On the way home from my Mother’s Day dinner, my daughters asked if we could visit the pet store.
My husband and I happily oblige our daughters’ requests for pet store visits as these adventures allow us to put off actually buying a pet for awhile longer.
Typically, both my daughters enjoy watching the furry four-legged animals. But on this day, my oldest daughter made her way to the back of the store with her dad while the hyperactive hamsters and spastic ferrets entertained my four-year-old and me.
After ten minutes, we wandered to the back of the store to see what the rest of the family was doing.
There stood my seven-year-old transfixed on the wall of aquariums. She didn’t even notice when we walked up.
“Are you ready to go home?” I asked.
Her eyes didn’t leave the sight of silver mollies that glittered like a string of diamonds as she said, “Can we stay a little longer, Mama?”
I paused for a moment and watched her captivated by the fish. We stood in front of pet store fish tanks hundreds of times before, but something was different this time.
But I didn’t know what.
By now my four-year-old was begging me to make the chubby brown hamster “talk,” like I had minutes before.
I grabbed her hand and we went to see what tiny compartment the little ball of chub had squeezed himself into now.
After an additional fifteen minutes, we returned to the fish tank section to see that my oldest daughter had made her way to the last row of aquariums.
“Time to go,” I called.
As we were leaving, my daughter spotted an aquarium, not huge, but much larger than the small container that currently holds her single Betta fish.
She stopped at the tank and carefully read the information on the sign below it; I could see the wheels turning.
As soon as we got in the car, she made an announcement.
“I have decided what I would really like to have for my eighth birthday is an aquarium with several fish. The aquarium at the pet store is $49.00. I know that is expensive, so that is the only gift I am going to ask for this year.”
And then came the part that really surprised me, “And I don’t need a birthday party. The aquarium is the only thing I want.”
Wow. Willing to give up her birthday party. Perhaps she does mean business about these fish, I surmised.
I told her we would think about it in the weeks ahead. I was quite sure that for each day leading up to her birthday, there would be a new gift idea.
The same rule of inconsistency holds true for Halloween costumes. The day that one of my daughters decides she wants to be a witch, and I order the costume, is the same day she decides, “No, I don’t want to be a witch this year. I would rather be a cowgirl, or a pirate, or a fairy, or a race car driver.”
But unlike the indecisiveness of choosing a Halloween costume, my seven-year-old has not changed her mind about the fish. Not in the least.
It has been twenty-nine days since we visited that pet store. And in those days, my child has become a full-fledged ichthyologist, studying fish like it is her job. My daughter has become a self-created fish expert.
I have found typed lists like this one randomly placed about the house:
I have discovered hand printed lists like this one next to her pillow, stuffed in her backpack, and taped to the walls:
The search history on the Internet contains phrases with everything from: “tropical fish for beginners” to “ very small pet sharks.”
She charts the pros and cons of fresh water fish vs. salt-water fish.
She studies fish facts while going to the bathroom, while drifting to sleep, and while riding in the car.
She enlightens those around her with facts like: Fishes have two temperaments, peaceful and aggressive. (Quickly noting that although many aggressive fish look pretty, she would never buy a fish that would eat his friends.)
She knows there are care levels: beginner, intermediate, and advance, and is wisely aware that she needs fish in the beginner category.
Her favorite website to shop for fish used to be www.bluezooaquatics.com, until she realized they only sell saltwater fish. So now she prefers www.liveaquarium.net because they sell fresh water fish, AND “they have the best prices.”
Our nightly “talk time” has become “Fish Education For Mom.” (Or on some nights, I will admit, I refer to our discussion as, “More Than I Will Ever Need to Know About Fish.”)
She randomly throws out sentences like, “I do not want a guppy in my fish tank. I read that they die easily,” and “Can you believe an eel costs $102.00!”
Her face lights up when you ask to see the fish pictures she has printed.
She becomes down right giddy when simply talking about fish she dreams of owning.
All my skeptical thoughts about her seriousness of wanting a fish tank for her eighth birthday have been silenced.
I am totally convinced this is exactly what she wants (all she wants) for her eighth birthday. And my husband and I are amazed and delighted at her newfound passion for learning about and caring for fish.
As I watch her animated facial expressions and listen to her speak about fish with such incredible joy, I can’t help but realize a change occurred in my daughter from age seven to eight.
And I find myself asking, “Why the change? Why now?”
Maybe she was always this excited about grasping new and interesting things in life, and I had just been “too busy” to notice.
Maybe through her recent opportunities of helping tornado survivors she realized the value of material things fade, but feelings, memories and experiences endure.
Maybe it was a year of sitting in doctor’s offices hoping for some relief from her worsening pain and now finally, finally seeing a ray of light.
Or maybe it is that she is just getting older, wiser, and more mature.
There is definitely been a change from age seven to eight. And I can’t help but notice that her change coincides with my own change.
My journey to grasp what really matters began last July. In the past eleven months I have made a conscious effort to cut the excess in my life, both the tangible excess and the intangible excess. I have made a conscious effort to slow down and place my focus on the beautiful moments that make up my lifetime.
I will never forget the moment I heard my seven-year-old daughter describing my blog to someone.
She said, “My mama writes stories that help others learn about being a good parent and doing nice stuff for other people.”
Then she proudly added, “My sister and I are the stars of Hands Free Mama; we are what it is all about.”
I have to agree.
My children are my greatest teachers.
My children are my greatest role models.
My children are my greatest motivators.
My children are the reason I want to make life count.
I just had to slow down long enough to realize it.
And now the beautiful result of my decision to live Hands Free is this: What my daughter wants out of life, even at the young age of eight, has fallen in line with what I want.
Instead of throwing money in the direction of toys she will outgrow, balloons that will shrivel, cake that will quickly disappear, and invitations that will be thrown out with the trash, she has set her sights on:
Brilliant colors and tranquil moments,
Lovingly caring for God’s creatures,
And having the surreal magnificence of the underwater world right at her fingertips.
I can’t help but look forward to June 21st, 2011…
I envision the whole family standing before my daughter’s new fish tank. Each one of us will point to our favorite fish. We will think of silly names for the red and black one and a cutesy name for the yellow one. We will admire their tiny movements and delicate beauty.
Suddenly we will find ourselves absorbed in the slow, peaceful fish performance that captivates our eyes and calms our hearts.
And as we marvel at my daughter’s eighth birthday gift, we will be grateful for the change that brought us here, the change that brought us all here together.
What are your children’s passions? Do you allow them to develop or steer them in a direction of your choosing? Take some time to talk to your child, teenager or grandchild about what interests him or her. If he or she cannot think of anything, this may the perfect opportunity to discover a hobby together.
Make this a summer to “tip the scales” in the direction of what really matters. Do it together.
The amount of meaningful memories your children have when they are adults depends on what you do NOW. It’s in your hands.