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Stopping to Smell the Pine Needles

March 12, 2010

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my mere two years as a mother is to not obsess over trivial things and, instead, enjoy the simple moments in life. Of course, this is no easy lesson to learn. And I’ve had a few set-backs here and there. But I’ve discovered that when one needs a lesson in taking pleasure in the little things, children are the best teachers.

I recently had the pleasure of reading about Sophie’s “bonding” with a pine needle at daycare. Nearly every day, my childcare provider writes on each child’s “Daily Sheet” an interesting story about what happened during the day with that particular child. Reading these sheets is one of the highlights of my day because it allows me to still be a part of Sophie’s day, even though I can’t be with her. What follows is the beautiful description of Sophie’s wonderment.

She is just so excited about everything. The smallest thing – a pine needle – just seemed to make her day. There are thousands outside, but she picked up this short, brownish, slightly broken one and played with it as well as rode the bike with it, carefully tucking it in her hand as she held the bike handle.

I was so moved by what was written about Sophie and the pine needle. So much went through my mind. What was it about that one particular pine needle that Sophie connected with? What went through her mind as she carried that pine needle with her? What wonder it was provoking in her?

It’s these little moment and “trivial” things that actually hold so much meaning.

One day, Sophie and I went to the zoo. As we were waiting for our friends, Sophie sat down on a curb, looking so cute. I was determined to get a great photo of her in the cute zoo hat and outfit. I took out the camera, starting pointing and insisting, “Sophie, say cheese!”

Yet Sophie was not saying “cheese.” Instead she was turned around completely fascinated by a large rock in back of her. She was so intrigued by this earthly thing. What was it? It was so big. Her hands glided over the boulder to see what it felt like, smelled like. What looked to me like a plain rock that we see everyday was a fascinating new experience for Sophie.

Yet instead of enjoying Sophie’s wonder, I was obsessing over getting a “perfect” photo. I started raising my voice and telling her to forget the rock, and insisting that she turn around for this crazy photo. I think I even yelled at one point, making Sophie turn around and she started to cry.

I’m ashamed of this moment. Why couldn’t I have enjoyed the joy and wonder Sophie was taking in this rock? Why didn’t I get a photo of that? And sadly, every time I look at that beautiful photo I did end up taking, I think about that bittersweet moment between Sophie and me.

Several months later, I was reading Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, written by Ayelet Waldman. I love her writing because it’s so honest. She tells the truth about motherhood, which is such a refreshing concept and one I appreciate even more so after becoming a mom.

In one of the chapters, Ayelet is writing about the expectations she had for her children and how, so often, those expectations are unreal and cause us to miss the really important things in life. In one passage that really spoke to me, she writes about this feeling with respect to Rosie, her youngest daughter.

The worst thing about being so devoted to your expectations is that it blinds you to the wonders of the children you have. When Rosie was little, she was a slow talker … I was distracted by the nagging worry that she was behind the curve. She would sit on the floor, her fat legs stretched out in front of her, as I build and rebuilt a tower of blocks, laughing each time I toppled it over. I was so busy saying, ‘Rosie, can you say “boom”? Say “boom” for Mommy,’ that I barely registered her full-body smile, the way every inch of her, from her cornflower blue eyes to the pink tips of her toes, wriggled as the grinned at the tower’s collapse.

Tears started flowing from my eyes when I read this passage. Ayelet’s description of her obsession with getting her daughter to say “boom” perfectly mirrored my moment at the zoo. And from that moment on, I vowed to stop focusing on getting the perfect photo or concentrating on the next milestone.

I want Sophie to enjoy the little things that are so new and wondrous to her. I want her to stop and smell the flower she sees on the sidewalk, or pick up and examine the random pine needle in the yard. I want Sophie to enjoy life – and the simple things that accompany it – because those moments pass so quickly.

And I want to enjoy the wonderment and newness of the world, and re-discover all the rocks and pine needles through Sophie’s eyes. I think about how many times a day I probably miss some fascinating object as I’m hurrying from one place to the next. Maybe my life would be better if I took a lesson from Sophie and stopped to smell the pine needles.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2011 5:46 am

    You’re right, Leah, that’s a beautiful one! It’s a lesson I’ve learned again and again about myself as a mother and as a person, too. In fact, your zoo photo story reminded me of when we took our (then 4-y-o) son to Disneyland, and he only wanted to ride the merry go round. At one point, my husband started to lecture him about how much it cost to get in…. then we looked at our son’s little scrunched up scared face (turned out he was terrified of almost all the rides!) and rode the merry go round, dumbo, etc. rides for the whole day long…. and after we changed our way of looking at it, it was a great day.

    • Leah permalink*
      May 22, 2011 10:39 pm

      Thank you, Julia. You are so right too. Once you change your outlook, the entire experience can change.

  2. September 19, 2011 7:11 pm

    *sigh* that was lovely…. I tend to obsess over the little things as well – sometimes you’ve just got to let go. I have a sister with three kids and she’s an expert at letting go of that sort of thing. She goes with the flow and enjoys every moment of her kids lives. She’s the richest person I know.

    • September 22, 2011 9:57 pm

      It’s a tough lesson, and I’ve really tried to be conscious of that as I go through life. It’s tough. But I know when I look at Sophie it’s right.

  3. September 19, 2011 9:49 pm

    I can see why this is the post you are most proud of. Children teach us so much, and good for you for waking up to that. We get so busy being adults. Thank you for sharing.

    I popped over from She Writes. Thanks for sharing this post there.

    • September 22, 2011 9:58 pm

      Thanks, Liz. It’s a great lesson to keep in mind each day. I love that I’m learning things all over again through my daughter.

  4. September 21, 2011 11:30 am

    Ok, now you’ve made me cry, too.

    As badly as you feel for having to learn that lesson … you did. It’s the parents that never seem to get it that “get” to me.

    Just yesterday, I watched my grand-daughter’s face light up with joy as she opened one of my music boxes; she closed it with her chubby dimpled 2 year old hands and proudly exclaimed, “All done!” and with that .. I forgot what day it was. Dinner didn’t matter, laundry could wait … we just .. played.

    Beautiful post……hugs for your heartache, you’re a better Mom for having had that Zoo moment! MJ

    • September 22, 2011 9:58 pm

      I agree with you, MJ. And as much as I don’t like that episode at the zoo, I am very grateful for it because I did learn a lot. And I always try to go through each day remembering it. Thanks for your nice words. They truly mean a lot to me.

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