When the kids were very young, I made a habit of pointing out the beauty around us in ordinary moments - the white swirl of clouds larger than skyscrapers, the dramatic and also subtle hues of sunset and sunrise, the towering grace of trees, the ever-present chirps and songs of birds. I would tell them that one of the amazing things about living on this planet was that its beauty was always there, right in front of us, at every single moment, and that no matter what was happening for us in that moment, no matter how bad a day they were having, there would always be this, here for them, and all they had to do was remember to notice and enjoy it.
I did this in hopes that I was giving them a tool, a means to cope, to find solace and balm. I didn't realize how much it would take root for them.
The boy, now 8, has become a bit of a junior ornithologist and naturalist. He knows things about species, particularly birds, that I had never known, and I'm 44, and I read a lot and have been a nature lover and explorer for years. And he still stumps me, and also his stepdad. When he first started to rattle off facts and information to us, some of it sounding a tad implausible to our skeptical grown-up know-it-all minds, we would say, Really? Are you sure? I don't know, that doesn't sound quite right. And then we would look it up, and the boy would have been right. About all of it. So we've learned. Tonight, DH couldn't help himself, because the boy was talking about the cookie-cutter shark. I would have thought, with a name like that, I would have heard about it by now. DH apparently felt the same way, and during dinner he whipped out his phone, looked it up, and sure enough, the boy was right again.
I now know things about birds that I would never have known if the boy didn't love them so much. I know that the female cardinal is a warm, nutty brown next to her more flamboyant partner, and I can tell their song every time I hear it. I have a deeper appreciation for the singing prowess of mockingbirds. I never realized how many birds around us are marked with yellow. I have seen and correctly identified a red-winged blackbird. I have watched a woodpecker and its mate build their nest. I have seen a green heron on the phone line, fluffing its feathers in the cold morning air. And I love all of this, this amazing gift of appreciation from my 8 year old son, but it also scares the hell out of me. Because, something about going through what we've been through, it leaves you with a large residue of anxiety. Now you know that horrific things happen. Not just on the news, not just to people whose FB page your friend "liked" and it showed up in your feed. They happen to you, in your life. And once one horrific thing has happened very close to you and ripped through your own life - and worse, the lives of the people you love most of all, it feels like the next horrific thing is lurking in the wings, hiding behind the furniture, waiting for its chosen moment to leap into your life and wreck you and what you love again. So for every joy, there is a frame of anxiety around it, like the photo frames at Target that say "Friends" and "Love" and "Family", except yours says "The Next Disaster Could Happen At Any Moment". And how do you argue with that? It's true. You know it.
So along with my delight in all of this new-found appreciation given to me by my son, my anxiety has also stepped up, because I've realized that birds now will always remind me of him, like looking at a rock makes me think of my geologist dad. I feel so naive not realizing how much my kids were imprinting my world while I was deliberately trying to imprint theirs. Anxiety is a patient bastard, I have to say. I'm fortunate not to be plagued by depression, that constant gnawing monster. But anxiety, mercifully mild most of the time, is a regular visitor. I believe this is part of what's to be expected with post-traumatic-stress-disorder. I believe, with time, it is supposed to be self-correcting. Sometimes I look at how much has passed in these last three years - half a lifetime for the kids, but sometimes just a blink for me. And I tell myself, you're doing fine. Keep moving forward. Everyone's safe and okay. Tomorrow will be beautiful and ordinary and good, even the feisty bits. And then I notice all of the art from the kids hanging around the house, the many "I love you" notes, and I try to focus on that and ignore the frame.