Letters to Hadley: Little Things

"Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them." -William Martin

Dear Hadley,

Today, I'm in Paris. This whole magical city is filled with extraordinary things that I bet you already know about from your Madeline and Eloise books: The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Coeur. When you walk around Chicago, you run into drugstores on every corner. Here, you run into these meaningful monuments. It's crazy, really.

As I biked through the gardens on my way to the Louvre, I noticed a group of kids playing. Running around in their monochromatic after-school outfits, I thought they were probably just a few years older than you. They were laughing and shouting beautiful words to each other against the backdrop of the most magnificent neon blue sky. They didn't have toys or scooters or monkey bars or anything. They we're just there, enjoying unexpected sunshine and friendship and freedom. Watching them made me think of you and your bright laugh and how much you love freedom, too.

There is no doubt that the big sights people tell you to see here are old and real, purposeful and spectacular. But if I had to choose between seeing the Eiffel Tower and watching those kids play in the park, I'd choose the kids, a thousand times over. I'd trade my afternoon at Sacre-Coeur for more time just sitting on the edge of the Seine, watching the sky and feeling the heavyhearted gladness I felt when it turned from blazing blue to a thousand shades of purple and gold at dusk. Those kids and that sky made me feel so much.

Hadley, as you grow up, you might notice that grownups sometimes forget to appreciate the small things. They fall in love with the obviously impressive and seem to ignore the beauty of all the rest.

But the thing about the extraordinary is that it's easy. You don't have to learn how to let the Eiffel Tower impress you. No one has to teach you to admire beautiful people. But cultivating an appreciation for the ordinary? Finding beauty in the common? That takes some intentionality. And it's incredibly important. Because if you can learn to fall in love with the ordinary then every day, every hour, even every minute, can feel like a gift.

Gifts like the way your mom's pillow smells in the morning (I still remember exactly the way my mom's -- your grandma's -- pillow smelled when I would crawl into her bed: a mix of clean linens, nighttime moisturizer and the warmth of her skin. I think that's the kind of mom-smell that only kids can smell. I'm excited for the day when you understand how much gifts like those secret smells matter). When you're older, the way the skin of someone you love smells first thing in the morning. When you're in the car, not just the gift of where you're going, but also how it feels to put your bare feet up on the dashboard and let your fingers dance outside the open window against the wind. Not just the gift of the ocean, but the smell of the salt in the air and the way you can still taste it on your lips hours after you swim. Not just the whole book, but the way certain words arrange on certain pages to make you feel something you've never felt before.

And as I've just learned, not just the most delicious macaron you've ever tasted, but the way the sweet warm air smells steps before you even realize that you've stumbled upon the most perfect little patisserie in Saint Germain.

For me, with you, right now, my favorite little things are these: The way your sweaty skin feels right after you wake up from a nap, the way your little kid breath smells when you come in really close for a nose kiss, how seriously you take those kisses. How when I pick you up, you inspect my whole face -- pushing on my nose, pulling on my lips, poking at my cheeks, noticing everything with your curious eyes.

Keep those beautiful eyes open, Had.

I love you, little one.

Aunt Liz

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