Postcard from the Prairie: The Simple Things
In the half darkness of the bedroom, the baby 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 curl around the corners of his skin. The wintry dawn light shifts through the muslin curtains and catches the clear 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 spread 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 my husband does his chores, I do mine. It's cold. I can feel the frost shimmer in my lungs when I inhale.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.
Outside the barn door, the air is misty from the low clouds and snow, the light strangely bright. Past the yard, and yard fence, the seed heads on the tall grass sway like a thousand upended pendulums. They are the golden brown of toasted bread, suspended between the milky swirls of earth and sky. I stop my work for a moment, suspended as well, caught between the world of my body in motion, heavy and sleep-deprived, and another world that contains bright coins of magic.
Back in the warm kitchen, my husband is drinking black coffee and chatting with the baby across the smooth formica of the center island. A friend made us a wooden chair that hooks over the counter ledge so our son can sit up at the island just like his Dad. 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."
All of this is to demonstrate why, despite the cold, despite the darkness, this is my favorite time of year. Plus, there is Christmas, which I love unabashedly. But, Christmas also feels a little complicated these days, because I worry too much -- worry about presents, and what to get for whom. I worry that if I don’t do enough, the people I love won’t feel cherished. I am also weary of the rampant materialism that pervades almost every aspect of our life these days, and I want something different for my son. 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 boy. Right now, his hands are miracles--he can't believe his good fortune every time he tries to use them and finds 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 know that ginger and molasses on the countertop leads to gingerbread, that Christmas means 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.
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. 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. My son 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.
Eliza Blue is a singer, a writer, a musician, a mother, and a South Dakotan. You can find her at LittlePastureOnThePrairie.com.