We have a small vegetable garden outside our back door. It’s modest, but it’s hardy, and these early summer days filled with sunshine and rain are exactly the right mix of elements to grow that garden. The plants are growing fast, strong and hard. I think that if I could just sit and stare at it, if I could focus my eyes long enough hard enough, try not to blink, I’m sure that I would actually see the green stalks moving, stretching to the sky.
This is exactly how I feel about my kids.
The thing is: I do this. With both the garden and the kids. I stare at them long and hard.
I see Grant’s muscular legs flex as he runs, his calf muscles moving in response to the hill in front of him. I see the coordination of how he cradles that lacrosse ball in his stick, a concept foreign to him only months ago. I see Renee bravely step into the deepest parts of the creek, my breath catching until I realize that she is standing, still, on her own two feet. I see her enter into worlds of imagination and create stories and vignettes of magic and mystery – how she invites us in, even. I see Griffin, always climbing, running, jumping, imitating every move of his brother and sister. I see how impetuous he can be to protect his own opinions and sense of self. I see how his body stretches longer in his bed every night when I tuck him in.
But even in staring at their beings and doings, trying to memorize every feature, every funny thing said, every milestone, every mark of time, I can’t hold it all. I am witness to the miracle of this growth – this incremental, daily work of becoming more fully who they are. Surely, this is magic.
My One Word for this year is “learn.” It’s my attempt to see how I can more fully become who I am. It’s been a difficult one for me to spin beautiful and poignant thoughts through, and what I’m seeing is this: because the learning, and therefore growing, that I perceive in the kids is so obvious and so dramatic, mine looks almost nonexistent. It seems as though the learning and growing slows, decreasing exponentially, as the years go on. If I’m looking at the kids and wondering about the miracle of their growth, then I’m similarly doing the same to myself. Only I need to look at myself with a finer magnifying glass.
Maybe it would be different if I had set particular goals for myself: learn to knit a sweater. Learn to cook Indian food. Learn to speak French. Learn to drive stick shift. But these specifics don’t suit me, and one of the very reasons why I choose words to hang my year on and not resolutions. Those specifics, however, do lend themselves nicely to checklists and are easy to assess, easy to see. But the learning inside myself is more abstract.
Kindergarten wraps up this week. Today, Grant will step off of that school bus into summer and when he returns to school in September it will be as a first grader. It’s a time for looking back and seeing the growth, measuring and comparing. Here I witness how far he has come. It is a wonder to behold the growing – how much! How fast! How long and strong and hard!
At this point, midway through the calendar year, taking stock of Grant’s journey and growth through Kindergarten, I am wondering about myself. How has this word, “learn,” been part of my year?
Here’s what I come up with: in order to learn, I need to be curious. This is motivation to find out more. Without a desire to understand the world more deeply there simply is no room to learn. It is hard, sometimes, to be curious. It’s hard to even want to know more. It’s a push just to get through that super-basic surface level of knowing.
But If I push myself through that initial membrane, if I can jelly my brain enough to be curious, then this learning can be wildly fun. I read somewhere that in order to learn something, one must unlearn it first, and though I’m not sure if that makes sense in all applications, I certainly feel that it is relevant in my growth this year. Before I can even make strides towards growth, I need to abandon my preconceived notions, whether about myself, or some other outside subject. Learning is sometimes like free-falling.
About a month ago, our family was invited to a neighborhood party. Here’s the thing – we’re not really part of the neighborhood. Our house backs up to this neighborhood, separated by a pretty intense hill with some dense brush. But there was a harmless incident with new “neighbors” and their dogs, and we were handed the invitation. We were pretty interested to go and see what life is like for the folks on the other side of the hill, but I was a little uneasy, too. Until then our only interactions with neighbors had been slightly less than pleasant. Our backyard shares a boundary line with the folks straight behind us, and while it was not a malignant relationship, it had been terse.
We tromped up through the woods to the party, carrying a tray of Rice Krispy treats and watching for poison ivy. We were only steps behind our terse neighbors as they entered the party, too. It was inevitable that we were going to have to make small talk with them.
I tell you all of this to say that I had this idea that Bill and Teresa were crotchety old folks. What I knew of them was that they defended their yard like a fortress, and lit up their back deck with colored Christmas lights all year long. But what I learned once I let my curiosity takeover is that they are lonely empty-nesters who work really hard. They are broken-hearted over some tough stuff with their sons, and they love their small, yippy dogs with their whole compassionate hearts. Bill is knowledgeable about the moon and stars, and sometimes walks the street late at night to get a better view. Teresa can’t wait to spend a month with her grand-kids who live too far away.
Maybe I should strive to be a bit like Curious George. You know, that mischievous little monkey and his friend with the yellow hat. Here’s what I love about George: he is, of course, curious. His curiosity often leads to mischief, to misunderstanding, or to a mess. But his curiosity also leads to adventure, exploration and learning. He never creates problems on purpose, he is never hurtful or mean – simply curious. He always sets things straight in the end, and in the process usually winds up changing others’ perceptions, too. See, there is always learning.
I got to know my neighbors that day. I was curious. I asked questions. I unlearned, and then learned again. Now I know that when the next meteor shower comes our way, we’ll head up the hill to take a look at the sky through Bill’s telescope.
My learning and my growing may happen more slowly, less dramatically as it does for the kids. It may be less celebrated, less obvious. How I’m learning seems to be just as important as what I’m learning. In order to be fully curious, to allow myself to follow down that rabbit hole, I need margins of time and energy. By asking myself to pay attention to how and why and when I learn this year, I’m taking note of these milestones. I’m becoming more fully myself. I’m etching it into the molding on the doorway, right next to the kids, and writing the dates in. Maybe, if you stare at me long enough, you just might see me grow.