Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Feel the Rhythm

There was a part of me that worried about taking a vacation right before school was to start. Two weeks of ultimate relaxation, sleeping late, lazy days and sunny beach visits are sure to wind the kids down instead of up. Won't it be impossible to get them into some sort of routine for school, music and extracurricular activities after such idleness?

The answer remains to be seen, but after two days at the beach with Ben, I'm not very worried. Some people are drawn to the coast, to oceans and waves, warmth and sand. Ben, who never stops moving--even in his sleep--did not strike me as one of those people. Even at almost six years old, he cannot sit still for long. His mind is always moving, his body not far behind. In the airport, he ran and spun and did pull-ups on dad's arm. On the airplane, he wiggled, squiggled and squirmed, standing and sitting beneath his loosened seat belt. How could such a child relax enough to enjoy the tranquility of a beach?

Ben's circadian rhythm has him up at the same time every morning and ready for sleep at the same time every night, regardless of what the day brings. He seems to physically anticipate the time changes in spring and fall; his schedule shifts before the clocks do, and he is antsy until his time and his world's are aligned again. But it wasn't until the moment when Ben met the ocean that I realized what I had been missing.

As we looked out to the school of dolphins swimming beyond the shore, and watched the waves roll in one after the other, it clicked: Ben's body is as constant and reliable as the tide. The waves are always moving; their rhythm pulled by the moon, something bigger and more powerful than they. It is a part of their beauty and what we find so calming about them. So it was no wonder that Ben was drawn to the waves. He spent hours running alongside them, jumping over them splashing back at them. He wants to go right to the beach when he wakes up, and is reluctant to leave them for lunch. And he sleeps for 12 hours straight at night.

For the adults, a trip to the ocean is a vacation, a way to escape the humdrum details and daily stresses of life. But for Ben, it seems, the beach is more than just a fun new place to go, and a way to spend time with his grandparents. I have a feeling that when he is older and looks back on these trips, he will think of them not as vacations, but as times of coming home. He seems to feel secure, even in this strange house with new smells and sights, different foods and routines. Perhaps it's because he is in a house full of the people he loves. But more than that, I think it's because he knows that, right across the street, he can stand at the ocean and connect with something so much bigger than himself, yet so very much the same.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Today I realized that, though I am a non-fiction writer, I am a creative reader and thinker. By creative I mean, well, fiction. The what-if; the could-have-beens; the change-a-factor-and-see-what-happens kind of thinker. I can probably pinpoint the beginning of such thinking to when I first read Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder." In the story, a trip back in time to the dinosaur era, and the accidental killing of a single butterfly, causes a time paradox: this tiny alteration ultimately causes a domino effect of changes that carry into the future, all the way up to the year to which the travelers return.

Ever since then, I have loved the idea of the possible. What if I had taken that job in the bank instead of at the art college, where I began my journey toward becoming a writer? What if my parents had bought that apartment in co-op city instead of the house in Westchester in which to raise me? What if I had decided not to go to the restaurant with co-workers the night I met the man who would become my husband? The variations these choices could have made on my life are mind-boggling.

The interest in the topic has led me to read a series of variations on my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (good) and also causes me to contrive horrible potential scenarios anytime my children undertake any kind of adventure, such as a class trip (bad). But overall, I have decided that such musings on what could be are just the kind of thinking I want to pass on to my children.

Giving the next generation the ability to see the best in people, to imagine the rosiest outcome and to see the great things they can achieve with the right attitude is giving them a gift. I'm not talking about being unrealistic or overly optimistic: I'm talking about teaching them how to imagine all the different ways an encounter, an opportunity or a situation could unfold, and the power that they hold to affect those possibilities. How will this person react if I smile at them instead of frowning? What emotions will fill the child who receives this toy I am donating? How much better will my street look if I pick up all of the litter I see on it, and how will it better the Earth? And best of all, how will it make me feel to do these things?

The one thing children crave, from the time they are infants right through their teenage years and even into adulthood (don't deny it--you crave it too), is control over their world. Making a difference is something we all want to do, beginning on a small scale when we are young and expanding to the world at large when we are older. Seeing the impact we make--and feeling good about it--is what makes life worth living. The earlier we can teach our children how to make positive impressions in the world, by showing them their options and illustrating the potential outcomes, the better their worlds--and ours--will be. Just imagine the possibilities!