“Look, Mama,” my youngest said.
I was at my desk, a few feet from our dining table. Both my daughters were busy with markers and colored pencils; stray copy paper and card stock littered the shining surface.
I pressed send on my email, then got up and walked over to her.
And almost gasped with surprise.
She’d drawn a girl. A girl with a circle for a head, and a body: torso like a rectangle, arms like blocks, plump hands at the ends of each. The girl wore a dress, she had curly hair, she was smiling up at me with joy.
My daughter drawing wasn’t notable. No, she and her big sister used reams of paper every month.
What surprised me was that yesterday, and the day before , and the days and weeks before that, her way of drawing people had been completely different.
They were stick figures, torsos a slender stem. Arms stick straight to the side like a T. Legs also to the side, parallel to the arms, as if each figure were a gymnast doing the splits.
Both ways of drawing were dear. Both wonderful. Both made me smile.
But both were completely, absolutely different.
In one day.
“You did it different!” I said, my voice full of the excitement I felt. “You came up with a new way of drawing people.”
She grinned up at me, pleased with her work. Then she got a fresh sheet of paper and started again.
I watched her for a moment, in wonder.
Because I will never, ever get used to watching people change right in front of me. Not slow-motion change, like hair or nails growing. No: the gigantic, lightening bright flashes.
Before I had kids, I thought all change happened slowly. I assumed that I evolved like the Grand Canyon, worn down over millennia. I thought everyone changed too slowly to notice, that new life required endless patience and gritting my teeth for the long haul.
But the very first moments of parenthood started changing my mind.
The day I found out I was pregnant, I gripped the test stick in my hand, blinking at the positive result. Moments ago, I had been me, with everything that signified sure as stone.
Now, I was radically, basically different. I was pregnant.
The speed of that change mystified me.
Birth happened that way too—I was all roly-poly possibility, then a writhing dervish, then a still, astonished mother with a baby at her breast. All in a few short hours.
No, the longer I see my children grow, the longer I walk alongside them, a student of humanity, the more I realize change isn’t slow.
It happens in great gulps, in sudden jerky leaps forward. My children circle around a new skill for a while, hesitant and nervous, and then they lurch forward with bravery into something new.
And suddenly they are walking or potty-trained or reading or drawing a girl with solid fingers and toes.
We notice children’s changes because they’re so physical, and because they’re celebrating them at regular, predictable intervals: walking, losing teeth, mastering bicycles and roller skates and hitting a baseball. We know it’s a special window of possibility; we know we have to savor the anticipation.
But I don’t think the changes end in childhood. They just go underground, into our hearts and spirits. Sometimes circumstances change us—losses or heady gains, life shifts or hardships. Or sometimes we start moving with intention in a new direction and end up far, far away from where we started.
I start journaling each day and find it thrusts me into a new way of praying. I pray in a different way and suddenly my way of relating to God is profoundly altered. A new expression of faith starts working transformation in my marriage and family relationships and creativity.
This sense that nothing changes, that we are who we are, forevermore?
It’s a lie.
We do not have to walk in slow motion through life, waiting for wind to sand us down. No: we’re all poised on the brink of new possibilities, new ways of moving through the world. We’re all at a precipice, facing dizzying choices that might plunge us into new adventures.
What if we had that same sort of anticipation with ourselves that we have with our kids? What if we waiting, with bated breath, to see what might happen next? What if we were ready, at every moment, to astonish ourselves?