Do You Hear The Ocean?
I don’t know about you, but I love seashells. My oldest daughter went through a phase where she practically collected a ton of them. We literally have over a hundred seashells. Conch shells galore. And, actually, we use them fairly frequently for Imagination Time; that time of the day when we focus on pretend play. The shells have been strewn across the carpet, when we pretended the floor was the ocean. They have been parts of a puppet show. We especially love getting them all out and lined up and playing “store” with them. We like this game not because of the “store” part but because Breathe invents stories about how the shells came to be on the ocean. One of our favorites, for example, was actually a shooting star that was so hot it hardened when it hit the ground and became a shell. Others were homes to animals attached to specific stories. In our household, storytelling equals magic. But storytelling isn’t the only reason we love our shells. We also love to “listen” to them. We’ve discovered that different shaped shells have different sounds. We’ve discovered that the closer you hold the shell to your ear, the louder the sound. We’ve marveled at how, even when we are hundreds of miles away from the nearest ocean, we can still hear it. I’ve thought about looking up the scientific explanation for the sound, but have never done it, for the same reason I refuse to listen to anyone who wants to try to explain how a David Copperfield illusion, or a magician’s trick, might work. I’ve been to three of David Copperfield’s shows. I have seen him preform some of the same illusions multiple times, and yet I have no idea how he does it. I was even one of the “13 vanishing people” who caught a beach ball and I still don’t really understand how he made me and the 12 others “disappear.” And I prefer to keep it that way. The magic in magic is being in a state of awe.
Unfortunately, we had a neighbor who stopped by while we were outside today and chatted for a bit. She educated us all to the science behind the seashell sound. If you’re one of the people who just can’t stand not knowing, I’m afraid you’re out of luck: I’m not going to tell you. Because it totally took the magic out of our seashell sound. It didn’t hurt our love of the shells, because they are special to us, but suddenly I haven’t been able to look at a shell with the same amount of speculation and awe because now I’m “in the know.” I’m suddenly “smart,” less “naive.” Of course I knew that the sound wasn’t really the ocean all along, but that was beside the point. I was deliberately keeping myself in the dark because that’s where the awe was, and the wonder.
Being a grown-up is hard. Grown-ups are expected to always be responsible, sensible and logical. I don’t have a problem with the responsible part, but I do have a problem with the other two because, frankly, I don’t always want to be logical or sensible. Sometimes I want to dance in the rain even though I know it might give me a cold. Whenever I see a log, my heart itches to walk across it pretending I’m either a trapeze artist or “Baby” in “Dirty Dancing.” I still want a treehouse in my backyard. I don’t understand why paint is such a no-no; who really cares if washable paint gets on clothes and, if it is such a big deal, why is it deemed unacceptable to allow kids to paint their bodies? Furthermore, let’s take the art analogy a step further: I understand that hand-eye coordination is important but is that really why we insist on teaching our children to color inside the lines? Personally, I didn’t allow coloring books in my house until Breathe was almost four because I did not want her to feel restricted to lines. I wanted her to express herself. I wanted her to see art and crayons and paint as magic, as tools through which she could feel freedom. But, if I were to scribble across a coloring sheet now as an adult, I would be laughed at. Also, besides the fact that there is the existence of that stupid proverbial box in which we are expected to think and operate, there are other reasons why being a grown-up is hard. Bills are one of those reasons. Being responsible for the support of our families is another. Most people would probably add work as a reason grown-up life is hard too, but I won’t because children are also expected to get up and go to school five days a week for seven long hours AND if they miss even just a few days of the entire year, they can’t move up to the next grade, not even if they have stellar grades. They also have homework. But heartbreak. Betrayal. Complex emotions like guilt and shame. Being a grown-up is hard. Sure, there are advantages too: I personally love driving, for instance, and getting to make my own decisions too. Romance. There are perks to being a grown-up. Nonetheless, statistics show that, before they turn 11 years old, very few children are diagnosed as depressed. That number skyrockets the older you get. There are reasons for that. That being the case, then, I would think it would be important to grasp hold of any small thing that brings us wonder.
