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Valerie SchultzApril 24, 2023
Photo by Jeremiah Lawrence on Unsplash

“The world when seen through a little child’s eyes, greatly resembles paradise.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My eyes have never been good. I got fitted for my first pair of glasses for nearsightedness in the fourth grade, which was revelatory: The world became so crisp. I graduated to contact lenses in college. I had to add reading glasses in middle age. Now I wear bifocals and have been told that cataract surgery is in my future. Weirdly, a result of that surgery may be that I will no longer need glasses. That feels like a full circle.

But I am no longer that fourth-grader, so looking at the world through the eyes of a child does not come easily to me. Jesus tells us to become like little children if we want to follow him to the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3), but I am ridiculously far from childhood. And as I approach old age, I don’t want to become literally like a child. I actively fear the return of childlike dependence on someone for my physical care, specifically the intimate kind of caring I did for my dad and mom. I want to remain self-sufficient, considering the world through the eyes of an independent adult. How good of God, then, to make me a grandma, so that I can’t help but observe life’s journey through a beloved child’s eyes.

From the moment of her birth, my granddaughter has retaught me one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we learn at Confirmation: a sense of wonder and awe.

From the moment of her birth, my granddaughter has retaught me one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we learn at Confirmation: a sense of wonder and awe. As adults we feel those big feelings mostly when we encounter big things: the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Canyon, the mighty forces of nature’s storms, the photos from the moon. But when you spend the day with a child, you get to note the fascinating aspects of small things. I watch my 11-month-old granddaughter give her total focus to picking up a squashed raspberry with pincerlike fingers or finding the tag on a fuzzy stuffed lamb. She is not in a rush. And neither am I. She smiles broadly every time she sneezes. Every time. She makes a sneeze seem like a marvelous event.

Once you let go of your pretensions to adulthood and try to see God’s creation through a child’s eyes, you may also begin to hear with a child’s ears or feel with a child’s hands, smell with a child’s nose or taste with a child’s tongue. A dog’s bark, a piano’s chord? Wonderful. The feel and smell and taste of bread fresh from the bakery? Incredible. Fantastic. Give me more bread, less angst about the problems of the world.

I’m not sure why a grandchild moves me to contemplate God’s creation more than mothering my four children ever did. Maybe the sleeplessness and hardworking breasts and unending demands of motherhood are too immediate to allow for much contemplative time. Now my daughter meets these urgencies for her daughter, and I sit back and watch the miracle happen. It turns out that my advice is largely useless anyway, as demonstrated by my recent suggestion of rice cereal for introducing solid foods to a baby. My daughter and my niece, also a new mother, looked at me sadly.

I’m not sure why a grandchild moves me to contemplate God’s creation more than mothering my four children ever did.

“Not rice,” said one.

The other nodded. “Arsenic” was all she said.

They nodded together at this common new-mother knowledge.

Wait, what?

Apparently rice contains traces of arsenic, an unfortunate fact unknown back in the dark ages of mothering. I stick to reveling in each new discovery my granddaughter makes: sitting up, crawling, pulling herself to standing, ever closer to walking. Her little dynamic body is in constant motion, figuring, assessing, experimenting, growing. She trusts her body’s possibilities. She trusts completely in her world’s goodness and stability. I know better about the outside world that awaits her; still, I want her trust never to be broken by anyone or anything.

God’s hand winds the lovely cycle of mother-daughter-mother and we turn with it, full of wonder and awe, full of the grace that greatly resembles paradise.

“When I was a child,” writes St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things” (13:11). With apologies to St. Paul, who was never a grandpa, maybe that’s our problem. Maybe putting aside childish things boxes us into that jaded, cynical, unobservant mindset that seems to accompany adulthood. Sometimes I look back and wonder if I was sleepwalking through all those years of parenting my young children. With my eyes only half-open, I worried about illnesses and accidents and every tragedy that could befall my children but moved through the everyday not quite conscious to wonder and awe. I was relieved when they safely outgrew the baby stage, the toddler stage, the elementary school age, when they survived the awkward adolescent stage. They made it through driving, through high school, through college, safely launched into the world. Then they were adults, battling their own adult challenges, working, marrying, having their own children. They are concerned with big things, with climate change, with democracy, with inequality, with injustice, with making a difference. Having solved little, I have handed over the big worries to them. Now my focus is shrinking.

Where am I going with this? I’m wandering. I’m meandering. I’m feeling my way to the light. I’m going to the place of little relevance known as grandparenting, arriving where the joy of small things with small people is everything. I’m on the road to nowhere, to quote the Talking Heads, and that means everything to me. We like to say that God is in the details, but when I look with the wide-open eyes of a child, I understand the stripped-down theology that God is the details, and the details are amazing. God’s hand winds the lovely cycle of mother-daughter-mother and we turn with it, full of wonder and awe, full of the grace that greatly resembles paradise.

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