Seeing Through a Child's Eyes

I AM a private person. I find it easy to tell about my garden, my kitchen, the books I read, but I fall silent when it comes to describing the more intimate details of my life. My mother says this overdeveloped sense of loyalty to the privacy of things that most people would consider public is a Norwegian trait.

It also comes from having children so interested in the exterior life that interior reflection is savored in wisps, in dreams, or while hanging laundry. For years we've been examining sand, rain puddles, bugs, and plants - the details of life that used to pass me by as easily as a dandelion seed in the wind.

At times I've felt that I'm wandering through new terrain in a land I've lived in for more than 40 years. The interests of my son and daughter encourage reflection on the smaller segments of life. For example: bulldozers.

It wasn't until my son, Dylan, was 2 that I saw them as anything but large machinery intended to level ground in preparation for something, usually concrete. But on a spring day, consumed with more errands than any reasonable person would attempt during a single trip to the city, I changed my definition of bulldozers.

Walking along a crowded city street, I nearly tripped over Dylan when he stopped and sat down on the sidewalk. Early morning striders, bent on getting to work on time, streamed around him.

I scooped him up. His head swiveled around to an area across the street. Cyclone fencing circled the block where an old parking lot, buckled and cracked by years of use, was being torn apart. Even from the distance, I could see green weed tufts poking through old cement.

Both of Dylan's thumbs rubbed against his index fingers the way they did when he anticipated something wonderful like ice cream or a puppy on the beach.

I sat him on top of an orange metal newsstand, and we watched the big bulldozer rumble and fuss like a cranky person who is awake too early. Dylan's fingers moved more rapidly, his eyes riveted to the slow movement of the big bucket.

BOOM. The huge arm raised and lowered with a crash that made Dylan's fingers pause momentarily. The arm raised, and his fingers moved again.

We watched this way for what seemed the better part of a morning. The movement was engrossing and seemed to slow the day. Even the people passing us appeared to move more fluidly as they made their way across the street and around the fence.

Watching became an art as fine as focusing a camera for a specific shot. The big bucket on the machine would bang into the ground; Dylan's fingers would stop then start. Cement chips were smoothed and pushed aside as the machine moved forward and back with loud warning beeps.

IT was the kind of ``seeing'' that puts such a vivid picture in mind that it is impossible to look at something in a cursory way. I have never been able to just ``pass by'' an operating bulldozer since that time.

We watched until the men idled the machines and climbed down for what must have been a morning break. I carried Dylan across the street, where he clung to the fence and pressed as close as it would allow. At the end of the break, one of the men waved to Dylan and climbed back atop the vibrating seat of the machine.

He must have accelerated as the roar of the engine grew louder. Dylan jumped back from the fence and grabbed my leg. I picked him up, and he watched over my shoulder as we continued down the street.

Later, on the drive home, he picked up a stuffed dragon in the car. With roaring and spitting noises, he lifted the dragon and crashed it against his knee. Occasionally he rubbed his fingers together as he watched buildings turn into freeways and freeways turn into country roads.

I suspect that what excited him had less to do with what was outside his window and more to do with his accelerating imagination.

It is this imagination that has wedded the reality of the simplest configuration of clouds, or the way the ducks fly overhead in the fall, with the stories that rise like yeast in dough.

My children have encouraged me to allow time for watching, for taking pleasure in things as simple as the way the steam rises off a cup of tea in the morning or the way a good night's sleep can free the imagination to wander whatever roads it will.

The other day after watching a newscast at his grandmother's house, Dylan turned to me and said, ``No one would ever talk or write about us, Mom.'' He turned back to the television. ``Our lives are too normal.''

I can't explain why, but normal seemed the best compliment I'd been paid in a long while. With it comes a kind of contentment that allows time for watching the sky, or birds, or on occasion, the pull and swing of large machinery.

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