One of my favorite words is the word wonder. As a mom, it reminds me of my kids when they were all little. I loved watching them as they looked at the world from their vantage point, asking why and how about everything. They would construct new realities where they were teachers or bus drivers or soldiers. To make it seem real, they would use the information they had about their own experiences and then fill in the rest with their imaginative sense of wonder and possibility. What they chose didn’t always make sense to me, but, with a little reflection on what had happened in the days prior, I could usually uncover their reasoning.
For example, our youngest son loves to pretend he’s a dentist. He grabs a pair of latex gloves and a couple of plastic spoons and a straw, and he instructs me to lie down on the sofa as he places a pair of sunglasses on me. Once he’s draped a paper towel across my chest like a bib, he tells me to open wide. He puts the straw in the corner of my mouth like that sucking tube at the dentist office and begins poking around with one spoon while the other spoon is his “mirror”.
After a few minutes, he says that I have fifty cavities (which makes my cavity to tooth ratio a little off), and I should relax while he calls a different dentist to come in and pull out all my teeth. He pretends to make a call on an old, out-of-use cell phone, then he comes back and says that before the new dentist comes, he’s supposed to clean my teeth. Although it seems like a waste of time to clean teeth that are about to be pulled, I go along with it because I get to lie on the sofa while simultaneously playing with my kid. Mom Win!
He asks me which flavor of toothpaste I would prefer, so I ask him what my choices are. He says (and this is verbatim because I wrote it down right after we played) he has grape, orange, applesauce, Dr. Coke, alcohol, and Sprite. I tell him I’d like orange, but he says not to pick that because it’s too boring. “Okay. Then what do you want me to pick?” I ask. He says, “You should pick alcohol so that you will be like this…” and he acts like he’s drunk, stumbling around and tripping over the footstool. I tell him I don’t get drunk, so I’ll just stick with orange flavor, thank you very much.
Now I could be concerned that my 10 year-old son is talking about alcohol and getting drunk, but I use my own sense of wonder and remember the episode of I Love Lucy he recently watched when Lucy drinks too much of the Vitameatavegamin while filming a commercial and gets tipsy. I know he’s communicating what he’s seen in the world through imaginative play, so I can react accordingly. This works with my son, because we spend a lot of time together and I’ve made it my personal mission to become an expert on him and his three older siblings. But what about when people act or say things that are questionable and we don’t know them so well?
I heard a couple of therapists on the radio a few months ago discussing what life may be like for people venturing out on the other side of this often frightening pandemic. They said that many will suffer from PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious condition which may have long lasting repercussions. The therapists recommended that we should strive for PTG, or Post-Traumatic Growth. The trauma is still there, but the emphasis is on the growth which can occur. They also discussed how we should regard those people with whom we come in contact who may be suffering, and their suffering manifests itself in ways that make them a bit unbearable to be around. One of the therapists said, “Instead of judgment, turn to wonder.” I had to park my car and write down this phrase, because it was so perfect. What if instead of judging someone, we asked the question: I wonder why? How would that change the interaction or even the relationship?
Our youngest son, the aspiring tooth-puller, spent most of his first five years in an orphanage on the other side of the world. Because of his rough start, we have had to wonder a lot—about behaviors and motivations and unknown history—and so has he. Back in April, when we celebrated having him home for five years, the same number of years he spent away from us, he told me, “Before I had a family…before I was five…my life feels like a long, black line with no words on it or a blank piece of paper. Mom, what was there when everything was blank?” I had to stop right then and write that down, too, because sometimes my hearts feels like it’s being crushed into tiny pieces and those pieces become lodged in my throat making it almost impossible to swallow, but wonders never cease.