On Maintaining Wonder As A Parent

Written by: Jen Shoop

Last year, one of my readers on Magpie by Jen Shoop wrote to tell me that her six-year-old son had passed away unexpectedly, and that, after his death, she had discovered hundreds of photos he had taken on his iPad, many of (in her words) “everyday things he found beautiful — light/shadow, flowers, a bumblebee, our dog.” 

She went on to write: “Looking closely is what our children do best. It doesn’t require patience or practice for them; they innately know how to do it. To see things through their wondrous eyes and love things with their entire hearts.” 

I have been holding this mother, and the memory of her son, in my heart since she wrote. I think of her boy often when I catch my daughter taking selfies on my phone, or with her plastic-y Tonka truck style camera, its viewfinder the size of a thumbnail, or when I rifle through the mountain of drawings my children routinely leave on our countertops and shove beneath our bedroom door in the morning. Their dawn contributions map out a constellation of insular references: the front lawn on which they spend their afternoons, the anime fox my daughter sketched after we saw one cross Mass Ave. in NW DC the other day, a stick figure with a pink dress on “because pink is your favorite color.” I think of her boy, too, when my four-year-old son is desperately trying to communicate a string of details that have no discernible interconnectedness, as when he was telling me the other day about feathers, and trees, and “those yellow ones?” I still can’t quite make out the object from his verbal penumbra, but I listen to him and I strain to honor the narrow web that makes up his tiny world without dismissal. 

It can be, let me be honest, a challenge to maintain adequate wonder as a parent. I remain continuously at war with the everyday monotony of child-rearing, the way it can obscure or dullen the sweetness and magic of early childhood. Because bedtime, for me, often shape-shifts into a hurdle. Bathtime can feel like an aching back. Dinnertime can sound like a repeating volley of “bottom in your seat” and “try at least one bite” and “if you’re not hungry enough for dinner, you’re not hungry enough for dessert.” And yet.  I also know that there are mothers reading this who miss the bathtimes, the marinara-stained cheeks, the “Mama!” cried out in the middle of the night. And so I want to sit for a minute in the discomfort of knowing that all of the parts of motherhood — even the deeply fatiguing ones we must muscle through with grit — are a privilege. I write this not to sugarcoat, but to shore up.  To remind myself to look closely and patiently when I am flagging.  To honor the legacy of this mother and her gone-too-soon son.  



Troop Danrie