The thing I most want to do for my children


We got home from our marvelous week in Vermont on a Saturday evening.  Everybody was exhausted and deflated.  The end August loomed, and the big summer things we’d been looking forward to were all behind us.  On Sunday, Matt had to go to work, so Grace, Whit, and I were left with an open day.  We did some errands in the morning, moving slowly, sinking back into regular life.  It was a glorious, outrageously perfect late-summer day.  I suggested a picnic in the park that is three blocks from us.

Grace and Whit responded with enthusiasm.  We packed turkey sandwiches, some goldfish, some tortilla chips and guacamole, and water.  They threw a frisbee for a while and I watched them in the almost-deserted park.  I could sense Grace’s month-old self snuggled in her blue Patagonia fleece one-piece, asleep in my arms as we took our first Christmas card as a family on the rise over to my right.  I could see both of their four year old bodies running in their first soccer games on chilly fall Saturday mornings, smiling as I remembered how often the parental cheering consisted “Wrong way!  Other goal!”  I could hear their pealing laughter as they made snowmen in the enormous, untouched drifts of snow in last winter’s blizzard.

After a bit they came to sit next to me on our towel.  We ate our sandwiches in the shade and in silence, and after a few minutes Whit sighed, “Oh, this is nice.”

“It really is, isn’t it?”

I’m not sure how, but we started talking about facing fears.  We talked about fears we had surmounted, and what we were still afraid of.  We all shared stories.  It was a rare half hour of perfect peace and happy equanimity.  After we finished our lunch we sat for a bit longer, noticing things in the fenced-off city garden plots next to us.  Grace tilted her head back to watch an airplane streak across the sky, pointing up at it, mouth open.  Then we packed up our trash and our towel and headed for home.

I am rarely prouder of my children than when they enjoy small moments like this.  I honestly think this might be (one of) the key(s) to happiness: finding joy in the most mundane things.  It’s also an outright goal of mine as a parent, trying to make the ordinary special, trying to shape a memory out of a regular old day (even knowing as I do that we can’t always control which moments coalesce into the pearls strung on life’s chain).  The day after the picnic, I left my desk an hour early to take the children to our beloved fairy stream, where we worked in companionable quiet for a long time building cairns.  It was spontaneous, it was something we do all the time, but despite that – or maybe because of it – it was an exceptional experience.

How can I protect Grace and Whit’s propensity for joy and their orientation towards wonder?  How can I keep them from becoming jaded in a world that leans towards cynicism so early, so quickly, and so finally?  How can I help them continue to find the white lines of exhaust from an airplane across a hydrangea blue sky or the quiet stacking of small rocks at a bubbling fairy stream things worthy of their time, their attention, and, sometimes, their awe?

I don’t know, but I am pretty sure this is the thing I most want to do for my children.


42 thoughts on “The thing I most want to do for my children”

  1. This is so beautiful and so exactly what I needed today. The girls don’t go back to school until Monday and we have been trying to enjoy these everyday moments this week. We’ve all been a bit grumpy though so I needed a bit of a boost to remember that these “everyday days” can be special… Thanks as always!

  2. I love your fairy stream. We had a similar place that we visited when our kids were smaller when we lived in Kentucky. The older two remember it fondly, but the younger one doesn’t remember it at all. I tell her, “It’s okay. You enjoyed it while you were there. In that moment. That is what matters.”
    Thanks for reminding me that we do not get to choose what they remember, only that we are truly present when the memory is birthed.

  3. Yep. You nailed it. That is what I want to for my children and myself–to notice the beautiful, extraordinary, everyday miracles that are truly within our grasp when we simply step outside, slow down, and live.

    Thank you, friend.

  4. Love this. Our kids’ school’s motto is: “teach us delight in small things” and I remind them of it often. I will show them these pictures as another reminder! Thank you.

  5. I think if you want your kids to stay in awe of the world, you have to be in awe of it yourself. Small, unassuming moments like the one you describe show that. I, too, continue to try to reclaim happiness in the everyday. It takes conscious effort for me.

  6. I love this post, Lindsey; it is a “quiet” post, but might be one of my favorite that you’ve written. You’ve managed to put into words and articulate what I have struggled to. We have a similar neighborhood park; three years in there are already so many memories there, and I can imagine so many more as the years pass by. May you enjoy your passage into fall.

  7. Wonderful post. Your writing reminds me of a book I read about fifteen years ago. “The Voice of the Infinite in the Small,” by Joanne Elizabeth Lauck, is mostly about the importance of insects in our lives, but it also encourages the reader to observe and appreciate the mundane, every day occurances in our lives that we tend to overlook. The book’s title has become my mantra.

