Creativity Lesson: Notice
One day last October, my son Everett emerged from Quiet Time and noticed a handful of candy wrappers sitting on the coffee table.
“Mommy!” he exclaimed with wide eyes, “Did you eat that candy?”
Busted. This quickly became a new habit for him: every day he came out of Quiet Time searching for evidence that Mommy had eaten some of his well-earned Halloween candy while he was quietly assembling jigsaw puzzles in his room.
Kids notice everything.
Sometimes, this can be a bad thing. I am not one of those moms who keeps every piece of paper my kids scribble on, which means that a fair amount of “art projects” end up in the trash. You can imagine the look of horror on my son’s face the day he went to throw away his empty applesauce pouch and saw his latest preschool masterpiece sitting atop a discarded banana peel.
Like I said, kids notice everything.
On the other hand, sometimes this can be a good thing. My boys are the first to notice when I am wearing lipstick or when I've cleaned the house. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I find a great deal of confidence in having my child squeal in delight, “Mommy! Your lips are RED! They look BEAUTIFUL!” or "Mommy! The house is SO CLEAN! You did a great job!"
Kids are good at noticing stuff, and equally good at narrating what they notice.
This can be humorous at times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the privacy of your own home, and mortifying at other times, like when your children ask interesting body-related questions in the middle of the grocery store (while pointing, naturally).
I think most of us would agree that our children can often teach us as much as we can teach them. And when it comes to noticing—I believe there’s a lot we can learn from these tiny observers under our roofs.
Young children have not yet been plagued by the distracted and busy nature of adulthood. Our little ones are not concerned with paying bills, climate change, or tensions in the White House. Rather, most of our children are simply living in the moment—fully and freely and innocently as can be, noticing whatever exists in front of their faces.
They wake up, they notice things, they ask questions, they go to bed, they do it all over again the next day.
Obviously as we grow older, we're exposed to more information, we take on more responsibilities, we learn more about the world (for better and for worse) and gradually our brains get fuller and fuller and fuller with to-do lists and deep thoughts and Big Feelings and more.
Stopping to smell the roses, or even notice the roses, doesn't come as easily as it once did.
I'm aware of this fact every time my kids and I take a stroll around the neighborhood. While they joyfully point out every single thing they see: birds, dogs, airplanes, leaves, clouds—I’m simultaneously making to-do lists in my head. Don’t forget to respond to that email. We’re almost out of hand soap. And coffee creamer. Can you order coffee creamer through Amazon Prime? Research that later. Did I RSVP to that birthday party? Don’t forget: the towels are still in the washing machine. Don’t forget: the ground turkey will go bad if we don’t cook it tonight. Don’t forget: send a thank you card to Aunt Rebekah for the pajamas she sent the kids.
When I'm cooking dinner, I'm thinking about responding to emails. When I'm responding to emails, I'm thinking about what to cook for dinner. Optimists would call me a multitasker; realists would call me ... distracted.
So, what do we do with this problem? Close all the tabs and do one task at a time, for the rest of our lives? I think we all can agree that would be both impossible and inefficient.
But ... just for today—can we dedicate 10 minutes to noticing beauty and wonder all around us?
This is what I want us to do: I want us to put our phones in a drawer, close our laptops, stop unloading the dishwasher, and quit writing grocery lists in our heads.
What do you notice?
Where are you? How do you feel? Where is the light? What do you hear? What do you smell? What’s going on in your heart at this very moment in time?
Maybe you’re at home, and maybe you feel tired. Maybe the light this time of day is shining through the kitchen window, illuminating the dust floating in the air. Maybe you smell coffee; maybe you smell sunscreen. Maybe you hear children running down the hallway in their footie pajamas, or maybe you hear the dishwasher growling.
Maybe you feel grateful. Maybe you feel bored. Maybe you feel resentful, or confused, or ecstatically happy. Maybe you feel invisible. Maybe you feel content. Lean into it. What do you feel today?
Are there any stories floating in the air? Something you could catch and write down? Is there anything worth documenting in this exact moment? What are you noticing right now?
What are you becoming aware of?
Feel it, deep in your bones.
Then grab a notebook and write it down so you don’t forget this moment, this thought, this one tiny record of your perfectly ordinary and magnificent life.
I will never forget the day I was standing in the driveway cleaning out my car during one of my monthly (see: hormonal) purge fests. I was in a mood, let me tell you. Everything in my life felt out of control and something had sent me over the edge, like realizing we had not one, not two, but three can openers.
I set my toddler up in the driveway with a bucket of chalk and went to town on the car. One yoga mat, three pairs of shoes, two sweaters, an umbrella, 40 Halloween candy wrappers and six sippy cups later, the backseat was relatively clean.
And then I saw it: our Ergo carrier.
It was twisted under the seat, abandoned next to a single sock. Everett’s feet pitter-pattered behind me—the sound alone a reminder of his age and size. My baby wasn't a baby anymore. I stood in the driveway clutching the Ergo to my chest for a full five minutes while I allowed my mind to wander down memory lane: strolling grocery store aisles, walking through airport security, climbing mountains. I had to think hard to remember the last time I had worn Everett in the Ergo. It was a weeknight in September and we had tickets to a baseball game. Something came up and my husband had to work late, so I (somewhat bravely) took Everett by myself. We lasted until the sixth inning, at which point I strapped Ev back in the Ergo for the long walk to the car, his feet dangling well below my waist. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him tight and he laid his head on my chest, an unusual (but always welcome) occurrence. It was a normal, average night. I’m almost positive it was a Monday.
You never know when something is going to be the last time, do you?
One minute something is part of the routine and the next it’s just a memory. You go from giving your baby two bottles a day to one a day, to one once in a while, to never ever again. Sometimes you phase things out strategically, like bottles and pacis. Other times, the last time is a Very Big Deal, like the last time he breastfeeds or the last time he sleeps in the bassinet before you give it away. But often, perhaps even most of the time, these “last times” are slipping right through our fingertips unnoticed, overlooked until the minute you pull your Ergo carrier out from the backseat of your car and wonder, now how did that happen?
That night at the baseball game, I had no idea it was going to be the last time I'd wear Everett in the Ergo. And had I not allowed myself to stand in the driveway holding it, grasping for memories, I never would have even noticed.
This month, I want you to walk around your house. I want you to look in your car. I want you to open drawers, jewelry boxes, closets you haven't explored recently. I want you to look for the object calling out to you—maybe it's an old necklace, maybe it's a shoe shine box, maybe it's a book or a recipe or a faded t-shirt.
Find something worth noticing, and write the story it's begging you to write.