Over the years I’ve heard many people describe parenting and mention how much they enjoyed watching their little one discover the world. But I think the real wonder of it isn’t in what the child discovers, but what it awakens in the adults. By the very nature of our adulthood, we are matured, toned-down, and muted in our daily lives. We go through a million variations of been-there-done-that to get to our milestone of the moment.
It’s difficult for me to remember the last time I saw something completely new. I mean something so decidedly different that it left me without a similar experience to draw upon and compare. Yet everything in our lives was once as mind-freezing as an alien encounter. This is the constant experience of a toddler.
The strange side-effect of witnessing this, is the way it cuts loose the bonds of cynicism and allows an adult the chance to live on two planes at once. In one universe you know all about the crazy new discovery made by your little person, but in the other universe you’re able to look at it and marvel along with them without excuse.
We adults have to have an excuse. We need a reason to get excited. We can’t stop in the Starbucks line and poke the saran-wrapped sandwiches just to watch the dressing bulge. People would stare. Someone would sigh or yell at us to get moving, and after enough time people with either badges or white coats would come and take us away. Yet stand in the same line with a toddler and the whole world lets you poke and prod and marvel at the squishy goodness of it all.
I’ve been having this experience with animals. At this point in life I’ve seen a good example of just about every creature, so I find them fun to watch, but never shocking. Meanwhile my son has gained an obsession with elephants. We watch countless elephants go by on video and in books and he’ll raise one arm and make a weak and warped elephant noise over and over. (The truth is it looks like he’s doing a child’s version of the Hitler salute, but we know what he means and just try to keep our little Aryan masterpiece from doing this in public.) He can’t say elephant, but it fascinates him beyond all other creatures. To my son, Elephants are like Justin Bieber with better hair.
What I’m most enjoying about this elephant-a-palooza is the chance to notice the following:
Elephants are freaky and fascinating. I mean, really… legs like trees but they can’t run well. Ears like satellite dishes but they aren’t known for their hearing. (By the way, why do we associate elephants with great memories? They seem to get stuck in the same mudhole every year without remembering it happened before). And of course, the strange fact that an elephant’s most dexterous limb… isn’t a limb at all. Try grabbing your next meal with your nose.
And don’t even get me started on giraffes. Longest necks in the world, but no voicebox. What’s going on there?
I guess it just proves that even God gets bored. After making every possible permutation of quadrupeds, riffing on the basic ideas of cat, dog, and horse until he was pulling out his beard…
“Hey Gabriel… come look at this one. It’s nose is it’s arm… “
“That’s awesomely strange and wonderful, your Almighty-ness.”
“Yes. I know.”
And He went off to make a platypus and follow up with an ostrich.
So now here I am like a strange guide into an alien safari. It’s all new stuff, and it’s all cool enough to get stared at, touched, turned over, and maybe even chewed on. And really, how much can you say you know about something if you’ve never put a handful of it in your mouth? Or at the very least, paused and marveled.
Poor kid got cynical me as a father. Which leaves me scrambling to find the wonder in everything… and pass it on.
The Octopus, for example. Eight legs and no bones. Did God skip a step? Was there a bet in Heaven? Was this the result of a creation themed game of ad-libs? Forget area 51… aliens are already here.
And my son hasn’t even seen one yet.