As a Second Language

The sun was setting as I pushed the toy car Seth had claimed for the evening the rest of the way up the hill to a playground. Still admiring his dedicated effort in walking the thing across a wide field before finally getting out, pushing it uphill from behind, and only giving up as it took to curving back down the hill, I was blindsided when he fickly ran for another bike on the blacktop.

“My bike! MY BIKE!” came a commanding bellow from a tiny boy of about three, sporting a bowl cut, black t-shirt, and too-short red checked pajama pants. He wasn’t whining. He wasn’t asking – he was setting the record painfully straight; I don’t care if everything else on this playground is community property – including this very Dora the Explorer trike you saw here last evening, it’s mine tonight, and you will not touch it. Obediently, I pried Seth’s fingers from the handlebars. Bowl Cut’s older sister chimed in helpfully “He can ride it. I know my brother said that, but it’s okay, he can ride it.” Capricious as two-year-olds are, though, my Seth was off to pursue another diversion by the time she finished her sentence. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason the same little boy unclenched his angry fists, pressed his palms together as though in prayer, and sang sweetly;

“Thank-a you! Thank-a you! Thank-a you very much!”

And for an equally obscure reason, I smiled and sort of danced along with the jingle. Delighted by my response, he stepped closer to me. Pressed his palms together again.

“Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you very much!” I clasped my hands together, a kind of quiet clap. He clapped, too. “I like that song.” I said. He smiled.

I followed Seth around a bit, feeling the chill as dusk set in around the chain links and tall grass. He played in the toy kitchen, rang up a few items on the toy cash register, and headed again for one very real Dora bike to the sound of – no protest whatsoever! It was then that I felt those eyes searching for mine again. He circled in front of me, clasping his hands together. This time I started in quietly with him.

“Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you very much!”

Little dance.

Quiet clap.

“I like that song.”


I was deemed “safe” now. Thus, the evening’s tiny agenda came to light.


“Yes, a bike.”


“Yes, a doll house.”

“Doll house.”

He slapped the lacquered side of the playhouse. Waited.

“This one’s a play house.”

“Play house.”

“Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you, very much!”

A little dance. Singing, a quiet clap, a smile.

Seth collected cups and pretended to wash them in the pretend sink in the play house. He was quite content, even though I followed him waiting to see how I could help him have more fun. The boy with the bowl cut wanted my attention again. He grabbed the tire swing and gave it the best push a three year old boy could give, even one with a big voice.


“Yes. Do you like to swing?”

A nod. He slapped his hand down over at least three visible layers of paint covering part of the swing’s scaffolding. Waiting.

“That’s a post.”


“Do you know this one?”



“Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you! Thank-a-you very much!”

“Where did you learn that song?”

“Did you learn it at school?”


“Do you like school?”


Just then, the fence rattled down the hill where Joe and Luke came barreling through to join us with a baseball and bat. And I was off to admire my husband as he instructed our boys in America’s favorite past time. Lost in that brilliant moment for a good while, I felt those strange new eyes on me one last time. Glancing over, I thought I saw something like a pout. And I knew we’d already sung our last round of that silly, beautiful little jingle.


Days Like Grass

One of my favorite smells has always been that of fresh-cut grass. It reminds me of carefree Summer days as a child when my sisters and I played outside from sunup to sundown. With all that time on our hands, we took to exploring nature and all its intricacies. We dug in flowerbeds, played with little critters, and prevailed at outdoor play through all kinds of weather. At my grandmother’s house, where we spent many Summers, my baby sister and I invented a game with the two girls next door in which flowers, leaves from Gamma’s hydrangea bushes and blades of grass represented different currencies. Unfortunately, Gamma wasn’t a fan of the game because it involved our ripping out handfuls of grass and throwing it over our own heads a few times before collecting it in piles for the game. “You’re ruining my grass!” she’d holler at us. If that wasn’t bad enough, she was even more upset when she realized we’d been ripping up her hydrangea bushes. I didn’t realize it then – when the only possibility in my mind was that my grandmother took joy in ruining our fun – but she was trying to teach us some of our first lessons about the stewardship of nature. I learned another lesson through nature one day when I picked up a caterpillar I’d found in Gamma’s garden and let it walk on my arm while I admired its unusual markings. The moment was exhilarating, I remember, because although it sounds ridiculous to say so now, I had never seen a caterpillar like this one and was both excited to study it and afraid it could bite and/or be poisonous. At some point I did think it had bitten me and I flung it off my arm and smashed it with a rock in one fell swoop. Immediately overcome with guilt about this “murder” I’d committed in a fit of anger, I brooded over it for days and days afterward. It’s funny now, thinking about how much some things mean to us as children that we might not think twice about as adults. I saw a darker side of myself that day, however, and of course now realize it’s in every human’s nature to be spiteful, at times, if not worse. All of these experiences, both the endless days at play and the tough lessons nature taught me were invaluable pieces of my growing-up. After all, it takes time to grow up, just as it takes time to enjoy or learn from nature.

This morning, before we went for our family walk/run, I glanced over Joe’s shoulder as he read an article on the computer. My eyes grabbed this:

“We live in a culture that prizes and seeks “once-in-a-lifetime” moments. But in reality every moment is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You’ll never be 25 years old on March 21, 2011 at 8:00 am ever again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

I haven’t had the opportunity to read the whole article, which Joe says is a great read, as is the site itself (his new favorite). But just those few words grabbed me “every moment is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.” We talked about it on our walk. Here we were, on a glorious morning, we, the age we are and our kids the ages they are, looking how we look today, talking about what’s important to us today, and not needing to take the walk at Disneyland or Newport Beach or Europe or something. This walk, today, was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Later, at the park where we stopped to play with the kids on a playground, I realized I’d grabbed my camera on the way out the door. And since I love nature, and feel closest to God when I am out in it, I couldn’t resist taking some snapshots of the beauty around me. Walking across the grass toward that playground, I was taken by the glorious, gleaming green beneath my feet. Grass like that I pulled up and threw in the air with reckless abandon as a kid; soft and green and perfect to lay in; as beautiful to me as any tree, cloud formation or flower. Then, back home after two hours of play outside with my family that was reminiscent of my own childhood days, the once-in-a-lifetime moment ended, and of course another began.
“Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
as though we had never been here.”

Psalm 103:15-16 (New Living Translation)