As a parent, I always seem to be rushing through doors, though I am rarely late for anything and am even more rarely excited to get where I’m headed. It’s an automatic response by now. I see a door and then I feel anxiety. I can tell that Georgie feels the same way. Whenever she leaves the house without bags or small children in her arms, she looks around confused, as if she must have forgotten something.
A few weeks ago I rushed out with Nehemiah so that we could get to Cub Scouts on time. They were doing a nature scavenger hunt at the park. Those three words together, “nature,” “scavenger,” hunt,” so thrilled and obsessed his 5-year-old brain that he nearly fell apart with waiting. A full hour-and-a-half before the hunt his face started jolting open every 15 minutes, like a set of malfunctioning automatic doors.
“We’re going to be late!” he would shout, and then he’d point at the clock like it was a witch. He seemed to be discovering, in shock, that he lived in a world where love of nature could be threatened by something purchased at Target.
He pointed at it. “LOOK,” he’d say, as if saying that’s him, that’s the guy!
He cannot read a clock. I don’t know what in the world he was seeing when he looked at it. Maybe the same thing that I see now when I see a door. Less an appliance than a window into a world of horror.
Time was slowly breaking him. He was experiencing, maybe for the first time in his life, what a clock feels like for parents.
For the following week’s Cub Scout meeting we rushed out again. I hadn’t really checked (too busy arranging the waiver claims for my fantasy football league. Yes IT IS important), but I assumed we were late. There was no reason for this assumption, just the sheer habit of it.
Out on the street, the too-thin lanes of our suburban-town streets were clogged. Dusk approached, dimming all attention. I opened the windows, breathed in the exhaust from a hundred car-fulls of people who were in the same emotional state. If I have communal experiences on a regular basis, it is in this type of traffic–slow, smoggy, crowded masses all hypnotized by the same stretch of road.
When we rounded the last turn, off a quiet, empty little street, we arrived to an empty parking lot.
“Ah we late?,” asked Nehemiah.
Um, I replied.
Then I felt the panic again. But this time it was a sadder kind of panic. I panicked out of the realization that, now that the schedule was broken, I didn’t know what to do with my son.
There’s a baseball field behind the church where his pack meets. The sun was starting to set behind the forest that lined it. Though I’d been to the church a few times by then I’d never noticed the field, or the trees, or that the sun often set as we were arriving.
A little gloomy by now, I suggested, “Let’s just go over there, huh?”
I walked. He followed.
All the bases had been removed, maybe years ago, and grass stuck up like cow-licks through the dirt. The place felt lazy, neglected. The infield, I discovered, was covered in seashells, though there isn’t a beach for miles.
“This one looks like a ghost!” Nehemiah shouted, and held up a shell. “Look Dad!”
Then he held up another, then another. Then he pointed to a cloud, a tree, a gross and dangerous looking weed. Look Dad, look Dad, look Dad.
And he just kept going on like that, finding things. Because that’s what children do: they discover things. They do this, I think, not just because they have all the time in the world and know next to nothing, but also because they still think of the world around them as something that needs to be discovered.
That’s something to pause about. Once you start thinking of the world as something you don’t already know, time slows down. Encountering a place, any place, is like encountering a person who fascinates you. Someone you might love, if you had the time.
I always seem lately to be in a rush to get to places I don’t want to go. The clock makes me wretch and cough with panic.
Look Dad! Look Dad!
Well and just what the hell am I looking for these days? Or have I already discovered it all?