A long time ago, when my oldest daughter was about three, we were driving home after a late night at my dad’s house. It was a warm spring evening, and I had opened the sun roof on my car. I drove along, humming to the radio, thinking my little girl was asleep in her car seat in the back. Then suddenly, her tiny voice chimed, “Mommy, look . . . the moon woke up.” I looked up through the top of the windshield to see an enormous moon, glowing above our heads.
I looked back at her sweet face when we came to a stop. “That’s pretty, isn’t it,” I said. But she had fallen asleep, content to know that big moon was where it should be.
A few years later, my husband and I had traveled with friends to a resort in Mexico. After a long day of lying on the beach and drinking margaritas, I was relaxing by the pool. A young couple had been playing with their little girl in the shallow end of the pool when the girl pointed up, and in an excited voice said, “Papa, mira. La luna! La luna.”
My Spanish isn’t great, but I knew she was excited to see that big moon that had slipped into place above her head. It reminded me of my daughter.
One of the things that I love the most about children is their ability to see simple beauty and point it out to others. They have an innate appreciation of the small wonders that many of us overlook. In our adult worlds, we tend to bypass the appreciation of how soft a single rose petal is, or the fact that kitties’ eyes look like glass, but doggies’ eyes look like people’s. Children’s commentaries on the world help to bring focus to details which, once noted, open a world of fascinating details for us if we will but pay attention.
As a writer, I listen frequently to the comments made by children. I want to hear their comments on the universe as they experience it because it helps to reconnect me with that child-like part of myself. And it isn’t just the little kids who offer tremendous insight. Teenagers who are struggling to make sense of the world and their own place within it often offer up gems of wisdom that seem truly beyond their years. My youngest daughter was struggling through a conflict with another girl at school, someone she had considered as her friend. The other girl had made a very mean comment to my daughter; not an uncommon experience for many junior high girls. When I asked my daughter what she was going to do with the situation, she said, “Mom, there are billions of people in the world and I am quite capable (her words, really) of finding better friends.”
A few weeks later, the girl at school was trying to make amends. She never actually apologized to my daughter, but it was clear she was feeling some guilt. When I asked my daughter how she was dealing with this change in behavior, her response made me laugh.
“Well, I can be her friend,” my daughter said, “but that doesn’t mean I trust her completely.”
When my oldest daughter was a young teen, one of her friends had spent the night at our house. I stood in the kitchen making pancakes, listening to the two of them discuss the junior high issues of the day. They talked about boys; they talked about other girls; they talked about teachers; they talked about the dance that was coming up. Then my daughter’s friend made an interesting comment:
“I don’t want to go to the dance,” she said.
“You have to go with me,” my daughter said. “I don’t want to stand there alone.”
“I’m just too fat,” her friend said (and I assure you, she was not fat at all).
“I weigh more than you do, and I’m not going to let someone else’s opinion stop me from having fun.”
And this was the line that caught my attention. Her friend replied, “Yeah, but you look good and you’re comfortable in your skin. I want to unzip mine and find a different me to wear.”
It was sad, and a bit funny, and wonderfully insightful.
I’ve listened to my kids and their friends as they’ve grown. I’ve used their comments to feed the souls of my characters and add depth and detail to my stories. It has been a while since I’ve hung around a group of young teens, and I’m thinking it’s time that I visited with some of them without them knowing. Those pure, unaltered comments that reveal their thoughts, their struggles with the world: they are golden, and I can’t wait to recharge that particular battery in my writing.