Elle was supposed to be brushing her teeth. Instead, she had clambered off her stool and poked her head into the cabinet beneath the sink.
Beneath the bathroom sink, I keep things like muffin tins and cake pans (living in a house with a small kitchen requires a person to get creative with the storage of her baking gear). Elle was shocked and delighted to have made such a discovery. Muffin tins beneath the sink – who knew?
Tearing the child away from her find was like coaxing an excited puppy to sit. Can I play with these, Mommy? Can I see that one, Mommy? What’s that one for, Mommy?
You would think she had found a secret passageway to another world, not merely kitchen storage overflow.
Returning to something as mundane as teeth-brushing proves difficult for a 2-1/2-year- old, when there is something as exciting as a whole world of kitchen equipment to explore just behind the cabinet door. As I ran the toothbrush around her mouth, she burbled, “Why e doz dowd dere?” (which I took to mean, “Why are those down there?”).
“Because there isn’t room for them in the kitchen. Now spit.”
“Why is there no room in the kitchen?” she asked, spit-diluted toothpaste running down her chin.
Hoisting herself into bed, Elle couldn’t let the thought of muffin tins beneath the sink go. “Can I see them tomorrow, Mommy?” she asked, wide-eyed.
I smiled, amused to see my child so spellbound by something so humdrum. And as I stood beside her bed, assuring her that yes, we can revisit her beneath-the-sink discovery tomorrow, I felt a rush of gratitude for this inquiring little girl. Because without her prompting, how could I have ever felt such a thrill in what’s to be found beneath the bathroom sink?
Last week, she and I stood in a stand of aspens on a gusty afternoon. The wind spit swirls of fluttering leaves earthward in a blizzard of yellow, and we made a game out of trying to catch the crazily darting leaves before they came to rest on the forest floor.
“Why do they do that, Mommy?” she asked, tilting her dimpled chin upwards towards the aspens’ dwindling canopy towering high above us.
“Well,” I started, thrilled that my toddler was interested in plant biology. I reached back into the corridors of my memory, searching those dusty shelves for some neon sign, flashing “fourth grade science class.” Something about photosynthesis, chlorophyll, changing temperatures….
As these concepts churned around, disordered, in my mind, and I searched for a way to put them into diction Elle could understand, my little girl forgot the question and ran off to catch another leaf.
“The leaves fall so that winter can come,” I called after her, scrambling to come up with at least some kind of explanation. But Elle didn’t hear. She was dancing around wildly in another leaf storm.
To my daughter, a windy autumn day spent beneath the brilliant yellow canopy of an aspen grove is equally interesting as finding muffin tins beneath the sink. And it’s this curious way that she doesn’t discriminate between the world’s most dazzling spectacles, and our bathroom’s most mundane, that fortifies my conviction that having kids is a spectacularly edifying journey.
So much of being a parent is teaching your child about the world around her. But what about the lessons they teach us? About finding (or more appropriately, rediscovering) that sense of wonder in all things, be them great or small.