Illustration by Jessie Ford
"First I'm going to get a battery, and then I'm going to get some copper wire, and then I'm going to twist it around a lightbulb, and then I'm going to push the wires together, and then I'm going to make the lightbulb light up," gushed my son Ethan, then age 5.
Ethan was fascinated with the way things worked and thrilled to recount his scientific experiments in excruciating detail. I tried to summon up interest, but I found myself nodding and smiling as my eyes glazed over. While I admired his enthusiasm, I couldn't have cared less about connecting wires to lightbulbs. (Isn't that what lamps are for?) I did care deeply about my son, however. And he had grown to have interests that were clearly different from mine.
I didn't want a gulf to develop between us, so I brought Ethan to the hardware store to buy copper wire. I also sat with him for hours reading annotated science picture books that mesmerized him but made me feel like taking a nap. There must be a better way, I thought.
And there was. I found it by accident, one Sunday morning when Ethan and I woke long before my husband, Mat, and daughter, Hannah, then 7. We were both hungry, so I suggested that we take the 25-minute walk to the bagel shop. We set out, Ethan's little hand enveloped in mine, and he launched into a lengthy description of yet another invention he was planning. I began to tune out. Then, in the distance, I spotted the sign for Skillings Path, which was the shortcut into town.
"You have until Skillings Path to tell me about your new invention, and then we're going to find a topic we're both excited about," I said.
At Skillings Path, Ethan stopped talking. In the silence that followed, I could hear the leaves crunch under our sneakers. I worried that I'd hurt Ethan's feelings. Then Ethan stopped walking.
"Look at that," he said.
It was a perfect New England day. The sun poked through leaves and dappled the ground with light. It looked like we had stepped inside a kaleidoscope, which was decidedly scientific, yet captivating to me, too. Standing hand in hand with my son, I realized that the whole time I'd felt as if Ethan was stuck inside his own head, I had been stuck inside mine. It took both of us stopping to look around to find a world in common.
Before we knew it, we were talking about what it means to feel happy and about the black squirrel spying on us from a tree. At the bagel shop, Ethan ordered by himself for the first time, a toasted poppy seed bagel with butter. He was proud of himself for his independence, and I was proud of both of us for the effort we had made to connect with each other.
Our strolls to town became a Sunday morning ritual. Now, more than 200 toasted poppy seed bagels later, Ethan is 13, and he would never let me hold his hand in public. Still, we have a close connection forged over all those Sundays. We trade inside jokes and references to things we've seen together. Best of all, we have fun. I always knew that I loved my son, but during our bagel walks, I learned how much I like him.
The Shulman-Lebowitz family of Amherst, MA
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.