When do we stop being able to appreciate the simple pleasures in life? Is it when we go to school? Puberty? When get our first job? When we turn 18? I can’t remember when it happened to me, but somewhere along the twisted line that is my life, I lost the ability to find enjoyment in the things I see everyday. I forgot how to see beauty in the plainer things and excitement in the mundane. I am truly a child of my generation: I need to be entertained.
My son, on the other hand, has not reached the point in his life when his expectations and preconceptions have stifled his creativity. He still finds rocks and pocket lint as valuable as money or jewels, trees and clouds as beautiful as any art piece, and nothing is more interesting than his own private parts. These truly are the wonder years.
Sometimes I have to remind myself not to steer him away from this fleeting innocence.
My son had been begging, for us to take him to the swings in the park for days. It was October and the weather had been preventing us from leaving the house. So when we finally had a break in the rain, we took a family trip to the park so he could play. We slowly meandered down the path toward the playground, because despite the fact that toddlers seem to be running all the time, they never get anywhere very fast.
About halfway to the playground we passed a large gravel pit next to a baseball diamond. We must have walked past the pit a hundred times on previous walks and my son had never given it a second look. The only reason I remembered it was because the little stones were always getting stuck in my shoes. It was cold, grey, and uninviting. Or so I thought.
For whatever reason that day, my son decided that gravel pit was Disneyland.
He plopped down on his little diapered bottom and started digging in the rocks. Next he lay down on his back and, I’m not making this up, started doing little gravel angels. He didn’t even seem to mind the piles of rocks going down the back of his pants. His next diaper change was going to be pretty exciting.
I kept urging him to move on: explaining that we weren’t really out to play in the gravel. Didn’t he want to go to the playground? He just looked at me like I was a crazy person. And leave all this?
So we stayed. He played in that pile of dirty gravel, filled with cigarette butts, food wrappers, dirt and probably more dog pee than I wanted to think about, for over an hour. I realized that Disneyland coudn’t have been any more exciting to him in that moment than that pile of stones.
The look of sheer joy on his face was one of those rare and beautiful natural phenomena, like the Northern Lights, that no matter how much you plan you can never truly predict. It comes and goes of it’s own free will. You just have to be lucky enough to see it and smart enough to notice.
I’d been so focused on the fact that we never made it to the playground that I almost missed the fact that he was having the time of his life. After all, wasn’t that the point?
From that day on I saw that gravel pit with new eyes. It wasn’t just a filthy pile of rocks. Yes, it most definitely was filthy, but it was also the surface of a strange planet, a rocky quarry for cars, and a blanket of fluffy white snow, depending on who was looking at it.
Of course after an hour or so, my son started eating the rocks because, well, that’s what two-year-olds do. Capriciousness is another delightful virtue possessed by most toddlers. But something about the fleeting appeal of the gravel made that day even more special.