Light? Light!

December 6, 2010

They even make doors you can see through.

So far I’ve mainly been writing about the family I’ve lost, but I think it’s time for a post that focuses more on the sweetest part of bittersweet: my sons.

I hesitate to write too much about our kids. They are mostly non-verbal, and I don’t want to translate their actions and budding personalities inaccurately, or, even more problematically, interpret their  identity for others. Secondly, even babies have a right to their own privacy, and at this age I can’t ask them if it’s okay to share certain aspects of their daily lives, so I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. Yet as a parent I am totally enthralled with their growing minds and bodies, and I can’t help but want to share stories of my experience watching them learn and develop. As I observe  them morph from helpless babies to walking toddlers virtually over night, I find it next to impossible not to try to make some kind of sense of the whirlwind.

So, I hope I can write about them in such a way that does not label or pigeon-hole their expansive and ever-growing personalities. Even though they lived in my womb for eight and a half months, I’m only beginning to get to know them.  And they are getting to know themselves, which is by far the most fascinating thing about life with a toddler. People say this all the time, but it really is so very true: Babies allow you the opportunity to rediscover the world. Every little part of my daily routine intrigues George and Elijah.  Most of what they notice has long since become invisible to me. For example, after years of making my own breakfast, lunch and dinner I am no longer fascinated with the act of moving objects from one container to another and then stirring them round and round. After going in and out thousands of doors in hundreds of different buildings around the world, watching big slabs of wood or metal slowly open and close really doesn’t do much for me. And while I love to smell garlic in a skillet, fresh lavender and rosemary in the garden, and slightly crisp laundry that’s been hung out to dry,  I can’t recall the last time I was infatuated with the act of physically locating my own nose.

But for George and Elijah stirring things in a bowl, opening and closing doors, and pointing out one’s own nose, or if you want the super advanced version, pointing out your brother’s nose, are totally where it’s at.

Seeing these activities through their eyes, I suddenly realize, you know, these things are pretty awesome. Stirring various forms of liquid in a bowl creates a new liquid with a different texture and a more vivid color. One minute you have some eggs and butter and milk, and the next thing you know there’s a fresh, warm pasty to be devoured. A small miracle, really. Doors  help us situate, designate and act on concepts like inside and outside. They lead us outdoors to our gardens and inside to our families and food after a long day of work. Doors serve as the basis of some of our most important daily transitions, so, once again, pretty amazing things. And  noses, well, noses allow us access to one of our most emotionally poignant and memory-soaked senses: smell.

Babies are, of course, cuddly, hilarious, awe inspiring, and may even give us hope for an unforeseen future, but, above all,  babies sharpen our ability to see the magic in the mundane. And you know what’s even more amazing to me? In my mother’s last days she often seemed infused with the same kind of fascination and wonder.

My mother didn’t rediscover stirring things in a bowl or doors or noses, but she did become enthralled with hearing others sing, watching flowers grow, and— during her stay in the cancer ward of the hospital— watching sunrises.  She sometimes joked about her fancy “hotel view” from the eighth floor of one of our state’s largest medical buildings. From her window we could watch the the med flight helicopters leave and land, observe the city wake up and begin pacing. But the sunrises were, by far, her favorite. Bright orange against the deep blue, she’d talk about how the sun would slowly ascend over the tall buildings until it would flood her sparse hospital room with bright morning light.  I spent many nights in her hospital room, cuddled up on the small bench underneath that big window. She woke me up one morning to see it, and, as someone whose spent the majority of my life in one- story buildings, I have to say it was pretty impressive see the sun rise over the city and bathe both of us in a blinding glow. Even more meaningful though, it was a warm moment of stillness before the room gave way to the daily hospital routine: the constant opening and closing of the doors, endless automated beeps and intercom announcements, and flocks of scrub-wearing nurses bringing medicine, checking temperatures, and drawing blood.

But back to George and Elijah. In addition to their ongoing fascination with stirring, opening and closing doors, and pointing to noses, the newest new thing around here is, in a round about way, somewhat similar to my mom and her love for the sunrise. George and Elijah are in love with lights and light switches. These little guys are little budding electricians I tell you. Anywhere we go they are sure to seek out and point to all the light fixtures in the place. “Light?” George will ask me three thousand times a day, pointing his hand toward the ceiling excitedly. “Yes, that’s a light!” I’ll reply. Then he’ll smile this huge smile as if to say, ” I knew it!” Five minutes later :”Light?!” “Yes, George, that’s the light,” I’ll answer, amazed at his thirst for continual dialog.

Elijah likes to stand underneath the light switches with his arms outstretched waiting for someone to come lift him up so he can show off his ability to flip the switch. Just getting his hands near the switch makes him giggle.  In fact, he seldom actually turns the lights on or off. Once you pick him up he just puts his hands near the switch and breaks out in a fit of laughter. He’s hilarious, I tell you.

