeth into donuts with the same gusto that they do life—without the accompanying guilt, self-consciousness or fear of what others will think. While we try to run from life, they run, full throttle, toward it. Faster than a speeding bullet, finding magic in moments and things that we miss.
It’s not just silly naivete’. It’s wisdom beyond their years. It’s the belief—no the absolute certainty—that everything’s gonna be alright.
It’s that feeling of swinging when your legs reach the peak. Zero gravity for a split second before you plunge back down. Or running full speed down a sand dune. Nothing but you and the air and your breath and your legs, pushing you forward with reckless abandon. No fear. No doubt. No purpose other than to feel the sand beneath your toes. It’s that place you’re transported to—familiar, safe, like home—when you sit with friends and talk in strange dialects and laugh until your sides hurt at the insane world, at each other, at yourself. It’s the thing we should hold onto when all roads lead to logic and reason. It’s laughter, lightness, letting go.
I teach. But these boys—and their wonder—remind me how much I have yet to un-learn.