Voices/Debra Karplus | I am in awe of a child’s awe | guest comment
For fear of an awkward encounter with an unsavory character that might endanger personal safety, I avoid entering rest stop buildings when driving on the freeway. I see myself as a cautious person.
Recently my daughter and her daughter (my grandchild #5 of 6) stopped by here and made the drive from Indianapolis International Airport to my home in Champaign. “Olivia” (not her real name) is 7½ years old and the world is still so exciting to her. She loved the concept of the rest stops they passed along the way. They didn’t actually walk into the rest stop along Interstate 74 west of Danville, but they were really intrigued by the idea of what a rest stop was.
They arrived at our house just before dark, so we only had enough time to take a short walk around the neighborhood here in southwest Champaign. Olivia was enchanted by the fireflies. As a kid I loved fireflies. My brother, sister and I would go outside in our Chicago backyard and catch fireflies, put them in a jar with tufts of grass and punch holes in the lid of the jar.
But at some point between then and now, I stopped paying attention to fireflies.
On one afternoon of their all-too-brief visit, we visited Prairie Farms, a delightful Champaign Park just south of the Sholem Aquatic Center. I had sweet memories of taking my son and daughter there when they were my youngest grandchildren’s age; We used to go to Prairie Farms when my parents came to visit.
On this particular visit to Prairie Farms with my daughter and Olivia I quickly noticed things that weren’t there anymore like horses, cows, ducks swimming in the pond and the slide that came out of the barn which my kids really enjoyed in the 1980’s. But Olivia was fascinated by the rabbits and turtles in the park. She didn’t have the perspective I had of what the park lacks. Instead, she loved everything that children could appreciate in that moment.
During the ridiculously hot and humid weather of their visit, we went to the Indian Acres Swimming Club for a swim every day. Olivia was in the pool for a short 5 minutes before coming out long enough to show me her new best friend. After that, they played together in the water for hours. Thinking of all the adult conflicts I hear about, I can’t help but marvel at the wonderful simplicity of childhood friendships.
Perhaps the highlight of Olivia’s visit was a quick errand at the bank. It was unusually quiet in this bank branch on this Wednesday morning; the only other visible bank customer was an elderly bearded man who resembled Santa Claus. Olivia stared at her until the man came up to her and insisted he was Santa Claus and started arguing with her about being naughty or nice. Olivia is still talking about Santa banking in the same place as Grandma Debbie K!
Amazement, amazement, amazement, amazement, admiration are synonyms of awe that I found by searching the internet. After my family left to return home, I started thinking seriously about reverence.
Sometime around the start of middle school, peer pressure and the need to conform and be like everyone else take center stage; That delightful sense of awe quickly dissipates. What impresses young people greatly changes their focus. It’s not “cool” anymore to be impressed by these simple things of his younger self. The word “awesome” is often misused, sometimes overused.
How can we adults regain that sense of wonder in the big world that we had as children?
Living more in the moment and being present is a great first step. Children have this uncanny ability to be anywhere that adults can learn a lot from. Many of us older people are busy looking back at the past, reliving mistakes, contemplating what cannot be changed, or conversely jumping into the future, making plans, rather than enjoying where we are right now. Kids seem to have mastered this until they grow into adults and need to balance fun with responsibility.
Travel or even a change in routine is a great antidote to feeling awe again. My son in his mid-40s is currently traveling abroad with part of his family; I’m a bit jealous that they found a way to experience a new sense of awe. Always remember how great life can be!
Debra L. Karplus is an Occupational Therapist and freelance writer based in Champaign-Urbana. Learn more at debrakarplus.blogspot.com.