In the half darkness of the bedroom, the Bean watches his hand in amazement. He twirls his chubby fingers in front of his eyes and makes a soft sound of surprise at the way the shadows catch the corners of his skin. The wintry dawn light shifts through the muslin curtains and catches the blue of his wide eyes. It is the same blue he was born with -- his eyes haven't changed a bit -- they still glow like a field under a full moon. He turns his head and sees me watching him. He smiles. He hasn't been sleeping well lately, so neither have I, but in this moment I don't mind.
Last night, snow fell. It is strewn thinly across the yard, and already worn green and brown in patches from Ellie, the sheep dog's wanderings, but it is the first snow nonetheless. After the man of the ranch does his chores, I do mine. It's cold, but not bitter. The calves were in with Rita last night, so I don't milk, just heft a few forkfuls of heavy, green hay over the fence. I do the same for Elsa and Fifi, the shetland sheep. They are still in the corral by the barn so we can tame them down, and their soft black noses follow me as I walk past. They need a bit of grain, then water, and Rita needs her pan of cake. The barn cats trail behind me as I trudge across the frozen ridges of mud and manure, telling me loud, woeful stories as I go. The two kittens who came to live here over the summer still want desperately to be house cats, so their tales of woe are always loudest. The one I call Sally jumps from a shelf in the barn onto my shoulder as I pour pellets. She balances there as I finish my work, purring cozily into my ear. The sky is gray, but the air is misty from the low clouds and snow, so the light is strangely bright. I can feel the snow when I breath in and it makes everything just a little shimmery. The grass in the pasture stands above the white. It is the golden brown of toasted bread against the milky swirls of earth and sky. I feel balanced between the world of dirt, my body in motion, heavy and sleep deprived, and another world that contains bright coins of magic and a lightness.
Back in the warm kitchen, the man of the ranch is drinking black coffee and chatting with the Bean across the smooth formica of the center island. A friend made us a wooden chair that hooks over the counter ledge so the Bean can sit up next to it, just like his Papa. He loves the chair -- loves the freedom of sitting alone, loves to be part of the morning routine. He already seems part boy, part man leaning there, his belly against the ledge. He pounds his palms against the white surface and growls in delight at the sensation and the sound. A few more smacks and he is laughing out loud, so pleased with himself and the wondrous racket he is making. I step inside and both boys turn to greet me. "Oh my," I think, "What a wonderful life."
It occurs to me that this column is usually about one thing, but what that thing actually is, I find hard to describe -- which is why I can write a new column about it every week. Now, in the season of advent, that one thing is even closer to the surface than usual. Let me try to explain.
First off, I should mention I really, really love Christmas. I've already been listening to Christmas carols on the sly, and plotting all the baking I will do in the coming weeks. When I imagine it, I can almost smell the cloves and ginger and nutmeg rising like steam from the oven. I've also finished knitting the Bean a pointed red cap that makes him look like a baby elf, and I am planning a pair of mitten to match. Outside it is cold and I love that too, the bright snap of late November making the cozy kitchen feel that much warmer.
But I am also worrying -- worrying about presents and what to get for whom. I want the people I love to feel cherished, and I worry that I don't tell them, or show them as much as I should, and that somehow if I get just the right gift, they will know how precious they are to me. At the same time, I am also worrying about the Bean. I want desperately to raise him without the rampant materialism that pervades almost every aspect of our life these days. So, while I am worrying about what to get other people, I am secretly hoping that none of them will get anything for him.
You see, I want the beauty of the world to be enough for my small son. Right now, his hands are miracles -- he can't believe his good fortune every time he tries to use them and discovers they still work. Soon he will discover that his legs can carry him wherever he wants to go. By this time next year he will discover that the smell of ginger leads to gingerbread, and the cold wind tickling his nose till it the same bright red as his woolen cap leads to cups of cocoa in the kitchen. I want that to be what he loves about this time of year. I want Christmas to be the glow of candles in church, the hymns everyone knows so we can all sing together, the smell of pine needles, and the crinkle of paper ornaments crafted by his growing hands. I want the winter sunrise and sunset to fill him with awe -- I want it to be the best show in town. Sure, Santa will leave a few treasures in his stocking, but I want it to be his voice that makes the rumbling sounds of the engine, his hands that move the toy's wooden wheels across the rough tile of our kitchen floor, and I want it to be the golden feathers of a cedar waxwing swinging in the chokecherry tree that distract him from his play, not the flicker of a screen in the next room. I want the beauty of these simple things to be enough for him.
I know it's a lot to ask in this day in age, when there are so many shiny things clamoring for our attention -- and maybe it always has been. I want the beauty of the world to be enough for him, but I also want it to be enough for me. I want to stop worrying so much. I want to be distracted by the cedar waxwing in the chokecherry tree too, instead of the drifting anxiety about what to get for whom. How can I so easily lose sight of the big, beautiful world that surrounds me? How can it be so easy some days to forget that I have the most wonderful life? I know the solution is to stop, take a breath, and actually pay attention. The Bean does this now without any effort, but it won't always be easy for him either, which is why I am going to do my best to give us both the gift of simplicity this Christmas season, and the seasons to come. I want there to be plenty of room in our lives to cradle wonder in our hands like it is a small bird, nesting for just a moment before it flies up and away, a feathered speck against the bright blue heavens.