A few weeks ago Anna and I were at Southside Park enjoying a cool(ish) spring morning. Southside Park is huge and has lots of playground equipment meant for older kids so I usually follow Anna around like a paranoid mother bird.
We’d been at the park for about a half hour when she wandered over to the sandbox. A girl in a wheelchair and her two aids sat nearby. The girl looked to be 11 or 12 years old and had both speech and physical disabilities. I immediately noticed her friendly and observant personality.
As soon as she saw my tummy she said, “A baby! Oh, a baby! Can I touch it? Can I touch it?”
I get somewhat uncomfortable when it comes to strangers asking to put their hands on my belly. When the little girl asked to feel the baby, her aids said it wasn’t an appropriate question and I casually tried to disuade her by saying, “Yeah, my tummy just feels kinda hard–not like a baby at all.”
But as I busied myself tending to Anna, the little girl’s uninhibited curiosity started to break through my American need for personal space. What was I so awkward about or afraid of? Slowly I found myself inching closer to her wheelchair. “Okay, sure! Why not?”
Her right arm was in a brace and unable to bend, but she quickly put her left hand on my belly button. As she looked up at me a huge grin and breathless awe, she said one word over and over again: “Wow.”
I stayed there for awhile, a bit self conscious but mostly moved by the moment. Very few people have felt my tummy during the last few months, especially compared to when I was pregnant with Anna. My family doesn’t live close by and many of my girlfriends have children now. I’m in a season of life where there are plenty of bellies to rub and babies to hold. It’s not that they’ve gotten used to the miracle of pregnancy, but in some ways the mystery has faded temporarily.
If you think about it, most adults no longer notice the world’s smallest miracles. When was the last time you paid attention to a full moon in the middle of bright blue spring skies? When did you last get excited about a nest full of chirping baby birds? When was the last time your eyes widened and your mouth dropped in curious wonder?
I’ve been asking myself these questions since that day in the park.
As Anna continues to pay more attention to the world around her I’m looking at life with new lenses. To her everything is a mystery and a miracle. She shrieks with excitement upon discovering a tiny bug in the backyard, and her eyes dance every time an airplane flies over the park. It’s also not uncommon for her to cry uncontrollably when a floating leaf touches her thigh in the baby pool, as I try to assure her there’s nothing to be afraid of.
In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says there’s a “shift from our younger self’s greeting of joy with unalloyed delight (that) happens slowly and outside our awareness.” As time passes, Anna, like all children, will make this shift. She’ll stop showing enthusiasm for every ant, and won’t cry when a leaf touches her in the pool. Hopefully she’ll find new things to rejoice in, and new fears to conquer.
In the meantime, Anna and the girl in the park show me how to be curious again. They remind me I have the choice to either encourage or squash their sense of wonder. They teach me how I can be more open to the joy that comes from the miracle of noticing.