When I was eight years old, my mother placed a book in my lap and told me to read the entire thing by the end of the week. I looked down at the front cover, which had an illustration of a monocle-clad, top-hat cat, and read the title – Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by some guy named T. S. Eliot.
“There’s wonder in there,” Mom said.
She was right. Mr. Mistoffelees – the trickmaster, Rum Tum Tugger – the contrary cat, and Macavity – the infamous master criminal were nothing short of enchanting. But the true magic came that weekend. My mom placed something else in my lap – two theater tickets. We were going downtown together on a mommy-daughter date to see Cats, the musical.
When those felines – characters I knew and adored from the book – slinked down the aisles and crawled onto the stage, well, there is no other way to explain it; I was wonderstruck. And it stuck. I studied Eliot’s works as a literature major, and Lloyd Weber’s as a drama student. I encountered wonder in those late-night undergraduate days, just as I did as a little girl in that thrilling theater experience.
Years ago, I asked my mom about the inspiration for that event. What made her decide to give me the Eliot poems and then take me to see the play? Did she read about it in a parenting magazine or something? Did a friend give her the idea? Did she know I’d focus on literature and theater as a student? “No, honey,” she replied, “I was spent. Your sister was a difficult toddler. I was working full time. Your dad’s job was hanging by a thread. I was at my wit’s end. I needed to do something. I wanted to create a wonderful moment for you, but also for myself.”
Now that I’m a mom of three, I get it. It’s been a long time since I wasn’t exhausted. There’s a lot of stuff of life, you know? Things I was ill-prepared for. How can anyone be ready for the un-wonderful: infertility, tragedy, illnesses, health scares, anxiety, fears about children, financial instability? My baby’s spinal cord was messed up. My son has life-threatening food allergies. I became sick, almost overnight, with a chronic, painful disease. My dear cousin died tragically. My husband changed careers. Scary things happened in our country and in our world.
Along the way, in all of this “adulting,” I lost my Cats-awe, my childlike wonder.
But then came … the gift of children. There are stormy days when my kids break through the clouds, grab me by the hands, and lead me into worlds of make-believe, magic and mystery: outer space upstairs, a school for stuffed animals, an elevator that takes you to fantasy realms. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get my head in their games because I am too distracted by real life. But still, they reach for me. They remind me to wonder, to play.
I’ve decided it’s time to uncover the buried sun, to follow my kids’ joyful lead more proactively. In other words, I’m invoking wonder again. In fact, for the past few weeks, I’ve been taking myself on what I’ve been calling “wonder walks.” I’m not in a hurry. I simply walk around my community, just like Alice stumbling across curious things, and follow them until I reach Wonderland.
Did you know that a veterans’ cemetery sits smackdab in the middle of my neighborhood? I’ve never explored it until recently. It contains gravestones dating back to the 1800s. Did you know that my neighbors, just one block over, have sunflowers that are taller than their garage? It’s a botanical Oz over there. Did you know that my other neighbors own the cutest red, vintage front porch furniture? I’m tempted to sneak over and steal the whole set.
Most days, my children join me on these “wonder walks,” and they point out other delights: acorn hats, jumping-puddles, secret hideouts, gigantic trees. “How did that tree get so big?” They ask with genuine awe in their souls. And now that the cold is arriving, my kids relish its enchantments as well – sparkly snow, icicles, Christmas lights.
Yes, I love these things, I remember. This is the wonder-full stuff of life.
Last night, just before I kissed my four-year-old goodnight, he said a prayer. “Dear God, thank you for my beautiful mommy, who looks and smells like a dance party.” (Best prayer ever, by the way.) For a while, I allowed life’s difficulties to hide my sense of wonder. I’m so thankful for my children, who have inspired me to find it again. And it’s working – they see the “dance party” in me. I like to imagine that they’re getting a glimpse of the little girl, that spellbound child at the theater. She’s still within me, and that’s such good news. I just have to remind myself to bring her out to play, to take her for a walk around the block now and then.
For me, “wonder walks” have become my carved-out space to sprinkle a little fairy dust. Each step is an invitation to rediscover the sacred and celebratory. Mom, you are invited to do the same. The work you do is back-breaking. Life may have wounded your precious heart. It may take a little discipline, a little awakening. It may take a book of poems and a night out at the theater. It may take a few long walks. But it’s still in you, mama.
There’s wonder in there.
Aubrey Sampson the mom of three crazy-hilarious sons, which is also to say that she spends most days in her pajamas drinking entirely too much coffee. On the days she manages to get dressed, Aubrey is an event and retreat speaker, a blogger, and the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan, 2015). She and her husband, Kevin, just planted their first church in the Chicagoland area. You can find and follow Aubrey at aubreysampson.com and @aubsamp.