Stopping to Smell the Pine Needles

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.

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