  8. This is what mothering has done for me. Once again, I find joy in the little things. A flower popping up out of nowhere. A heart-shaped rock. A cat chasing a squirrel. I’m not sure how to preserve this wide-eyed wonder for the world, but I think that setting a good example is the best place to start. You’re doing a wonderful job, but you already know that 🙂

  9. With so many transitions this week – my son’s birthday, his first day of kindergarten, my youngest’s first day of preschool – I find myself particularly aware of the passage of time and how deeply I want to infuse my kids’ childhoods with this same sense of wonder, of satisfaction with the everyday, of appreciation for the grace of the ordinary. Thanks, as always, for modeling those things yourself – both in your writing and your mothering. xoxo

  10. I took a walk to the Mt.A yesterday morning, in the early mist. G and W’s fairy cairns were still there, I’m happy to report. “Look at the light of this hour.” Good advice!

  11. I am so inspired by this! What a wonderful goal to have for your kids. I know how magical and precious these happy half hours are. Recently I heard Wayne Dyer say: “We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we are.”

    I think that your own sense of wonder and curiosity is going to inspire the same in your children because you are that and they see that in you.

  12. Perfection. Your day and the post and your hopes as a parent.
    I agree: something so simple, but probably one the most important things to pass on…the ability to notice, wonder, and be present in the moment’s beauty.

  13. I have the same simple goals, Lindsey. My son is actually pretty good at enjoying the little details in life in lieu of the big and flashy. One of the perks is that he’s hardly bored because he’ll find something that amazes him.

    It helps to take him seriously and to honor his findings, even if you feel like rushing him or need to be somewhere else. I need to remember to do this more often!

  14. Simply lovely, Lindsey. My husband, Brian, is teaching our kiddos to do this — to marvel in and notice the smallest of things in nature, especially. I seem to lean toward teaching them how to do this with people — how to linger and notice the beauty in others.

    We are teaching our kiddos how to pause and notice. THIS is a beautiful mindfulness “skill” that will be weaved into the fabric of who they are.


  15. I hope you’ve found some happiness in the grumps of this week – I can totally imagine. We went back on Tuesday but have today off and everybody still feels a little out of sorts.

  16. Exactly. What a poignant way to put it: we don’t get to choose what they remember. I love what you said too about just having enjoyed it in the moment being enough. So true.

  17. Well, if that is what it takes I think I’m in good shape. 🙂 I’m so in awe of it that I’m regularly brought to my knees and to tears by this world. They definitely see that!

  18. Thank you so much. I appreciate hearing that this speaks to you. And I love imagining you and Abra at a similar local park, beginning to lay down these tracks, these grooves, these memories. xox

  19. I don’t know that, actually, so I am very grateful to you for saying it!! Yes, this is probably the single biggest gift of motherhood, at least for me – just what you say. xox

  20. Thank YOU. So glad to know you are reading, and that we’re walking this path together, at least in the ways that matter. xox

  21. I think you make a very important point, which is taking what they notice and see seriously and honoring their vision and view. That’s something I do too and sometimes I’m struck by how rare that seems to be (others have commented on it to me, which always sort of surprises me, because I assume everybody does that. guess not). xox

  22. Lindsey, Thank you for this powerful reminder of what is truly important. Right now, I’m looking out the window watching my children play. After reading this, the preciousness of it all seems heightened.

    Also feeling that weird psychic thing, because right now I’m working on a post that I’ve tentatively titled “What I Want to Give My Children.” 🙂

  23. I love this Lindsey. Some of the best moments of our summer were walks and picnics and just enjoying the beauty of the now. The challenge for me can be finding the time for this even during the craziness of the school year.

  24. As I think you know, I try to do the same. And often, as I am doing so, I’ll think of something you’ve said that reminds me I have a co-conspirator in the world, noticing the little-big things and leaning in to the simple joys that abound. xo

  25. As ever, remarkable synchronicity. In Maine last weekend I spent hours at the beach with my grown (!) sons. We played with rocks. Made piles. Rock people. Rock patterns. Collected heart rocks. Skipped stones into the water. And talked about everything and nothing. And were content. To your post, I say, Amen!! xoxo

  26. This is lovely and hopeful and honestly leaves me…jealous. These little moments – wanting them and watching them happen – are some of the things that I worry I will never have the opportunity to give to my children in the flurry of our current days and weeks and months. I read your words and aspire to be that kind of parent – with picnics and fairy streams and hydrangeas to enjoy and gaze upon. I read your posts and think “Well, maybe this is what could have been…” But I am grateful to read your words, watch you and Matt and Grace and Whit living in the parallel universe I so desperately hope to cross over to and inhabit one day – someday. Know that you are giving your children moments – pearls to string on Life’s chain – every single day, through conscious and careful and wonderfully loving parenting. xoxo

  27. I always love your words and I loved this post. I need to be reminded of this often, when my days are a blur of exhausted energy and it feels like all I do is chase two year olds. I need to constantly remind myself to look for joy in the mundane, but more importantly, to stop and notice these things when my kids do, to not dismiss them, so that they’ll carry with them a sense of wonder for the small moments. Thank you for such a beautiful reminder.

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