Cherish Your Wood Chips

by Brook Noel

I wanted to share with you one of the most valuable lessons my daughter taught me when she was sixteen-months-old. I call this essay “Cherish Your Wood Chips.”

Today was one of those days where I just couldn't get enough done. No matter how many times my pen scratched off a to-do list item — a new one seemed to appear. But you, Samantha, didn't have anything on your agenda.

At sixteen-months your days are usually quite free. I sat in my home office, routinely punching computer keys, and you came to my office gate. You had your coat, draped over your head, looking like a little green goblin.

"Samantha we can't go outside today. For one, it's cold and secondly I just have too much on my plate." One of your blue eyes peered out questioningly from beneath the green cape. You then walked to the door and pounded on it. I realized that working was futile — you wanted to go play.

I glanced at my watch, if we hurried we could be back in thirty-minutes, enough time to satiate your needs for the outside world without interfering with my needs on the inside world.

Together, hand in hand, we walked down to the park. I was ready to take you on your favorite swing. Instead, you plopped down in a pile of wood chips. I watched half in amazement and half in frustration as you scrutinized each one. Turning it. Tasting it. Feeling it.

I let out a sigh and situated myself on a low monkey bar. I don't have time for this, I thought. I didn't say the words — but Samantha, I had brought you here to swing. I had brought you here to play. And since you were just examining wood chips — I thought of the ways this time could be better spent. My to-do-list ran through my mind: change the laundry, answer e-mail, finish pre-pub issue, respond to Eric's galleys, finish Ken's marketing campaign, send kit to Scholastic.

I let out another sigh and was about to pick you up and take you home, when a little boy approached. I watched as you excitedly ran to him. You displayed each proud find — each beautiful wood chip.

The little boy smiled like it was a holiday as he accepted each offering. When your hands were empty, you ran back for more.

The boy continued to smile. He was with his grandmother — and while she paused for your sixty-second exchange, she then hustled him along saying, "We need to get on the swing so I can get back and finish dinner."

You watched the boy on the swing. It was like a silent communication. You knew, he too, would rather be playing with the wood chips.

After about ten minutes on the swing and a few glances at her watch, the grandmother caught the young boy and began the descent home. Your gaze followed him — and Samantha, you don't have a poker face — you were sad. You plopped back into the wood chips and began to pick them up again. One by one. You had no dinner to fix. You weren't even hungry. The only thing of importance were the wood chips and someone else who could understand their magnificence.

I was saddened a bit as I watched you there. Eventually you will have dinner to cook, you might have your own kids to take to the park, laundry to-do, or a boss to reckon with. Somewhere, somehow, you will learn the constraints of our world. But not today.

As I watched you, I realized I could be like the grandmother and pull you from the magic land of wood chips and take you back to the world of time and accountability. But in that instant, I knew I needed those wood chips too.

So I went down next to you. I on my back, in light colored clothes — immersed in a pile of wet, muddy wood chips; you in your jeans, kneeling, intently handing me each one.

We made the chips into a necklace. We built them into a tower. We stuck them down our shirts. We played catch with them. We pretended they were pizza. We imagined what they would say if they could speak. We smiled at them and pretended that they smiled back.

People mulled around the park, taking their dogs for ten-minute walks, skipping along on their thirty-minute jogs. I am sure they thought we were crazy.
When I next glanced at my watch, two hours had passed. We both had wood chips in our hair and mud on our clothes, but I don't think either of us has ever looked more beautiful.

You stood up, ready now, to go home. And I took your hand and we walked together.

When we got home — I took out a pen and paper and in big black lettering I wrote: "Cherish Your Wood Chips." I stuck it in my daily-planner, right across from my to-do list.

Samantha, when I woke up this morning, I didn't know you would hand me one of the secrets to happiness. When I awoke this morning, I did not understand the value of a wood chip.

About the Author: 
Brook Noel is the author of The Change Your Life Challenge: A 70 Day Life Makeover Program for Women. Her unique program has helped thousands of women "makeover" all aspects of their lives. Learn more at http://www.changeyourlifechallenge.com