The Wonder of Children

A stay-at-home mom is in awe of her 3-year-old who wanted to spend the day taking in the creative works of Pollock, O'Keeffe and Calder. 

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- Posted on Mar 25, 2015

Dayton helped his mom see things with fresh eyes.

My three-year-old son, Dayton, hopped up on the couch, grabbed the family iPad and clicked on the Angry Birds app. A beautiful, sunny Wednesday morning and all he wanted to do was play a video game?

I felt guilty. Why hadn’t I planned some activity for us to do together? It was the one day that he was home from preschool while Sydney, my daughter, was in kindergarten. There was nothing pressing I had to get done. I’d been wanting for months to spend more time with Dayton, take him to story hour at the library or to the Native American museum, something educational.

But whenever I thought of it I was busy doing something else. It was a constant struggle to fit everything in, to give both my kids the attention they deserved. It was so much easier with Sydney. Unlike her little brother, who was laid back by nature, Sydney was always coming to me with a book she wanted me to read to her or an art project she wanted help with.

She loved playing dress-up, having tea parties, the kinds of verbal, social activities I liked too. I’d left my teaching job when she was born to devote myself full-time to being a mother. It seemed natural, when Sydney was ready for preschool, that I would be the one to teach her. I loved going over phonics and math, seeing her eyes light up when a concept clicked. But I worried I was shortchanging Dayton.

What if I made today all about him?

“Let’s do something fun together,” I said. “Just you and me.”

Dayton looked up from his game. If we were going out, it was because I had something planned. He knew that by now.

I was about to suggest we go to a state park, when I stopped.

“Dayton, what would you like to do?” I asked.

He didn’t hesitate. “Crystal Bridges,” he said.

The art museum? “Sounds good,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. Crystal Bridges, in nearby Bentonville, Arkansas, is home to world-renowned paintings and sculptures by American artists, including Jackson Pollock, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alexander Calder. It opened in 2011, founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart’s founder Sam Walton.

The building itself, a beautiful blending of wood and glass, containing a series of bridges, is an architectural marvel. We’d gone there as a family a few times, but an art museum’s not exactly the first thing I think of when I’m looking for someplace fun to take a three-year-old boy. Was this really what he wanted?

Still, this was Dayton’s day. I told myself to just go with the flow, but even as I was buckling him into his car seat I couldn’t help but wonder what I was getting myself into.

Jennifer and her son at Crystal BridgesWe got to the museum. “Okay, you lead the way,” I said.

Dayton glanced toward the entrance. Suddenly he raced down one of the many walking trails that wind through the grounds. I chased after him. Where was he going? He came to a sculpture of the word LOVE, the O tilted to the right, that famous arrangement done by Robert Indiana.

With his hand, Dayton followed the curves of the letters. He crawled through the space between the V and the E, then climbed atop the L and sat there, a big smile across his face, like he’d just gotten to the top of a jungle gym.

I took his picture with my phone. Then he was off again, tearing across footbridges and up some stone steps. He spied a yellow butterfly and dashed after it, the two of them doing a kind of dance together. “I see you found something yellow,” I said. “That’s your favorite color, isn’t it?”

Dayton nodded excitedly, as if this was the most amazing thing there was to know about him. He gave me a high five, then turned back to the butterfly, watching until it fluttered out of view. I probably never would have noticed it.

I was still considering this when I realized he was gone, flying down the trail again. I ran after him. We came to a secluded spring, a curtain of water cascading down layers of moss-covered limestone.

“Is the water cold?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It comes from under the ground.”

“Must be the coldest water in the world!” he exclaimed. Normally, the teacher in me felt compelled to tell him when a rock or a tree wasn’t, in fact, the biggest in the world. But that day I let it go.

“This is called Crystal Spring,” I told Dayton. “That’s how the museum got its name.”

He jumped up. “Let’s go,” he said. He ran almost the whole way back.

I grabbed his hand and he led me inside the museum to a big room designed for children. There were tables with puzzles, gears, magnets, blocks, things to manipulate.

Dayton got a box of tangrams, flat colored plastic shapes that fit together. In minutes he had made a kind of cathedral, of orange, blue and green. Then he tore it apart and there before him appeared a...what was it?

“It’s a car,” he said. To me they were just pieces of plastic, but Dayton’s mind was so different from mine or his sister’s. He saw the world alive with colors and sounds, butterflies and babbling springs, everything so fresh and exciting you had to run so as not to miss a single thing, as if God made the world anew for every child.

I could understand my son’s amazement, now that I was finally seeing the wonder of who he was made to be. 

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