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This morning, we went to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens with three little friends.  Cheekwood is a beautiful, peaceful place full of meticulously maintained gardens that are stunningly beautiful regardless of the time of year.  They’ve got several ponds too and a couple of peaceful waterfalls;  they’ve also got several wide open fields where children can run and play, where Easter egg hunts are held and where families sit on the grass to eat picnic lunches.  Words cannot convey how grateful I am that we visited Cheekwood today,  or that we did so with friends.  This entire week, my heart has been stirred, and I have felt my soul overflowing with gratitude.  Gratitude for the lovely people in my life that have helped combat the scars, gratitude to God,  gratitude to the people in my church that have taught me invaluable lessons, gratitude for the children I teach on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, gratitude for the few precious souls who have made an honest attempt at being my friends, gratitude for the few family members that understand and have voluntarily listened,  gratitude for the readers who read the books and the blog, gratitude, even, for games that have acted as mechanisms of healing, gratitude of all sorts has filled my heart to capacity this week.   Today, at Cheekwood, that gratitude seemed to burst free as we walked among the beautiful flowers and the edges of the most peaceful ponds.  When the children began searching for, finding and  capturing frogs, I thought about how sweet and simple that was.  And then when they asked me to help them catch a big one, I just wanted to sit under the edge of a shady tree and cry.  I was catching frogs. You see, two years after my daughter was born,  I wrote out a  “Childhood Bucket Wish List” that listed things I wish I had been brave enough, or spontaneous enough, to try as a child. The idea was that these were the experiences I would consciously seek out, and create, for my own daughters. The things on my childhood bucket list included things that I couldn’t do when I was younger, because I was so afraid of making a mistake, was too busy being the good girl.  Catching frogs is a Twain-like, idyllic memory that I wish I had had as a child.  I could have.  Behind my great-grandmother, Mama Nora’s, house was a pond that housed many frogs.  My sister, my cousins, would all go exploring.  I’d go with them, but I stayed on the edge of the pond.  I’d walk around it, but I wouldn’t cross any boundaries,  I wouldn’t get so close to the water that my aunt or mother or great-grandmother might have to call me to step back a few paces because that would have been “getting in trouble” in my book.  So, there was the chance to catch frogs—but I never took it.  When I created the Childhood Bucket Wish List,  catching frogs was one of the first things I added.  Today, I get to mark that activity off, because I did it.  He was big and  black and slimy and perfect.  We also caught a smaller one, and even held a tadpole.  It was the first live tadpole I had ever seen.  The amazing thing is, I wasn’t the only one in awe.  The  children, who range in age from 10 to 3, were all equally awed.  One of them said,  “See?  Aren’t the wonders of a pond great?”  Indeed they are.  And how grateful I felt that my daughters won’t have to add “Catch a frog” to their “childhood bucket wish list” long after childhood has passed.  They will already know the joy in discovering animals living right beneath them.  They will know to deliberately seek out peaceful and beautiful escapes like a garden, rather than having to realize that the outdoors have natural sanctuaries by accident.  They will have learned as children that sometimes the best toys don’t come from the stores but are found instead in the cherries growing on trees, or in rolling down the side of a huge hill.  They will have learned as children, not adults, that time is precious and must be spent experiencing life instead of chasing it through technology.

 

 

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Indeed, many of the items on my childhood bucket wish list have been marked off since I’ve become a parent.  I have two really good reasons.   But, the truth is, there are more that are still waiting for me to do.  I could get lost now in listing what those are, but I don’t want to.  Right now,  what I want to focus on is how thankful I am for the joys of being a parent, and of discovering, really for the first time, how full of hope and shimmering goodness exist in the world. Laughter sparkles like the sun shining on water.  Some children spend their entire childhoods trying to stay out of trouble.  I was one of them.  In retrospect, though, I could have come home late a couple of times, I could have home muddy a couple of times, I could have painted all over my body a couple of times, I could have argued and said “no” a couple of times——and what happened would still have happened because it wasn’t really about how well I did or did not behave.  Childhood is meant to be that time of exploration and discovery, a time when time is slow and it matters that you’re not just “eight” but “eight and a half.”   Childhood is meant to be a time when you test the boundaries to see how strong your own wings are.  Today at Cheekwood, the children and I slowed down on purpose.  We chased each other through the fields.  I swung them around a couple of times.  We oohed and ahhed over scarecrows, and shared excitement over seeing a Thomas train.  And we delighted in the chance to uncover and appreciate life’s marvels.  We watched a frog leap out of our hands and jumped around after him, trying to catch him.  When we had him, we showed him to the other kids and then knew joy as we released the frog back into the pond.  Beauty that is almost surreal exists at Cheekwood…. but it does elsewhere too.  Maybe mine wouldn’t look as lavish as Cheekwood’s, but I can plant a garden in my own backyard. And I can mark off the next of my childhood bucket wish list’s activities:  make a whole bunch of perfectly imperfect mud pies.

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