The world is much bigger than it seems on the internet. My first real glimpse into the vastness of place and possibility happened when I was small and trapped in the front seat of a pickup truck with my Mom, Dad and two German Shorthair dogs as we drove from Chicago to Florida.
I remember listlessly leaning my face against the window glass, staring at mile after mile of telephone wires strung across field after field. Boredom surpassed all known limits before exploding into a loop of sing songy nonsense rhymes and visions of an imagined life lived differently than anything I knew.
Then we were at the ocean and I was running right into the sensory tsunami of salty waves, fishy smells, and hissing white foam. My spirit burst with the contrasts of life, the vastness of the physical world and all that I might someday do and see.
Not long after I became a parent, I drove my newly adopted daughter from our Minneapolis home to my cousin’s house in Madison, Wisconsin. Twenty minutes into our trip, she saw the “Welcome To Wisconsin” sign and exclaimed “We’re here!”
“Yes, we’re in Wisconsin, but we have another 3 1/2 hours to Sheryl’s house,” I said cheerily.
“But you said she lived in Wisconsin and now we’re in Wisconsin.”
“We are now on the edge of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a big place. Sheryl lives in the middle of it.”
Blank stare, then “But you said we were going to Wisconsin.”
I put in our audio book and half listened while I thought about how to teach my daughter about our world.
From the beginning of our relationship, I established a rhythm of pointing out something cool every time we went outside. “Hear that? It’s a cardinal?” “Look at how pink the sky is!” “The snow is so pretty on the tree branches!”
After many weeks of this repetition, she began to look up from the fog of her grief and trauma and notice cool things on her own to point out to me. “That’s a turkey!”
(Now it is nine years later, and just last week she dragged me out in my pajamas to look at the full moon. I could not have been more proud.)
Our first Christmas together, I gave her a talking globe. She is proud of her memorization skills, and loved beating me in games of naming the countries and capitals. “Look how teeny Wisconsin is to the rest of the world!”
We began to take longer road trips together – with (almost) no screens and audio books that we heard together. So far, we have driven cross-country four times. K has taken a boat to see whales and pods of dolphins leaping around her. We have laughed outside in a sudden downpour near Niagara Falls, been lost in the north woods of U.P. Michigan and bored senseless on the highways of Indiana.
I think boredom is important. It gives us a glimpse into infinity, it makes us wonder, it helps us experience the size of our world and it creates a contrast with simple pleasures that we might otherwise not see.
When my daughter was little, there were many tear-filled nights when she could not sleep. Here is a bedtime story I told to soothe her:
“I remember the first time I went to the ocean–I was about seven or eight, I think. I stood in the water and looked out to where the sky touches the sea and I felt very, very small. Very small, but in a good way. Small in the sense that this big, beautiful world is so huge, that I will never run out of new things to see, new places to go, new adventures to have. I felt small and young with a whole big world and a whole lifetime ahead of me and knew then that the ocean would always be my favorite place to be.
And now I look out into the endless sea, and think about all of the whales and dolphins and multicolored fish and who knows what else that fills the oceans and how most of these creatures will never even be seen by human eyes. They exist because a Creator chose to fill the oceans with beautiful living things. And the whole world is filled with beautiful creatures, and trees, and flowers and people, too. We could never run out of places to explore, sights to discover or wonderful new people to meet. There is so much good in this world.”
Helping K fall asleep with a smile on her face felt better than running into the ocean that first time.
(Before you think “What a great mom!” read this disclaimer.)
Image courtesy of http://www.h3dwallpapers.com/world-in-hands-5758/