“Mom, what’s your favorite thing to do?” This question, posed by my teenage daughter, caught me by surprise, as I couldn’t recall another time when she had asked me something that was not relative to what we were having for dinner or whether she could play games on her chrome book. The answer, though, was pretty clear.
If I could choose anything to do, I would take a walk with anyone that would go with me. If this involved pushing a stroller, that would be wonderful; if I could bring an iced coffee, that would be perfect. Since we have not yet found our farmhouse and still live in town near several childcare centers, I often see children walking with their daycare teachers. Each boy, girl, and adult holds a loop on a colorful length of material reminiscent of a leash. On a given day, I fancy that I am one of those children, strolling down Third Street, wearing my shiny silver mary janes, marching in step with my peers, breathing in all that the day has to offer and not giving a thought to what might happen this evening, much less when I am grown up.
The most remarkable of my conversations, and my most profound thoughts, seem to occur when I am walking around town or on campus. On a recent outing, Aaron, almost five, wondered how old my mother was. When I told him that she is seventy-four, he asked if I, too, was seventy-four. He was not interested in hearing that I was forty-eight. Instead, he wondered if I had the same hands as Memaw. I wondered if my mother and I were to put our hands together, whether anyone would be able to distinguish hers from mine.
He, like me, is trying to figure it out.
“Mom, do most people have pink heads?” I wasn’t really sure how to respond to this one. I think he answered his own question by counting his siblings and parents, envisioning each head, and coming to some sort of uncertain conclusion. I would have done the same thing.
Many years ago, when the teenagers were toddlers, I loaded Gabriel and Sadie into the purple jogging stroller, side by side, and ventured to campus for one reason or another. We were stopped by a strikingly beautiful Indian woman who asked, quite pointedly, if “they”…the boy with a head of blond curls and the little Korean girl…were twins. I think I attempted to respond but uttered no sound.
My friend had just finished sharing a story about her little boy, who had ordered a milkshake from a restaurant and, upon its delivery, showed his gratitude to the waitress by saying something to the effect of, “thanks, fat cow”…probably with his usual sweet smile and the purest intentions. As Aaron and I made our way to the van, he broke out into his usual “windmill arm” run/skip, travelling at a rapid clip several yards ahead of me. A college girl dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and sporting what looked to be a fresh mohawk, passed me, smiled, and commented about my little boy. Aaron wondered what the student said.
“She said you’re cute,” I said.
“You mean HE,” piped Aaron, in a voice that was unmistakably heard.
Some years ago, Aaron and I were at the park near the school where my son Ethan now attends. Some children from the school, which serves children with autism, were at the park with their teachers. One boy approached me several times, and I was surprised to hear him speak.
“Your kid is a brown kid?”
I nodded my head.
“Whoa!” was his response as he scurried away.
Children are innocent. The awkward comments are merely observations…functions of learning about one’s world. But when does the tide change? When is curiosity not okay? I don’t always know if it’s okay when I am forty-eight. So I guess I choose not to ask, and not to talk about it. I find myself hoping that my little ones will not put voice to their thoughts when the situation arises…and that is probably not right. When the woman asked me about my “twins,” she was really just wondering. When someone asks me about the if “those children” are all mine, I am happy to tell them so. People are curious. And, often, awkward.
I guess there is a comfort level that I can only strive for, that I can never actually reach. It’s out there, and I can feel it, but I don’t know what to do with it. And that is going to have to be okay, because I am pretty sure nobody else really knows either. I think I will just continue walking with my little ones, searching for answers, and finding more questions. At least, if it’s a good day, I will have my coffee.