We were deep into the afternoon before I remembered. One of Caroline’s friends was celebrating a birthday on Saturday night – taking a group of girls to an indoor play facility and then hosting a sleepover on their farm in the town next to ours.
Caroline’s mother reminded me about it Friday when I picked the kids up for the weekend, but I had forgotten in the rush of the day. And to be truthful, part of my memory loss might have been intentional: when one of my kids has a sleepover on “my weekend,” it means about 10-12 hours of missed time together. But it has been my policy over the year last four years to let the kids keep normal schedules and not let which parent they are staying with interfere with their social lives.
Caroline was down the hall playing when I hollered to her.
“Caroline, you have a birthday party to go to.”
“I almost forgot,” she said. She quickly began putting some things together for the sleepover and in a few minutes, we were on our way, just the two of us, on a 30-minute drive toward the city where the girls would be meeting.
The day was gray and cold. We had a long day packing up our house for the move to our new home, and I was as tired as I could remember being. I was dreading the drive from Gardner to Overland Park – all interstate and, in December, the scenery is drudgery.
We stopped by her mother’s to pick up a gift and Caroline’s good sleeping bag. Then we were on our way.
Within the first few minutes on the interstate, Caroline saw something sitting in the bare limbs of the trees lining the edges of the farm fields.
“Ooh, there’s a hawk,” she said. “There’s lots of them out this time of year.”
I didn’t turn to look. We had already driven past it, so I halfheartedly agreed in the way parents do when they’re driving and hardly listening.
Then she hollered again, louder this time: “There’s another one daddy.”
This time I saw the dark shadow she was pointing to. There in the bare, cold branches was the angular shape of a bird perched and watching the ground for any movement by a potential meal.
“You have to be careful not to mistake them for birds or squirrels nests,” she said.
Somehow that drew me into her game.
“Let’s see how many we can spot,” I said.
“Alright,” she said.
Within the next 1,000 feet that rolled under our tires she saw another hawk.
We drove on and within the next 500 feet that rolled under our tires she saw another hawk. And from then on, every quarter mile or so, we saw one, the dark shape on the branch, sitting still in the harsh wind, patiently watching. I thought it was beautiful, and I would have driven right through this beautiful world she’d discovered unknowing of God’s hidden artistry.
As my children have gotten older, I’ve noticed these moments occurring less and less. Like their parents before them, our children are indoctrinated in the classroom and by the adults in their lives into the way they “should” view the world, and they begin to lose the freshness of their eyes.
My youngest, Caroline, has kept her eyes about her the longest. Or maybe since I know she’ll be my last child, I merely want her to keep this creative view of the world for as long as she can. Parents do this sometimes. We attempt to prolong childhood — because we remember how sweet ours were. Some of us cast our own images onto these mostly blank canvases that are their children until we realize our children are something different from us.
But I’ve found it’s best to let our children be our conduits back to our youth, when we had time to ponder the world around us — to see the shadowy shapes of birds in winter trees. I have experienced those places of my childhood again and again through my kids vision of the world, feeling the odd mixture of being an adult and a child.
I hadn’t felt that for awhile – maybe as long as a year – until we stumbled upon Caroline’s game of spotting hawks.
We saw about 15 hawks in that 20-minute drive to the birthday party. With every mile, I began feeling that forlorn loneliness of not seeing my daughter for a day during the time we have designated to spend together. We parked and walked through the five o’clock darkness to the busy play palace where I turned her over to the parents of her friend – people I trusted to bring her home safely. I wouldn’t see Caroline until the following morning, when her night of fun was over. That is a long time to spend away from someone who just taught you, again, how lovely the world can be.
I drove home alone, watching the trees for hawks.