Yesterday, Nell and Maggie and Jimmy and I were making the 200 mile drive on the New York State Thruway from Rochester to Albany. Almost to the halfway point, we passed a rest stop near Syracuse that jogged my memory of a classic Ball Family Story from years ago. Everyone was asleep in the van as I drove past the rest stop yesterday, so I had no audience for one of my favorite Maggie stories from when she was three:
In the winter of 2003, we were driving the same route back to Albany from Rochester when my three year-old reminded me of why I need to carry my writer’s notebook with me, AND WRITE IN IT, more often. Sometimes you just need to capture the small moments in life, right away, so you don’t lose them or forget them. Then you can develop them into bigger things about bigger ideas, better writing pieces about things that you really care about.
We had just stopped at a Thruway Service Area because Maggie announced that she had to go to the bathroom. This happens every 100 miles or so. Danny and I stayed in the car, as Maggie and Nell went in for just another routine pit stop. I was bored as we waited for them to return. Traveling the thruway is not glamorous.
A few minutes later, Maggie came sprinting up to the car, saying something all out of breath, eager to share some news or observation with me. She could hardly wait to tell me what she saw inside, and she started almost yelling as she climbed into her car seat.
“Daddy, daddy…dat bathroom in dere…it was…MAGICAL!” she declared with bright eyes and a huge smile on her face. It was as if she had just walked out of the Magic Castle at Disney World.
“Daddy, daddy…dat bathroom in dere…it was…MAGICAL!”
This, from the daughter of the man who makes his kids recite aloud his Golden Restroom Rule whenever they enter a public restroom, “DON’T. TOUCH. ANYTHING!”
I had no idea what she’d seen in that Thruway Service Area restroom, but an image came to mind. I pictured a mystical toilet stall, something that could transport a child to different dimensions with each magical flush. Something akin to CS Lewis’ wardrobe, or JK Rowling’s secret train platform.
My next thought, almost as quickly, was that no adult would ever exit a public restroom (especially one on the NYS Thruway) smiling with elation, and purposely choose the word MAGICAL to describe the state of something seen within said premises.
I asked, “What was magical, Maggie?”
“Da sinks came on LIKE MAGIC! And dat, dat, dat TING wit the air…it blew on my hands, too!” She could not suppress her wonderment of the advanced technological devices that so clearly outshone the dreary devices of our bathrooms at home.
I smiled with Maggie and I wondered when the last time was that I was thrilled and convinced that something truly magical had just happened to me?
Was it on my wedding day?
Was it at the birth of my children?
These moments come so rarely, or better yet, are noticed so rarely by adults, and yet they happen so often to children.
I found myself envying Maggie and how she sees the world around her. I hope her eyesight and her perception don’t change anytime soon. I hope further that she can teach Nell and me how to see as well as she does.
There are just some things that little kids do better, and know better, than adults.