By Tom Bodett, Small Comforts, 1987, pages 156-159.
Among the thousand and one truisms that were hurled at us as expectant parents was one I especially wanted to believe: “You are going to learn the most important things from your children.” It sounded so promising, and when accompanied by a smug veteran-parent grin, it appeared to hold water.
I looked forward to learning about these “most important things,” but soon after our boy arrived I decided it was all a lot of tripe. If the most important things are pricing Pampers, holding tempers, and coming up with six-hundred variations on the word “no,” then I figured people’s ideas of “important” are purely subjective.
My partner in crime and I have spent the last twenty months with our child teaching him everything from rolling over, to the dynamics of liquids in cups not carefully handled. All the while I held on to the hope that one day the teaching would leave off and the learning begin. Apparently it was just a matter of time, and the time, at last, has arrived.
We recently had occasion, as a family, to spend the night at the house of some friends in town. They have an extra room down in the basement, and we were set up with the bed and crib in the same room. No big deal. The kids went to sleep early, we had wonderful late-night conversation, and retired to our accommodations. I slept well but woke up too early, realized I was in a strange place, and couldn’t go back to sleep.
In our natural habitat my wife and I don’t share a room with the baby. We normally first come to know he’s awake by a series of screams from downstairs that would put any self-respecting banshee to shame. But lying there wide awake in an unfamiliar house offered me the opportunity to hear my child wake up for the first time. This is where the learning came in.
Let me establish here that there are only a few words in our boy’s vocabulary. “More” is the one we hear most often and can refer to anything from fun to food. “No” comes in a close second as he repeats it just about as often as he hears it. “Hello,” “Bye-bye,” “Momma,” and “Daddy” make up the rest of his standard casual conversation, and that’s all the words he’s got. All, that is, but one.
By far his most distinguished and seldom-used expression is the word “wow.” He only says “wow” when something really impresses him. If Dad lets a frying pan catch on fire and juggles it out the front door into the snow, it’s “wow.” If we turn around backwards with the car on the way to town and hit the ditch at thirty miles an hour, it’s “wow.” If the house were to burn down around him with the Messiah whispering reassurances into his ear the whole time, I’m confident he would sum it all up with “wow.”
My reason for going into all this is, like I said, I had occasion to hear him come to life one recent morning. I’d been awake for over an hour, but nobody else was up. I lay there silently straining to hear any encouraging sign that there might be people and coffee about. I thought about my day, and took inventory of the chores at hand. We would have to get organized and make the drive home. Once there I’d have wood to put up, a door to fix, a few letters to write, and some bills to pay. My wife would clean the house. The boy would refuse to take a nap. Luck willing, we would have a little time to spend together before Monday once again descended on our lives. All this was less than the stuff of dreams.
As I was lying there brooding, I heard my child stir. He rolled over– I assume he opened his eyes– and said, “Wow.” Suddenly, I felt like a heel.
With all my training to “think good thoughts,” “look on the bright side,” and “take it a day at a time,” I woke up to a near-miserable world. This little boy who knows nothing of optimism woke up, saw he had a new day, and gave it his grandest praise. I learned something.
It dawned on me that this innocent little child was at the place I wanted to be. To wake up in the morning, take a look at the world, and say “Wow” is probably about as close to contentment as a person can ever hope to get.
Contentment is a rare commodity. The more we learn about this world, the more anxious we get. There is trouble afoot. There are heartbreaks, failures, tragedies, and an endless list of selfish desires that are never realized. Sooner or later we come to resent our own existence. I’m sure our innocent child will eventually eat this forbidden apple. and wake up, as most of us do, to say only “Ugh.”
I wish I knew what I could do to never let this happen. I wish he could teach me the way he sees things now so that I could help him hold on to it– and so I could remember how it’s done. That truly would be a “most important thing” if this tiniest of guides can show me from his crib how to open my eyes in the morning, see that I am alive in Paradise, and say “Wow.”
Psalm 118:24 — This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
1 Chronicles 23:30a — They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord.
Philippians 4:11b — I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I Timothy 6:6-7 — Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.