Youngest is desperately worried that she will not get what she wants most for her birthday. This is a hard thing, because I know that she will not. Her parents and grandparents all agree that this most-wanted thing is a little too expensive and a little too mature for her to be able to handle. While we plan for her to have it someday, we are also sure that now is not the right time.
The pain of that for an almost-six-year-old is not lost on me. Does it change that much as we get older?
* * *
Last week our family went to Family Camp, a place which is turning out to be one of those magical, outside-of-time-and-place places. There are activities for families together, and kids alone, and parents alone, and whatever combination of togetherness and separateness and adventure and quiet you can imagine.
One of the family activities we signed up for during the week was turtle hunting. Middle, though, was the only kid interested, and so we set out, Middle and her parents and the counselor assigned to our family for the week, to hunt for turtles.
I really had no idea what to expect.
Our counselor took us to a quiet spot on the lake with a dock and still, murky water and lily pads. Before I had even stepped onto the dock, Middle spotted a turtle in the water, and our counselor was plunging through once-quiet water in pursuit of it. There was lots of looking, much lunging after frogs, and finally the capture of one baby turtle complete with a leech on its shell. We admired frogs’ throats, and the way the turtle tried to swim when it was held up in the air. We were amazed at how the leech moved out of water, looking for something to attach itself to. Later on we made sap boats—dabbing pine sap on the ends of sticks and placing them in the water to be propelled across the surface.
* * *
It turns out I am not very good at spotting turtles, catching their heads peeking out of the water, silent as sticks. Even when somebody was pointing straight at one, I had trouble seeing it. Once, though, I spotted a frog, glinting emerald green in the water, only to realize that there was not just one frog, but 5, 6, 7—maybe 10 of them in the vicinity, all moving to safety once discovered.
I am not very good at spotting turtles, but it turns out I am quite adept at finding dragonfly wings. That particular afternoon, while Middle had an abundance of frogs to chase and our counselor plunged in and out of the lake after a phantom turtle (which most certainly had to be watching and toying with him,) my gift was dragonfly wings. I kept finding them, alone or in pairs, floating on the surface of the water like leaves, so delicate that everything around them seemed to grow still in their presence.
I wasn’t looking for them. I wouldn’t have known to look for them. But that afternoon they were plentiful, and I hope not to forget that sometimes when you are looking for turtles you find dragonfly wings floating on the water instead.
They are beautiful, and I never even knew I wanted to see them.
* * *
I do not know, really, how to accommodate longing—Youngest’s, or my own, or anybody else’s.
Sometimes you discover there are things out there you didn’t know you wanted until you laid eyes on them. How does a person ever learn how to balance wants against needs?
Sometimes the want turns out to be a need as well, but you aren’t ready for it. Sometimes the timing is off. Sometimes you were too busy longing for the wrong thing to understand what was most valuable.
Sometimes, though, you have the gift of a moment—the fact that you touched a dragonfly wing when you thought you were hunting for turtles—and everything shifts.
It makes me wonder how far something as delicate as a breath can carry you.
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