I recently watched a couple of young boys, probably around seven or eight, explore an area of a garden center unsupervised, and I suspect they also thought themselves alone. I was amused to observe them get excited over some plant specimens (succulents of course, weird and wonderful) as well as become totally distracted and unhinged at the sight of some bug. I smiled to myself as I remembered my same joy of discovery at the amazing world around me, and the same lack of discrimination as to what was worthy of notice and what wasn’t. It was not an unusual thought that came to my mind: how sad is the loss of the wonder of youth. My next thought was a congratulatory one: I’m so glad I haven’t lost my wonder. Only a few minutes later I was proving this point by collecting up some unusual pine cones that looked like old-fashioned cabbage roses and some spiky and strange seed pods, all the while wondering how I could use them in some creative way. I often stop to watch the humming bird feed, or to touch an interesting plant with an unusual texture or scent. While dead heading the cyclamen the other day I snipped a seed pod in half to see what it looked like inside, curious because I had never observed their fruit before.
Of course my musings on the wonder of youth led me to reflect that creative people always seem to retain some of that childlike amazement and curiosity at the world around us. I started to pat myself on the back, but then I had another thought: perhaps it’s not some innate specialness that allows us to retain our senses when others become smoothed to the world around them, like over-used sandpaper. Observe adults with children and you’ll see the smoothing away process in action often. For every parent that is encouraging their offspring in their explorations there are at least two others teaching their children fear and/or indifference. To be honest most parents belong in both categories. We tell our children what is important to pay attention to all the time with every little caution and gesture.
“Dad, what is this pretty flower?”
“I don’t know, it’s just a flower, now do up your shoelaces.”
“Mom, I like this squishy slug.”
“Ugh! Put that down, it’s dirty.”
Or better yet – just ignoring all the observations, questions, and wonder – or even better yet – criticizing, mocking, or laughing at the child for their pleasure at life’s wonders.
One of my personal favorites is misinformation. The largest dissemination of crap information is from parents to their children. It can be minor as in identifying an ape as a monkey, or it can be major as in stating that all people of a certain colored skin or sexual preference are inferior.
Of course I once failed to correct a couple of little boys as they made some wild assumptions: they were identifying some marks on the side of a ship docked in a harbor as being the result of ‘shark bites’. I loved that. That was not misinformation but a sign of the wonderful imagination that all human beings are born with. Seeing some places where the paint was missing from the hull down at the water line their young minds, still not trained to ignore or classify as uninteresting or useless, imagined huge Great Whites with gaping jaws full of sharp and horrifying teeth as the fish leapt up out of the water in a feeding frenzy.
Perhaps if you have found yourself rubbed too smooth to wonder at life any longer, too harried to pass on your own wonder to your kids? I present no answers here, but I hope to have fueled some thought that might lead you down a path of rediscovery, and maybe what you find there, on that yellow brick road, might rub off on your little ones.