By Bonnie J. Collins
I am honored to have the gift of a four-year-old grandnephew (and he is indeed grand, with his quick mind, constant curiosity, and amazing memory). Jeffrey comes to visit me for “two days in a row,” he says, holding up two fingers with a look of glee. His blue eyes sparkle with anticipation, for he knows we have some sort of adventure every time he visits.
Jeffrey does indeed gather moments of wonder from our times together. I think he is storing such moments for future reference in his bag of life adventures. As a 59-year-old “great-aunt,” with my own full bag of adventures, his visits are a time of great sharing for me, although he is not aware that I am gathering my moments of wonder from him as much as he is gathering from me.
We often end our first day together sitting in the hot tub (or “hot pool,” as he calls it). It was during this tradition that we developed our “Wondering Game.” With his arms stretched back resting on the sides of the tub, Jeffrey sits in his favorite corner surrounded by bubbles and mist, looks up at the stars, and begins to wonder out loud.
“I wonder where the hot pool’s mist comes from and why the bubbles feel so good on my back,” he says, with a look that says, “I know your answer, but I want to hear it again.”
I tell him, “Maybe the mist comes from cold air and hot air meeting together like good friends.” He grins at that idea. And I say, “Maybe the bubbles feel so good on your back because they help your muscles to relax and also maybe it is because we are having a good talk together.” The grin gets bigger.
“I wonder where Cookie [his grandma's cat] is now that he has died?” is the next thing he wonders aloud about. “Maybe there is an animal heaven,” he says to me in a way that sounds like a question but isn’t really being asked as one. This leads into a discussion of wondering how old his great-grandpa is now. (His great-grandpa died last fall.) I suggest that maybe great-grandpa isn’t growing old any longer. His response is “I wonder why?”
I can only respond with, “Maybe when you die you no longer grow older. But I wonder about what it is like after you die too.”
At this point Jeffrey abruptly concludes our wondering game. He tips his head back and looks at the stars as his says, in a little boy’s voice that resonates with ancient wisdom, “Wondering is fun, and I think ‘maybe’ is a good word.”
Feeling warm and weak, we leave the hot tub and begin the next phrase of our bedtime tradition: a visit to my meditation corner. Jeffrey wonders about this too: “Why do you have a shoebox covered with a pretty cloth with candles on it in the corner of your bedroom?”
As I light the candle, I struggle to explain the whole idea of my “sacred space” and the concept of meditation. Suddenly it comes to me and I say with my own eagerness, “It is a place where I sit and wonder!” His smiling eyes look directly at me with that “I get it!” look. (From this day forward I decide to call this my “wonder corner.”)
Together, we explore the objects in my shoebox. He stares at the candle and holds each of the items as I tell him about them. And again, he wonders.
He holds the statue of the lion/lamb as I tell him that I keep it to remind me to hope for world peace. “I wonder what peace feels like?” he says. I respond, “Maybe it’s like that feeling we get in the hot pool?” He smiles in silence.
He turns my prism pyramid around and around in his little hands. I tell him, “Life is full of many sides, just as you see reflected in this prism. The trick is to catch the light to enjoy them all.” He turns the prism around and around in his hand, fascinated by the many colors that he can see.
I share with Jeffrey my sense of sadness as I let him hold a memorial card of his great-grandfather. He says, “I wonder if great-grandpa knows we are thinking of him as we sit here together.”
“Maybe,” I answer. He smiles at me. We both know that “maybe” is a good word.
I then pick up my Crone doll and bravely attempt to explain that long ago people believed that the older you got, the wiser you got. I tell him, “‘Crone’ is another word for ‘wise woman.’ This crone doll reminds me that it’s good to grow old.”
“But old people and old cats die,” he says. I respond with a simple “Yes.” (“Maybe” won’t work here.)
I begin to think that all of this could be overwhelming for a four year old to take in and, indeed, Jeffrey begins to get restless. I give him my Walkman and select a chanting tape for him to listen to. He cuddles up to me, finding an easy fit under my arm, and we “be still” for a moment.
As he did in the “hot pool,” Jeffrey puts his experience together in summary. He looks up at me with much more wisdom than any crone and says, “This is like my ‘time-out chair’ at home. Turning his head to look at me directly, he continues, “But there is something different about this. I wonder what that is?” We wonder together silently, with wise smiles on both of our faces.
Bonnie J. Collins is the director of a family counseling and wellness center in Hamburg, New York, and an adjunct faculty member at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work. The author of Healing for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, she has published articles in social-work journals. Bonnie is the mother of two sons, the grandmother of two grandpuppies, and the great-aunt of two grandnephews.