I went running yesterday, and near the edge of a small park by my house, I spotted a lone blue flip-flop. My first thought was the obvious: Where is the other one? My second thought: my son is going to seize on that. And sure enough, we had a play date that afternoon and as the two boys walked through the park, they saw the blue flip-flop from ten feet away and were on it like a hawk that’s spotted prey. They picked it up, tried it on, and inspected it from every angle, as if it were an alien species, before throwing it at each other.
Children have an attentiveness to small things, perhaps because they’re closer to the ground or they simply don’t have all those files and data and embedded cookies taking up valuable storage. They have the same senses we do, but times ten. They’re like chameleons, who can rotate and focus their eyes separately to look at two different objects at the same time, or like ants, with their microscope antennae that transmit a 50-fold magnified view of the world around them. A few days ago, I threw a mini-milky way bar, which is about an inch long, into our kitchen garbage pail, and with debris covering it almost entirely, my son spotted it and said, “Hey! You said I could have that.” I left my son in the living room the other day to walk into the kitchen, and hearing my rustling around near the window, my son said, “Mommy, what are you getting?” He heard me lifting a peach. Try opening a candy wrapper in a kindergarten classroom. Twenty heads will turn around sharply, as every child looks for the origin of the sound.
But they don’t just see and hear things more keenly. They seem to marvel in these sights and sounds. They have an appreciation of them that we can only barely remember. Every morning, my son will carefully choose which color straw he wants to use in his breakfast smoothie. When we go to the bank, he takes his time choosing the flavor lollipop he wants from the large bowl on the counter.
As I went running this morning, I again passed the blue flip flop at the edge of the park. I met up with my running partner, and she started talking about a trip she’d recently taken to Philadelphia with her daughter’s fifth grade class. She said every child had a cell phone. As the children descended the bus and walked out into the streets of Philadelphia, their teacher told them to pay attention to everything because there’s a lot to see and observe. My running partner said the kids were so engrossed in their phones, texting and taking selfies, they didn’t see anything. Apparently, children are only hyper attentive until they get their first iPhone.
I was walking down the street with my son the other day when I did something I’ve been doing since I was young: I grabbed a couple of sprigs of young growth off of a Japanese yew bush, those green shrubs with the red berries that are typically used as hedges. I like to grab the soft little branches and rub them between my fingers.
“Mommy, what are you doing?” said my son, who was walking a few steps behind me.
“I’m picking a piece off the bush,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because it feels good in my fingers,” I said.
I was surprised he even saw me do it. But that’s the beauty of a child. They see everything. And it’s wonderful to be on the receiving end of their observation. You feel like someone is paying attention to you, in a way no one else in your life does. Someone cares what you’re doing. My husband barely notices if I get my haircut.
We passed another Japanese yew, and I grabbed a couple of soft branches and rubbed them in my fingers.
“Mommy, stop it. You’re going to kill the tree,” my son said.
Perhaps a little less observant wouldn’t hurt.