Children have such wonderful, unadulterated minds and that often means they have no filter–much to our chagrin. About three years ago I took both of my kids back to visit family in Pennsylvania. It was a long, hectic day. As we were getting ready to land at the Harrisburg Airport, I began putting on some makeup. I hadn’t seen my family in ages and I wanted to look less like a harried, beset single mother and more like the happier, younger self my family probably remembered me as. I was trying to be discreet about it because it’s kind of weird, I guess, to be putting make-up on a plane (at least it seemed weird to me). There was this handsome man sitting across the aisle from me with whom I had exchanged smiles and maybe a joke. Nothing more than simple “strangers in tight quarters” interaction as I am rather standoffish by nature. I was, however, aware of his presence and cognizant of the fact that I did not want to look or act like an eedjit in front of him. Behaving in a dignified and proper manner had been drilled into me by my mother to such a degree that it doesn’t take much to embarrass me.
My daughter, who was 7 years old at the time, was oblivious to all such considerations, of course. My daughter also seems to be missing the gene that governs the ability to whisper. She is legendary, far and wide, for what we like to call her “shout whisper”, which most people once having heard her would equate to a normal speaking voice. Let me also add that she has a voice that can cut through white noise like a knife through butter. With her natural noise cutting “shout whisper”, her age and lack of a filter and the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex what happened was probably inevitable. While the plane was descending she began to pester me about my make-up. She expressed her displeasure. I ignored her. When that had no effect she began to liken my eyes to a raccoon. I tried to explain to her that it was the “smoky look” but she apparently disagreed. She speculated that it was more of a “raccoon” or “badger look”. People began to look at me, particularly the guy in 36D, because they wanted to see if I did indeed look like a small hairy mammal of the weasel or coon variety with characteristic dark stripes around the eyes. I gave them a smile that was halfway between a grimace and an apology, trying to communicate silently the universally understood feeling of “what are you gonna do….kids say the darnedest things”.
To my daughter though, I gave the evil eye but she was oblivious and continued her speculation. I began to blush, my ears turning quite an ugly shade of puce because what if she was right? I started to take some of it off with a tissue. She then proceeded to question why my ears had changed colors and began to give me tips as to how I should apply my make-up. The redness moved to my face and my neck. I tried shushing her to no avail. She suggested that I go to the restroom and splash water on my face as it had become awfully red. Needless to say at that point I gave up on the make-up because my entire face was the color of a female baboon’s ass in mating season. There is not enough make-up in the entire world that was going to cover up my extreme mortification.
Alas, my daughter had become obsessed. She made periodic comments as the plane rolled to the gate, as we disembarked from the plane, as we walked through the airport to the baggage area. People from the plane continued to be amused all the way there including Mr. 36D. At that point we spotted my sister and nephew. Thanking all the gods that are and ever will be, I realized that seeing her cousin had distracted my daughter from what had apparently become her “cause du jour”. Having a moment alone with my sister the first thing out of my mouth wasn’t, “So happy to see you!” or “Give me a hug”…it was instead, “Quick! Do I look like a raccoon?”
This is the kind of effect our children and their unfiltered minds have on those of us who have a low tolerance for mortification. Yet, there is another, more positive, side to their deficit. The same unfiltered minds can produce simple statements of profundity and beauty that express what we as adults cannot.
My 3 year old son spent this weekend with his father. These weekends are fun but tiring so that when I get him, he can be grumpy and whiny. I had spent the weekend up near Flagstaff celebrating my Celtic roots and enjoying a break from the hell that is Phoenix in the summer. As usual when I picked him up from his Dad he was quiet and withdrawn, wanting nothing more than to be left alone as we drove home. I on the other hand, although tired myself, was happy to see him. When he is gone on the weekends, I miss him in a way that is not easily explained. It’s like there is a hole in my heart and when I see him again it is relief mixed with joy to see his face and a hunger to hold him close. So I showered attention and affection on him as much as I could while driving but was rebuffed. I believe his exact words to me were “Weev me awone. I want to weed my book”.
Knowing that this state of affairs would likely last into Monday night, I did not anticipate much affection from him this morning and I expected that he would be slow to rise. And he was. I let him sleep in as much as possible, not just for his sake but for mine too. By 6:40 am I knew I had to get us both moving or I would be inordinately late for work. I went into his room where he slumbered, head under the pillow and one long elegant foot stuck out off the edge of the bed. I turned on his small lamp, sat down at the end of his bed and began stroking his foot. He turned, stretched and then curled up, with his head down in my lap, butt up in the air, clutching his blankey. I let him stay like that for another minute or two. Then I rubbed his back and said, “Time to get up”. He sat up and moved toward me for a hug. As he fell into my arms he said, “I wuv you Mommy”, which was, as I just explained, unexpected. I said with my heart full of affection and gratitude, “I love you too”. He placed his head on my shoulder and relaxed into boneless contentment.
When I hold him like that, it is a sublime feeling of comfort, love, physical connection, and beauty. I feel like I’m floating outside of time with him in this pure stream of peace and love. This is not something I’ve ever expressed in words because even re-reading it now it sounds like a doped up hippy explaining how they feel about a rainbow. It is so much more than that and my words fail. Just about every parent on the planet has probably felt this. As adults, some of us are lucky enough to feel this way in the arms of a lover. But do our children feel this way too? I honestly didn’t know. I certainly hope that they do. And that’s precisely what I was thinking when I heard my son sleepily and quietly say, almost to himself, “Perfect”.
I was speechless and moved to tears. There was my answer. My three year old did feel the same way. And he was able to express the inexpressible with one word. Unwilling to let him or the moment go, I hugged him a little tighter. I knew that he would move soon and it would be over and I wanted to let him decide when to end that feeling of perfection. So he did and we got on with our day.
In the end, I’d endure a hundred embarrassments to hear them express one such transcendent thing. Thank all the gods that are and ever will be that our children can share their thoughts with us without the filters that imprison us as adults.