Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lost Smiles

Lost Smiles by Maureen McMahon

When do children stop being children? When do we put away our sandcastles, skipping ropes and giggles? When exactly do we change from ‘being’ a child to having an ‘inner’ child?

I remember lying in long grass, the sun warm on brown limbs, the coolness of the earth against my back, my older brother next to me as we watched in awed amazement as the cotton ball clouds changed ever so slowly into a myriad of new shapes – a dog, a bird, a ship, a fat lady…Giggling over the fat lady who became fatter and fatter, then seemed to twist herself into first a cupcake, then an elephant.

And when we got tired of watching clouds, when our energy surged, we’d be off, running full-tilt through the fields in anticipation of our next adventure, perhaps to make boats out of walnut shells, sticks and leaves to race down the trickling stream in the forest behind our house, perhaps in search of crayfish and frogs or perhaps to climb the old mulberry tree so we could look out over the beauty of our world.

There were afternoons in the summer sun gorging on wild dewberries or strawberries. Watching storm clouds gather, sensing the electricity in the air, awed by the approaching flash and rumble - waiting just that little bit longer before dashing for the security of home as the rains broke. Raking leaves in the autumn so we could leap into a huge pile and lie cradled in the brittle crispness, nostrils filled with the acrid, pungent smell. In winter, lumbering as fast as we could through knee-deep snow to the pond next door, ice-skates clutched firmly.

And when we were called to come in for dinner, we’d moan and plead, “Just a few more minutes?”

My daughter is twenty-one. When she was young, her laugh made us laugh, her smile made us smile, her giggle filled us with joy. Now she doesn’t laugh or smile very often. And her giggles are no more. I see her struggling under the heavy demands of university, work, personal demands and relationships. It saddens me to know that the child she once was is no more. She’s now an adult with all the attendant responsibilities and worries.

When does it happen? When do we “put away childish things?” And more importantly, why do we put them away?

When was the last time you built a sand castle? When was the last time you lay on the ground and watched the clouds? When was the last time you fell into pristine, sparkling snow to make an angel? When was the last time you giggled? When was the last time you woke in the morning anticipating all the fun the long day would hold?

When was the last time you looked into the mirror and smiled?

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