Most of  us turn lights on and off all day without giving it a second thought.  And sometimes I get kind of tired of their endless obsession. But then I imagine how amazing it must be to discover that with just a flip of your finger you can actually change a room from dark to light and back again. Who can blame them? This concept of indoor lighting is so fascinating to George and Elijah that “light” was one of their first words. First they learned “Dada,” then “Mama,” then a barking noise (we share our small house with two dogs,), then the word “dog,” then “bye bye” and then “light.” Just as an aside, Elijah also learned to say “Achoo!” somewhere in there between “bye-bye” and “light”, the product of living with a father who has allergies. It’s adorable because he can’t make the ch sound yet, so it comes out”A-duh!” Anyway, getting back to their adoration of lights, I love that they’ve found something so intriguing, especially as winter comes on and our time outside is limited. Besides, having access to indoor lighting is actually kind of rare. Most of the world lives without it, not to mention s a host of other luxuries we take for granted. They know a good thing when they see it.

But this fascination with lights all reminds me of one of my favorite childhood memories. I was probably about four or five, maybe six at the most. I was friends with the little boy who lived across the street, and I spent a fair amount of time over at his house. One afternoon his mother was standing on a stool replacing a burned out light when she asked,  “Have you ever seen the inside of a lightbulb?”  “No!” we answered excitedly. She got down off the stool and placed the old light bulb on the kitchen cabinet. Then she went and found a small brown paper sack and a hammer. She opened the bag, and gently placed the old light bulb inside, wrapping it tightly at the end. We watched wide-eyed as she picked up the hammer.

I was nearly beside myself with anticipation. I knew she was going to smash the light with the hammer, but what would that mean? Were beams of left-over  light just going to come bursting out of the bag? Would it come out in the shape of a ball or more like a series of rolling, glowing waves?  I could not believe I was about to witness something so amazing.

She took the hammer and ever so lightly tapped the bulb-filled bag.  It made a small crunch. She opened up the bag and took out the broken light, jagged shards of glass still attached. “See the wires?” she said.”Wires?!?” I thought. “Wires? Seriously? Where was the light? Where was the magic?” I was so disappointed. Something so potentially amazing turned out to be nothing more than two little wires and some broken glass. Light bulbs are practically empty on the inside. Who knew?

Since that day I’ve had many, many let downs in life, but I can still feel that heavy sense of deflation I experienced that afternoon when seeing those two little curved wires, still softly vibrating from the blow of the hammer.

I guess I could make some kind of grand statement here about loss of innocence or missed opportunities to learn about science– both themes that run rampant throughout my adult recollection of childhood memories— but that seems a bit heavy-handed and forced, even if at least partially true. I guess you could say I was one one of those kids who would have benefited greatly from those little kits you can order from kids’ science catalogs.

When George and Elijah point up at the lights for the sixty third time in two hours, faces exploding with joy and crusted with the remains of the lunch they wouldn’t let me wipe off,  sometimes I think of my mom and her face in the sunrise. Sometimes I think of a little version of myself, and the sound of a light bulb going crunch inside a brown paper bag. Hilarious, right (the lightbulb in a bag part, not my mom in the sunrise)? Mostly I just want to learn to live in the moment of their joy.

When they get old enough I’m going to make sure they learn all about the wonders and history of electricity. Maybe I’ll buy them a science kit in addition to all the things I can’t wait to teach them about how plants grow and why baked goods rise in the heat of the oven, and other daily wonders of household science. And someday when their father or I are changing a light bulb I’m going offer to show them its insides, and we’ll talk about the magic of conductors and circuits and various other things through which transformative energy flows.

And I’ll also show them the sunrise. Many, many sunrises I hope.

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9 Responses to “Light? Light!”

  1. This entry was very sweet. It kind of reminded me of something Paul Rudd’s character said in Knocked Up:

    “I wish I could enjoy anything the way my kids enjoy bubbles. Their smiling faces point out my inability to enjoy life.”

    Okay, so your post wasn’t dispiriting, but it’s a similar sentiment.

  2. Jo Ann said

    I love, love, love, this, Meredith. May we all stop and be more aware of all the magnificent wonder around us…the wonderful “ordinary” things, sounds, beings, around us! One of the greatest gifts I ever received was a semester-long assignment from one of my favorite college English professors: to write one journal entry daily about something I might not have otherwise noticed/noted…and to do that, one had to REALLY note/notice it. It is not an overstatement to say that one semester of journaling changed my life…and it is still doing so…because that gift (yes, sometimes a “chore” then)awakened something in me that is with George and Elijah every day, every moment. It is so fantastic that you are so aware of their awe…and that you have gifted me/us with the perceptions. Amazing. You are amazing. Amazing Momma! Keep on keeping on! Love, Jo Ann

  3. You are such a wonderful writer and your words are so very true.

  4. Maci Powell said

    I’m reading this to my Mom now. 🙂
    You’re an amazing person.

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