The dictionary defines the noun “wonder” as: “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable.” Wonder is the feeling a child has on Christmas morning when she runs down the stairs and sees dozens of presents that weren’t there the night before. Wonder is the feeling a child has when she goes outside and sees a kite soaring in the sky for the first time. Wonder is the feeling a child experiences when she realizes her first tooth is loose. Wonder is the feeling a child gets when she’s given the undivided attention of an adult she loves. Wonder is seen on a child’s face when she realizes she did read her first book or did anything else for the first time. It’s the way she sees a lizard or spider as awesome. It’s the way bubbles in the bath can transform the entire bathing experience, or why sitting in the front seat of the car is so much better than the back seat. Wonder is what the child upon whose hand the butterfly landed feels. Wonder is why dirt and mud are so attractive and interesting to the child (the adult is too worried about staying clean to adequately appreciate the feel of mud). See, my point is that it only takes small things for a child to feel wonder, because everything is still pretty new to them. There is so much they don’t know. I homeschool my daughters. Today, in History, we worked on comparing the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It was fascinating. The people in the Middle Ages lived in such a hard and dangerous time that death was always a possibility; the Church had to be important because the people so desperately needed hope of a positive afterlife. In the Renaissance, though, the fear of death faded enough that they began to experience the wonder of the world in which they lived: they were able to enjoy life more. They started crawling out of the proverbial box in which they had been forced to think and live for so long and started asking more questions. Albert Einstein said once: “It’s not so much that I’m smart; I’m just inquisitive.” Genuine questions, and a heart that’s open to learning and discovering new things, breed wonder. Seeing life as a gift breeds wonder. Paying attention to the details as well as the overall big picture breeds wonder. Yes, I have to make sure my children learn compassion—-but I also have to make sure they get fed today. Why can’t feeding the kids be something fun rather than a chore? As a grown-up, yes, I have to pay bills——but I also have to drive to work. Why can’t I notice the colors of the leaves during that drive, or smile at the stranger stopped beside me at the red light? For every big picture goal, there’s steps to take before you can get there. The wonder of life lies not in the goal itself, but in the steps. I can make a goal to become a millionaire, but human nature says that when I get the million, I’m going to want the billion. Ultimately, I won’t be happy even when I have achieved my goal—not unless I’ve taken the time to smell the roses, to see the grass and to listen to the ocean in the shell.
Yes, there’s usually a scientific or logical explanation for things. I can tell you why the sky is blue—but why? Isn’t it more beneficial to my overall level of happiness just to marvel at how blue the sky is? No, David Copperfield nor any other magician doesn’t really makes anyone disappear—but how does admitting that help my life? Isn’t it better to watch the illusion, smile and remember how sweet and powerful imagination can be? Albert Einstein also once said: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Just because science can’t explain it doesn’t mean it’s not real. And if the point in acquiring the answers is just to prove something…. who’s better off? The magician for imagining or you for being right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we don’t learn things—very few people are as big an opponent for education as I am—but the world is full of marvelous things that we somehow fail to notice most of the time. I mean, if I showed you three shades of green, could you pick out the one that matches the blades of grass outside? Do you know what the feel of grass is against your toes? Or when was the last time you made shapes out of the clouds? When I remember to seek wonder in the world, it helps keeps the stresses of day-to-day life in balance. I might have a bad day, but then I watch the sun rise the next morning and its miraculous colors restores a small piece of hope in a life worthwhile. Sliding down the slide at the park behind my kids isn’t a waste of time. Neither is going outside to catch fireflies in a mason jar. Today, the girls and I sat on the couch and talked about what they dreamed of last night and about dinosaurs. It wasn’t a waste of time. It was time. When I carry them around on my back and trumpet around like an elephant, I’m not neglecting my adult responsibilities—I’m making sure life doesn’t pass me by. No matter how terrible a day, we play. And we do it because I want them to remember that, if they can think it, it’s possible. No matter how terrible a day, we make time to do something “just because.” I don’t have to have alcohol to have fun. I don’t have to gamble to have fun. I don’t have to even party to have fun. And I don’t have to because there’s a ladybug on my windowsill; I want to count and see how many spots she has.
And, also, I was going to listen to the ocean in a shell before the night’s over.