She sees a starling legs-up in the gutter.
She finds an earthworm limp and pale in a puddle.
What’s wrong with them? she says. I tell her they’re dead.
She scowls at me. She stares at her short shadow
And makes it dance in the road. She shakes its head.
Daddy, you don’t look pretty, she says. I agree.
She stomps on a sewer grid where the slow rain
Is vanishing. Do you want to go down there?
I tell her no. Neither do I she says.
She picks up a stone. This is an elephant.
Because it’s heavy, smooth, slate gray, and hers,
I tell her it’s very like an elephant.
We’re back. The starling is gone. Where did it go?
She says. I tell her I don’t know, maybe
A cat took it away. I think it’s lost.
I tell her I think so too. But can’t you find it?
I tell her I don’t think so. Let’s go look.
I show her my empty hands, and she takes one.
~David Wagoner “Walking around the Block with a Three-Year Old” from Traveling Light
These days, I spend most of my waking time walking and talking with a very special three year old. As he works in the barn with me, or just exploring the farm, he is helping me readjust how I look at the world, to see it the way he does and to try to figure out why things are the way they are. What seems logical to me doesn’t always make sense to him, so I need to put into words what I tend to take for granted.
Sometimes I just have to say I don’t know the answer to his question, because I really don’t know and I want him to believe in my truthfulness.
Whatever I say to him will get filed away in his memory banks for a lifetime, so I use careful words and respect his justifiable skepticism. I want to teach him to think through life’s puzzles without relying too much on outside opinions. What I hope is that even when I am empty of answers, he will always want to explore his questions while alongside me, trusting me as I hold his hand while we walk and talk together. I’m never empty when I am holding his hand.
I want him to remember that most of all.
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