“Mom, look, an entire skull!”
You would have thought B had just made the latest dinosaur fossil discovery—right in the middle of the co-op parking lot. He held up a tiny skull, grey fluff still intact in some spots.
“Look—see the brain case?!”
“Um, yeah, can you find ones that are completely dried? I’m not sure what that will smell like in your room if it’s not entirely decomposed—the bugs still have some work to do,” I replied.
“Ok, good idea.” He placed the cranium back among the other bones littered under the large sycamore tree.
A cool breeze ruffled B’s hair as he bent over another owl pellet, pulling it apart with a small twig and separating bits of bone from fur. We were enjoying a rare July day in California’s Central Valley when it wasn’t much above 80 degrees—such a welcome respite from the triple digits two weeks earlier.
I left the house a short time before to run errands, feeling a little impatient that I had so much on my to-do list and a seven year old who kept stopping to investigate life’s minutia. After a few minutes of watching him sift through the dirt, I realized that rushing him into the store and risking a melt-down because I wouldn’t let him look for bones wasn’t worth the trade-off of giving him another five or ten minutes of investigation.
I stood with my purse slung over one shoulder, looking at the people giving him quizzical glances on their way to load groceries into cars and bikes. What was this kid doing crouched in the dirt under a tree on the fringes of the parking lot? A sweet-faced older woman wheeled her cart toward us and stopped.
“What are you looking for there?” she asked B.
“Bones,” he mumbled, a bit embarrassed.
“Show her what you have,” I encouraged him.
He lifted up the clear plastic container that we had gotten for salsa at lunch and hadn’t used. It was nearly full to the brim with femurs half the length of my pinky finger, narrow pelvic bones, jawbones with bits of teeth and vertebra still fused.
“Wow, quite a treasure trove there, I see,” she smiled down at him. “Where did those come from?”
He pointed above his head to the owl box installed in the sycamore’s branches.
She patted me on the arm. “Congratulations, Mom.”
I wasn’t sure what the congratulations were for. Was it that I was showing patience in letting him explore? That I wasn’t freaking out about him touching all the bones and fur (he could wash when he was done)? That I had a curious child enthralled and excited about these rodent bones as if he was on a dino dig in Utah?
I asked if she had children. Yes, two grown now, a son and daughter. And one grandson, but he had autism, she said. She glanced at my son and when she looked back at me, her eyes were shiny with unfallen tears. I could see her unspoken dreams, her disappointment and acceptance. I wanted to offer hope and solace, but what could I do but nod and offer a sad smile?
We wished each other a lovely day and I turned to sit on the concrete edge of the parking lot to marvel over each of B’s new finds and to let the tears come—the tears of gratefulness, of living in a perfect moment, the here and now full of wonder and possibility.