My daughter collects rocks in all different shapes, sizes, and forms. There is a mountain of these rocks overflowing -- and yet still growing -- out of a leopard print box on her bookshelf. On my more crotchety days, I might elongate my face like the Old Maid and tell her "No more rocks in your bedroom." But of course I don't really mean it, and I always regret saying this later, because truly, I love it, this little obsession of hers, this tiny peek into who she is. We will often be out together and another one will catch her eye. She will snatch it up, and completely unbeknownst to me, drop it into my purse for safekeeping. I am only aware of this because on several occasions I have found them, days (weeks?) later, while rummaging around for a piece of chewing gum.
Of course it is mostly what this rock collection symbolizes that is of great satisfaction to me. Though it has been largely unconscious until recently, I'm finally beginning to understand that one of my main priorities as a mother is to give my children a childhood, the childhood I felt I never really had.
I have no memory whatsoever of my parents as a couple. Their marriage ended before I reached my second birthday. Also, each of them, for whatever reason, moved around quite a bit, though they both stayed in the same city: Los Angeles. And, because I spent my time shuttling back and forth between their two ever-changing houses, my childhood had somewhat of a nomadic quality to it.
For the years of kindergarten and first grade, I attended a private school on Mulholland Drive. It was an artsy sort of place. I didn't learn how to read there, but I did learn a thing or two about how to sew, and to saw wood on a sawhorse. I went to school with famous people, though I mostly went with famous people's children. My very first crush was on Jackson Browne's son. There was that one indelible moment at the end of the school year when he signed my autograph book and my face burned with embarrassment and thrill.
This is not to say that I didn't do my share of kid things there -- I did. I tried to do cherry drops off the monkey bars, I took uncanny pleasure in peeling dried glue off my hands, I played games of house and hospital and freeze tag (never mind that I did so with Drew Barrymore). But it felt like all these things were eclipsed in a flash, that too soon, life mostly became about jelly shoes and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts and who could do the best moonwalk.
Looking back on my childhood, I can see that the innocence of it all, the simple joys and pleasures common to the young spirit, disappeared much too quickly. There are multiple explanations for this, I am sure. But I've come to believe that one of them, perhaps even one of the main reasons, is that I lacked sufficient communion with what is arguably a child's most essential source of nourishment: the earth.
This likely explains why I've been so bizarrely protective about overscheduling my children. I have always felt the need to set firm limits on their extracurricular activities, hesitant about packing too many things into our days. It isn't because I don't want them to have every opportunity imaginable -- of course I do. It's because it's so important to me that they know what it feels like to be bored, to roll around in the dirt free as pigs, to pick wild raspberries from the bushes in our yard and to sword fight with sticks.
I was literally overjoyed when my children told me they played Kick the Can with the neighbors -- who knew it was actually a real game? -- that they'd constructed a clubhouse behind the touch-me-nots, each and every time they stagger inside, breathless, to gulp down a glass of water. Now this is childhood, I think to myself.
And it's the small things like rock collections, and how my daughter, who will be 9 in March, still believes wholeheartedly in fairies, in Santa Claus, is entirely unselfconscious about her mismatched socks and still prefers her elf-like, candy-striped leggings to jeans because they are "way more comfy," that makes me think I'm heading down the right path. It's these things that allow my mama heart, which is usually swollen with self-doubt, to stop racing for a moment and catch its breath.
This post originally appeared on Nourished Mom.
Follow Jessica Halepis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nourished_mom