I was driving with my two daughters. I thought I knew a shortcut home, but ended up lost instead. It happens sometimes, right, friends?
The road we were on opened up into countryside—an unexpected expanse of farmland, sprinkled here and there with leftover snow. A mix of evergreen and bare-branched trees hugged the land on all sides.
The sight before my eyes was, simply, breathtaking.
I pulled over. Parked.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
I gestured out my window. “Look. Isn’t this beautiful?”
My 5-year-old looked. “Yes,” she confirmed, without enthusiasm. “Can I have some Goldfish?”
My 2-year-old perked up from her car seat. “Juju! Juju!” (Her toddler pronunciation of “Goldfish.”)
“Just hang on, girls.” I got out of the car. The cold earth crunched under my sneakers. Nature. A breath of fresh air.
“Mom! Where are you going?”
What are you doing? Where are you going? Mom! Mom!
I glanced back inside. Grace was frowning. Anna repeated, with wide-eyed hopefulness, “Juju?”
“Girls...just give me a second.”
That gift of a second was not to be. Anna began crying. Grace grumbled that she was starving.
I looked one more time at the scene before me—the land, the trees, the waning sunlight—and then hopped back in my car and drove the long way home.
For a minute, I wished I had taken a picture. I could have shared it with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Some of them probably would have appreciated the beauty of it.
“Sometimes wrong turns lead to beautiful places,” I might have captioned it—and some of my connections probably would have agreed with the sentiment, and may have Liked or Retweeted it. Maybe I even would have used that picture—that not-taken picture—as the inspiration for a blog post or short story about “wrong turns and beautiful places.”
Then I realized I was missing the whole point of my wrong turn.
Nature is the opposite of the technology-heavy world we live in. Facebook, Twitter, 24/7 news cycles, insta-everything—noise.
Were we even there—did something even really happen—if we didn’t take a picture of it? Post it, headline it and then watch as people reacted to it?
We live in a world of reaction.
“Juju!” Now Anna was yelling through her tears, demanding to be heard. To be acknowledged. “We’re almost home,” I acknowledged her.
Throughout my motherhood, I often need to remind myself to breathe. When my toddler is throwing a tantrum—breathe. When my not-shortcut prolongs our time driving—breathe. When things don’t work out the way I’d thought, or hoped—breathe.
This is the life lesson that I most want to instill in my daughters, the one I think will be most beneficial to them as they navigate our 21st-century world: Take a breath. You don’t have to react right away. When you receive a troublesome text message from someone—when you see disturbing news—take a breath. Let the information sink in. Think about how you want to respond. You don’t have to react right away.
I pulled into the driveway.
Grace forgot she was starving. “Can I play in the snow?” “Me! Me!” Anna, meanwhile, had forgotten about her “juju.”
I smiled and said sure. I unbuckled the girls from their car seats and helped them down. Then I watched as they stomped through the small patches of snow left in the front yard, as delighted as they’d been when it had freshly fallen.
Take a breath of fresh air. I would qualify my most-important life lesson for my daughters. Go outside. Leave your screens behind. Look around.
Look. It’s one of the first, if not the first, instruction we give our children, and keep giving them.
“Look—an unexpectedly beautiful place! Look—Goldfish! Look—you, in the mirror—that’s you, girl!”
Look. The sun set. My daughters were still snow-stomping in the front yard. “OK, let’s go inside, girls,” I said.
“Just one more minute, Mom,” Grace pleaded.
“Juh wuh muh mih,” Anna echoed.
I relented. “Just one more,” I said.
My daughters squealed. Grace grabbed Anna’s hand.
I inhaled a deep breath of the wintry evening air. I looked at my children. Now they were running around a big tree together. I didn’t need my phone to remember this, to document it for everyone I knew.
In that moment, I inhaled the serenity of nature. Savored it. Savored the suspension—for that moment—from insta-everything.