When my youngest son, Oliver, was a toddler, he tried to kiss some ants he found in front of our house. We’d been drawing with sidewalk chalk when he spied a trail of the industrious insects marching to and fro, laid down on his tummy and approached the tiny creatures with his cherubic lips.
“Ol, what are you doing, honey?”
“Vose ants wook so nice, mama. I kiss vem.”
Such is Oliver’s inclination toward many things, both animate and not, that others often overlook, disregard, or find ugly. Items in his classroom recycling bin, bits of detritus we find while walking our dog, worms we unearth in our garden, and even the mosquitos that wreak havoc on my boy’s tender skin.
Now six, Oliver told me recently that “mosquitos are so annoying but also very interesting.” before sharing a couple of admittedly cool facts about the summer vampires.
Each night, after I tuck him into bed, I take the colorful outfit he wore that day and carefully turn out all pockets. Invariably, they are packed to the gills with treasures like pine needles, pebbles, a cream cheese cup from snack time, a last bit of apple slice. I find mulch, wadded-up napkins, plastic jewels that other kids long ago lost in the sand box.
“These things will make a mess in the washing machine,” I whisper to myself knowingly, having learned that lesson many times before. “Boy can this stuff clog the lint filter,” I muse silently, struggling to not worry that my sweet son will one day be a hoarder.
When that concern does manage to seep in, I remind myself of Oliver kissing the ants and gently cuddling earthworms. Of him taking photographs of objects and scenes he finds striking, such as brimming trash cans and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he made himself for lunch one day.
I recall his little voice telling me that he will make something beautiful from his collection of old gelato spoons. grubby plastic gems, snips of paper and jar of bug wings. And I believe that he will because he sees the world through his own, unique, expansive lens. He sees value in underappreciated things and regularly reminds me that exteriors are often just masks behind which variety and treasure lie.
Always an easy, joyous boy, Oliver also often seems like an old, wizened soul in a child’s body. He has an innate sense of kindness and equality, is curious and creative, and accepts imperfection in other people and situations with an enviable grace. Daily, he teaches me anew that beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder, and I am a better person and mother for that lesson.