04/06/2011 01:45 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Surprise Your Children, Make Some Memories


Last month's March 19 moon hung huge and low, appearing closer to earth than anytime in the past two decades.They called it Supermoon. Big Moon. It filled the sky. Sat on treetops. So close. Hypnotic. On that evening, I hoped my children were moonstruck, like me, and that they might be recalling another magical night we had shared, long ago.

Twenty-five years ago at 1:30 AM, I woke my ten- and eight-year-old children to see their first, lunar eclipse.

"That's great," Alisa the elder sighed. "Tell me about it in the morning." "OK dad, I'll be right down," Jason drowsily muttered and pulled the blanket over his head.

Despite their initial resistance and decided lack of enthusiasm, I knew they would want to see it. I managed to wrest them from slumber and led them trance-like to our backyard. We sat in beach chairs I had placed on the lawn and they recovered their senses in time to witness the moon's magical, gradual disappearance. They were mesmerized.

A Cape Cod summer's, early afternoon had darkened dramatically. A sudden, torrential downpour was chasing swimmers and sunbathers from the beach. I wanted Alisa and Jason to feel the rain on their faces as they floated on the water. We ran against the fleeing crowd, into the ocean. We bobbed and floated, drank the rain and laughed. Oh how we laughed.

My children are grown, parents, and they still recall fondly their first eclipse and baptismal, floating drink of rain.

Waltzing in the kitchen

My Uncle Peter first taught me the joys of surprise, of acting spontaneously. I was seven when he made one of his many, unannounced visits to our home. On this Saturday afternoon, I was helping my Italian mother make homemade pasta sauce, tortellini, fettuccine and butternut squash ravioli.

Uncle Peter knocked briskly, entered our small, cramped kitchen and greeted us warmly, as always. Italian crooner, Perry Como, was singing a ballad on the transistor radio perched on top of the stove. My uncle drank in Perry's song, eyes closed and swaying for a few moments, then looked at my mom and softly said, "Dance with me." My mother feigned embarrassment, giggling, "But Peter, I have sauce on my apron." He answered by cavalierly extending his hand, "Thelma, it's Perry Como. We have to dance" And they waltzed in our kitchen, gracefully, lost in the moment, in the music, in their love. The Prince and Cinderella. Brother and sister. We were all smiling.

A sense of wonder, a tale of loss

Children arrive with a natural sense of wonder. They beckon us continuously to join them in their enchantment. They fascinate us with their whims. "Come have tea with me and my imaginary friends. Let's make banana splits for breakfast! We need to catch fireflies to light up our tent."

As a family therapist, I've seen far too many children become less free-spirited, as parents hurry them through their childhood. Even preschoolers are expected to live highly structured lives. Academic, achievement-oriented daycare. Educational playgroups. Adult supervised sports. There's hardly time for a daydream.

In our worried, anxiety-ridden efforts to create high achieving, multi-talented college students, we and our children often lose touch with our sense of wonder, our penchant and flair for the the impromptu, the spontaneous, the surprise.

Renaming the constellations

Take your children for a surprise, evening picnic. Watch the sunset. Rename the constellations to suit your fancy. How about banana splits for breakfast? Or maybe the next time you're at a toll booth, tell your children to pay the toll for the car behind you. Loosen up. Surprise your children. Make some memories.

My Uncle Peter taught me to dance in the kitchen, to swim in the rain, to live in the moment. To spontaneously surprise and delight. He listened to his heart and invited others to celebrate what he heard. You are never too old or too young to dance in the moonlight. Your children need to know that.