This morning my first-grader plucked these two leaves off the ground during our walk to school. The small one, she pointed out, is a baby leaf, and the big one looks like a cat’s head.
When we parted ways, she handed me the leaves, solemnly instructing me to take them home and put them in a very safe place. I nodded and urged her to hurry because the bell was about to ring and I didn’t want her to be late.
I thought about all the leaves (petals, sticks, rocks, etc.) which have appeared in random piles around the house in the years since my kids began gathering them. I still had the crumbled remains of several leaves, dried and crunchy, in my jacket pockets because of all those times I’d forgotten to put them in a very safe place.
I thought about my persistent compulsion to throw these things away. To me, it was clutter (in some cases, decomposing clutter). Half the time, the kids didn’t even give their “treasures” a second look. We couldn’t save everything.
Something heavy happened then, right there on the sidewalk. I felt, keenly, the exhaustion of always being concerned about messes, and rules, and being on time. This was followed by a wave of longing for the curiosity and joy that I worry I’ve lost because I’m too busy being a responsible grown-up. Then came the nagging fear that I was inadvertently smothering this gift of wonder in my own children.
But then I realized that wasn’t true. The proof was right there in my hand.
During the walk back on my own, I looked at the leaves my child had pressed into my palm. I saw the silhouette of the cat’s head, clear as day. I studied the tiny perfection of the baby leaf.
I didn’t stuff them into my pocket this time. When I got home I made a picture of them instead.