Friday, March 13, 2009

Michael's Blue Worm

Michael just turned 27. He's a dad now himself and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. I admire and respect him for the man he’s become.

I remember the little boy though--especially the little boy who taught me to slow down and relax and see the world through his eyes. When Michael was about 2, we lived in a beautiful turn of the century frame house in a small town in Iowa. There were at least 8 or 10 full grown maple trees on our lot which made for some serious leaf raking in the fall. The house was only 3 blocks from the downtown of this bustling small, regional retail center and I would often walk the 5 minutes back and forth to my office if I knew I wasn’t going to be gallivanting around town that day and needed my car.

Each evening when I would get home, I would be met by my irrepressible blond toddler holding onto his “Blue Worm”. The “Blue Worm” was a little plastic toy with a seat and 4 wheels that he would sit on and scoot with his feet. He was waiting for me to take him on a nightly adventure around the block with me walking and him riding his Blue Worm. He’d have a grip on the handle bar of the Worm and a big grin on his face. I’d stop and squat down, still in my suit, and tell him, “Give me a minute Mikey to take off my tie and change jackets, OK?” He’d nod, I’d step through the kitchen door, pull off my tie and suit coat and put on my old college fraternity jacket, say “Hi” to my wife and be ready to go because adventures with a 2 year old never wait.

We’d take off down the driveway with its slight slope. Michael would lift his feet and coast until I stepped up and stopped him from going all the way to the street. He’d giggle because he was testing me, playing a little joke on Dad, seeing if I’d let him get all the way down to the street. Sometimes we’d even take our Springer Spaniel, Shorts, and I’d have the thrill of shepherding both a dog and a 2 year old. The dog would stop and sniff every smell he’d come across and lift his leg at nearly every vertical object. And Michael would stop just as often picking up a rock he’d spotted, examining it, offering it to me for my examination then discarding it just as quickly so as to move on to the next item that caught his attention. He’d pick up fallen maple leaves of the brightest hues and give them to me so that he could present them to his mother when we got home—his latest trophy from his most recent sidewalk safari with Dad.

On these nightly sojourns, I quickly learned to slow down, to leave my office and work behind and enjoy the world from the perspective of a 2 year old boy. Stop. Slow Down. Bend low. Look at the treasures that a 2 year old finds in the simplicity of nature that surrounds a residential sidewalk. Listen to the wind rustling in dry leaves as late summer turns to fall and fall marches towards winter. Stoop low to see the light in a little boy’s eyes as he encounters a magical world from much closer than you or I.

As we stoop low we see the wonder, we feel the joy of loving another human being that is a part of us and we learn patience. Because our world moves more quickly, we’ve seen every bent, broken twig we need to see. We’ve raked more leaves than we could ever count. But that 2 year old shows us 1 leaf. Just one. A leaf which to him is perfection in color, in shape, in texture. A leaf worthy of taking home to Mom. So we force aside the impatience we feel rising in ourselves because this is a far more important mission that we’re on. Much more important than sitting back in a recliner and watching the news and getting irked at the cacophony of children. Far more essential to living than sorting through today’s stack of junk mail.

The light of day would be fading as we turn the final corner of our one-square block safari. The temperature would be dropping. I’d have to stop to wipe the double runners oozing from Mike’s nose. And we’d slowly finish our trip. Sometimes with me carrying Mike in one arm, holding the magical Blue Worm in my hand and hanging onto Shorts’ leash with my other as we walked up the driveway. Then I’d deposit Mike on both feet and open the kitchen door handing him today’s treasure for Mom. He’d scamper up the landing, face red from the brisk outdoors while I put the Blue Worm in the corner under the coat hooks, ready and waiting for tomorrow’s grand adventure.

It’s surprising what you can learn from a 2 year old. They’re an open book, filled with unique insights. We just need to remember that there are many times and many circumstances in our personal and professional lives when we can do more and be more by slowing down and stooping low to find the treasures hidden right out in the open. A 2 year old can spot them in an instant. It takes us older folks a little more work.

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