Putting Cheese on the
It's a beautiful spring day. I'm listening to the burble of the
creek out back, and trying to identify some of the myriad of bird
calls coming from every direction. The mountains of western North
Carolina are magnificent this time of year. I'm attempting to
focus on the view outside of my window, but my mind is not cooperating.
It keeps returning to the image of my three-year old neighbor,
Katie, meticulously piling grated cheese on the back of her very
patient dog, Zella.
I was on the phone last week with Katie's mom, Tina, and in the
background I heard delighted peals of laughter. I asked Tina what
was going on, and she explained that Katie was amusing herself
with Zella and a packet of cheese. At the time, Tina was suffering
from a sinus infection, due to give birth to Katie's sister in
a few days, and was quite willing to have Katie amuse herself
while she took a break on the couch.
Wow, I thought - how do you *do* that? How do you manage to relax
when you have a toddler loose with a dog and a package of sticky
cheese? While I imagined trying to pull cheese out of matted dog
hair, Tina chuckled along with Katie.
When we hung up, I just sat back in my chair and shook my head.
I wondered how I had ever managed to raise two kids, two Cairn
terriers and one Shih Tzu without becoming completely neurotic.
Had I blanked out those times of mess and confusion? Did I unconsciously
create a more orderly past?
I believe that the answer is yes. And no.
My tolerance for certain kinds of messes was definitely limited.
When Tina told me about the day that she found Katie and her friend,
Savannah, sitting under the sycamore tree applying "dirt
make-up" with a feather, I grimaced. I knew that my reaction
would have been to head immediately for the bathtub, whereas Tina
realized that that particular afternoon had the potential to become
a special memory for Katie. She said that she never had seen her
so dirty, but the wash-up could come later.
I know now that this is true. The best moments of life can be
those unscripted hours of pure flow, where your reality and imagination
become one. Little kids know how to do that, and we do, too, except
when we forget.
As a mother, when you focus on the brown dirt rather than on the
beauty of imaginary make-up, you quickly shift into the world
of adult rules and regulations. You fear germ contamination and
unanticipated laundry-duty. You think of time schedules and potential
conflicts with those time schedules. You're everywhere but in
the moment you could be appreciating with your child.
And as a single parent, you can feel doubly burdened. This was
my experience, and if I had it to do over again, I would have
chosen to have more fun. I would have seen less dirt and more
make-up. I would've chosen to laugh at a cheese-layered dog.
We all know about 20-20 hindsight. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I
don't spend much time doing that anymore, but occasionally I will
think about how I might have handled things differently.
Maybe I could have found a little more humor in that morning when
my 5 year old daughter convinced her 3 year old brother to drink
a concoction of pickle juice and spices. Or when, just as I was
leaving for work, the school sent my son home to change clothes
because he was soaked from dancing in the rain.
I actually do remember my own magical moments from childhood:
taking a freshly laundered load of towels and spreading them over
patio furniture to make a tent city to hide in; transforming a
neighborhood parent's meticulously organized garage into a darkened
"spooky house"; removing a manhole cover to check out
what was under the street.
I'm sure that my own parents were not amused. But oh, did we
And now I'm endeavoring to re-learn that kind of spontaneous
fun by watching the masters do it. I'm finding that it's one thing
to value being in the moment, and another to be OK with the fact
that you might have to clean up the chihuahua afterwards. But
the trade-off is totally worth it.
Thank you, Tina and Katie, for reminding me how to be a kid again.
(And thank you to Katie's dad, Scott, for creating the new creekside
playground for all of us!)