Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Day My Kids Taught Me to Stop and Pick the Flowers

“Come on, boys,” I scolded, exasperated as their tiny toddler feet wandered off into the weeds for what felt like the hundredth time in the last five minutes. “Keep moving, and stay on the path, or we’re never going to get to the end.”

We’d set out on a family walk at a local park, and my twin boys kept darting off the designated path to pick flowers—most of which were actually weeds—effectively turning our “walk” into more of a “stand around in a puddle of my own sweat while the kids get dirty, itchy, and bug-bitten” situation. No matter how much I insisted that they stick to the route we’d set out upon, they refused to cease their floral-driven detours.

As I stood there, squinting in the harshness of the July Texas sun, I became increasingly frustrated with their apparent distraction. As the mosquitoes descended upon my ankles like ants on a sugar cube, I finally decided I’d had enough. I ventured off the path myself, and, grabbing my eldest just below his pointy little elbow, half-dragged his kicking body back onto the trail.

When I released his skinny forearm from the grasp of my hand, he replaced it with a hodgepodge bouquet of flowers, weeds, and (based on the sudden itching sensation in my palm) a few more mosquitos.

The sweet simplicity of the gesture made me pause, and, for a moment, I stopped clawing at the burgeoning bug bites that were making my knuckles double in size.

I moved my eyes from the tangle of wildlife in my hands to the tangle of his blond curls, slightly damp and glowing in the afternoon sun. They framed a face that was also glowing—not only with the light beating down from above us, but also with the pure, unadulterated pride of a toddler.

I felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the 100 degree heat index.

After that, I let my boys wander to their little hearts’ content. And I started watching them. Really watching them.

I watched them sprint through the weeds, the tall grass tickling their kneecaps, staining the bottoms of their shoes as they raced each other to a far-off flower, their faces blooming even more beautifully than the object of their quest.

I watched their tiny fingers meticulously pinch off the stem of a dandelion, just below the blossom, and listened to the awe in their voices as they excitedly christened it their “Big Yeh-Yo Flower.”

I watched their knobby knees press into the earth as they knelt down to uproot weeds, and I saw them grin at me as they looked at their blackened legs and proclaimed, “Big mess!”

I watched them study tiny white buds as though they were as rare, delicate, and valuable as diamonds, the paleness of the alabaster petals standing out against the bright pink of their flushed cheeks.

I watched them toss dirt in one another’s hair as though it were pixie dust, laughing with that magical laugh that is born exclusively between the lips of a child.

I watched them hold a tiny blossom to their delicate nostrils, and grimace upon discovering that flowers don’t taste as good as they smell.

I watched them fight over something as simple as a dandelion, as if the color of its petals were actual gold, not just the pigmentation of a flowering weed.

And as I watched them, I came to the sudden realization that—despite the fact that I’ve had more “experience” with it—sometimes my kids know more about life than I do. They know how to pause and enjoy a moment. They recognize the opportunity for discovery around them. They know that the most important thing is not always “staying the course” or “moving forward.”

Sometimes the most important—the most beautiful—thing is taking a moment to stop and pick the flowers.

As my sons ran up to either side of me, each taking one of my hands in theirs, I took a moment to revel in the smallness of those hands, in their softness, in the slightly sticky combination of sweat and dandelion juice that coated their skin. I thought back to my earlier words: “Keep moving, and stay on the path, or we’re never going to get to the end.”

Sadly, that’s the way most adults think today, isn’t it? Stay focused. Set a goal, and work towards it. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted.

How often have I ignored the beauty right in front of me in order to “stay the course?”

I’m so desperate to get the kids to bed on time that I deny their request for “one more story,” and I miss out on the feeling of their tiny bodies curled up in my lap like kittens, as they point to pictures and read along with me (even if their “reading” is really just memorization from having heard the book a million times).

I’m so anxious to get them through dinner and into the bathtub that I don’t take the time to laugh as they stuff their cheeks with strawberries, scurrying around the kitchen like little blonde chipmunks.

I’m in such a hurry to get them dressed that I don’t oblige their request to put their own socks on—knowing it will take ten times longer than if I do it—and I deprive myself of the chance to hug them as they grin at their accomplishment, squeezing them close to me and whispering, “Good job! I’m so proud of you!” in their ears.

I’m well-acquainted with the cliché, “stop and smell the roses.” But sometimes—as my kids reminded me that day—we need to do more. Sometimes smelling the flowers isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to grab them while they’re still within our reach. Sometimes we need to pull them up by the roots, clutch them close to our hearts, and then hand them to someone else. Sometimes we need to take all that life has to offer and share it with those we love.

Yes, sometimes we need to just stop and pick the flowers.

And if they turn out to be weeds? Well, all the better: It only reminds us that there is beauty in everything, even in places we wouldn’t normally bother to look.

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