the cry was more blast-from-mountaintop-when-avalanche-is-coming than just your usual first-thing-in-the-morning, ho-hum, here-comes-another-day.
it was fervent and it was piercing. it would have waken the deeply dead.
“mom! come here! i need you!”
bounding the stairs, out of breath, swinging ’round the doorway, seeing beatific child, bolt upright in his bedded throne, i would have been confounded. but the next words out of his mouth were these: “look! three hundred rainbows.”
scattered, seeds of wonder, tiny splotches of rainbow, cast upon the wall, the lampshade, the pile of blocks, the pillow case, his right foot, the bookshelf, the alphabet rug, his left cheek, the one so round that even from behind you can see him smiling.
a room wholly quivering with rainbows. a room that looked as if someone pried a can of rainbows and poured them every single everywhere.
then this: “mama, look, rainbow jumped on to my foot.”
so began the game of can-you-catch-the-rainbow.
the rainbows that dance on walls, leap from lampshade to cheek to top of foot, come courtesy of a big fat prism, one the size of a teardrop should goliath ever start to cry, that hangs in my little one’s eastern window, the one that catches the first slant of sunbeam shortly after dawn and pours its magic on the scene once the shade is snapped and furled.
that’s when the rainbow circus comes rolling in the room.
and all of that comes courtesy of beloved aunt becca, who was my little one’s heartsong along with uncle david, but who moved away last summer to maine, far, far away.
becc and my little one had shared a year of wednesdays. becc, an art therapist who worked with inner city kids, who made them believe in themselves, who taught them that they had something to say and someone to listen, was in between jobs for a little while. so she made room on wednesdays for a little guy who loved her.
they did crazy things, those two. she had a canvas bag that she slung over her shoulder and every wednesday she brought it filled with some odd, but interesting, assortment that always led to wonder.
there was the roll of aluminum foil that led to a giggle-filled day of wrapping and unwrapping and re-wrapping each other in shiny silver cocoons and trying to walk like tin soldiers, or lie like jiffy-pop before it puffs.
there were the bits and bits of wood chunks, purple heart and birds-eye maple, ash and cherry, all left over from david’s wood shop, and, armed with tanker trunks of glue, my little one built metropolis upon metropolis, whole civilizations that still stand, proudly, amid his daddy’s shelf of architectural wonders. glue-gobbed purple-heart city hall shoved next to taj mahal.
alas, when it came time to leave, to pack an apartment, stuff it in a truck, and drive it through eight states, becc, always reading hearts, lifted her biggest, fattest prism from her window, wrapped it in tender leaves of tissue, and put it in a box.
she tucked the box, the rainbow catcher, in my little one’s open palms on the very last wednesday she came with that blessed canvas bag.
and, ever since, its rainbows have been the things that wake my baby, that tickle his eyelashes come morning, that color the last few frames of his everynightly dreams.
although, he tells me, not always. “not foggy days. not on a rainy day. if it’s a sunshiney day, i can see my rainbows.”
the morning of the 300 rainbows, i asked my little one if the rainbows made him think of becca and david every time.
he closed his eyes. he nodded. he didn’t say a word, but he looked like he might melt at any second. he looked like he might shed a big goliath tear.
he looked, i’m pretty sure, like a rainbow drained of all its color.
i sat beside his rainbow-spotted foot. i stroked indigo, then violet, the distal end of roy g. biv.
finally my little one spilled his rainbow-colored heart: “i miss them. and i love them. i wish they didn’t go move to maine. that’s why i miss them. so much.”
he laid his hand on a rainbow. held it there for just a little while. then he started bouncing around the bed, chasing rainbows with his bare hand.
that’s what rainbows do. rainbows, no need to say it, are magic, pure and simple.
rainbows are that interplay between light and mineral. the plane where heaven and earth join arms and swing. a doh-si-doh with the divine.
and children, bless them, hear the tune. they play along. they catch the rainbows, chase them, net them, put them in a jar. then, pure logic, they look for little leprechauns, one-inch ones, fitting for their little rainbows.
“there is always a leprechaun at the end of every rainbow, with a pot of gold,” my little one said, matter-of-factly, peeking under the bed. someone told him. or he saw it on some silly show. and when it comes to pots of gold, why not believe?
it is that infusion of the unbelievable as it spills into believable that is so essential, so necessary, it seems, in the lives of little children.
it is wonder, caught in little hands.
i remember, early on, watching floating ships of dust in vast oceans of morning light. my older one, then just beginning to put words to life, made a game of it, pointing, pointing to each speck, assigning each one a name and role: “magic.”
“magic,” he said again and again. i stood in awe of magic. magic i might otherwise have missed.
cooper edens, that great green tiger press illustrator and author whose books you would know the instant you saw one, back in 1980 wrote “caretakers of wonder,” a companion of sorts to “if you’re afraid of the dark, remember the night rainbow” (green tiger press, 1979).
in “caretaker,” where page after page peeks behind the curtain to catch men in a hot air balloon putting up the new stars, where others dab them with a paintbrush to keep them lit and shining, and still others spoon feed the moon strawberries , or safety-pin the sky to the horizon, edens ends the whimsy with this:
“now, while you sleep tonight, imagine what you would like to do to help keep the world magical? for you know that one of these nights your friends are going to tap on your window and invite you to become a caretaker of wonder.”
seems that becca heard the tapping, and she brought rainbow seeds to a heart that loves her, a heart she knew would miss her, a heart that might, just maybe, be filled drop by drop, if each morning it could wake in a field of rainbows and try to net them before a little boy toddled down for toaster waffles.
what would you like to do to be a caretaker of wonder?