Gideon tugged wildly at my arm on our way through the parking lot. “Me want rocks!” he said. “Daddy! Me want rocks!”
“Why do you want rocks?” I asked tiredly. But his response was simply to lift his legs in the air and hang off of my arm. I dragged his feet through the gravel for a second or two before standing him back up and letting him go. “Okay,” I told him, “You can get some rocks. But don’t throw them.”
“Me not throw them!” He scurried away with his head bowed, examining the scattered gravel that had been revealed by the newly melted layer of ice and snow. I watched as he picked his way through the tiny pebbles, holding each of them up for examination and then tossing them aside. He wanted only the best pieces of dusty granite and dry crumbling mud for his collection.
I followed him, watching for cars, patiently protecting his youth. I was straining to remember a time far back in the past when I used to get excited about rocks and sticks.
Those days pass away quickly, but I could almost remember what it felt like. The feeling of having your knees sink into wet earth, and the joy of seeing how stones fit together and fell apart. The mystery of each stone’s character and history. I once spent entire seasons with my fingers touching the ground, feeling the world, rooting myself into it. I would line up precious rocks long my desk and memorize them as if they were family. Now, how often do I ever even look down at the ground, other than simply to find my children and make sure they are still beside me?
I bent down and held a tiny jagged stone between my thumb and forefinger. I examined it from different angles. I tried to feel something for the rock. Give it some value or special recognition like I once had been able to do. Surely there was something special here? A line, a shading? Anything? But I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything for this rock. It was just a rock. I dropped it, stood back up, and continued walking.
“Alright, come on Gid.” I motioned him toward the car door as I opened it. And he obediently followed with a pumping of his arms.
As I buckled him into his car seat he held his hand out in front of himself and he stared at the three rocks in his palm. I looked at them too. There was a jagged black one, and a smooth flat grey one, and a third that was black and white speckled and had recently been broken. In Gideon’s pudgy little hand these tiny stones were actually almost beautiful. They were precious little gems selected and weighed by the hand of my son. And I could see why he had picked these specific stones. These three stones, like my three children, were each unique and lovely. To anyone else they might seem like any ordinary pebbles, but here, in his palm, they were so much more that. Here were some stones I could feel something for. I clicked the last of his straps in place and stood back to watch him.
He sat quietly, still staring at the rocks for a few more seconds.
And then suddenly he shook his head and said quite plainly, “No. These not awesome.” And with a flick of his wrist, he held out his hand and dropped all three of the stones back into the parking lot.
I gasped and lunged after them, but they quickly bounced away and mixed back in with the rest of the dirty pavement. Outside of his hand for just three seconds, they transformed back into random gravel.
I looked up to see him watching me with a curious look on his face. “It’s okay,” I said. Then I smiled reassuringly, kissed him on the forehead and closed the door.
When we arrived home I lowered him from his car seat into our driveway. Again he tugged on my arm and asked to collect rocks.
With a sigh I let him go. This time, he picked up just one stone and came right back.
“Here,” he said, “You like rocks.” He placed it in my hand and smiled up at me.
I took a deep breath and studied his face. Then I hefted him up to my shoulder. “Yes,” I said into his curly hair, “I like some rocks an awful lot.
But what I really like is you.” I quietly let the rock fall back to the ground and I carried my boy inside.