Home > Family, Love, Parenting > The smile that sees the future

The smile that sees the future

Else why would I wear Vibrams?

Pic by Li’l D

My five-year-old, Li’l D, tried skateboarding for the very first time yesterday.

I enjoy being able to get myself from one place to another by skateboard, an enjoyment I think my son will share. Eventually, after all the falling.

I wasn’t thinking about that when I offered to help Li’l D. I decided to stop glaring at a neighbor kid doing skateboard tricks in front of my house for destroying rare (relative) silence and make some noise of my own.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” I grumbled to myself. To Li’l D, I called, “C’mon, kiddo! If you want to learn to skateboard, now’s the time.”

Really?!” Each of the thousand or so times he’s asked before, I’ve told him he can learn when he’s eight.

He readied himself faster than he’s ever readied himself. We went outside just in time to see the neighbor kid retreat into his home.

I could call it! I told myself. Looking at Li’l D’s excitement, I realized that would be a great way to break my son’s trust.

I spent a few minutes trying to show him foot positions and help him find his balance. This was hard since Li’l D already knows everything, but I persevered. I was pretty stoked to see him trying something that didn’t come naturally.

(I was surprised when he got back on his bike the first time he fell. He wanted to throw in the towel, but I explained that he’s getting better even by falling. I was motivational enough to get him going, and now he’s a pro. He’s not usually so patient.)

After a few minutes, I shadowed him as he pushed himself slowly along the sidewalk in front of the neighbor kid’s house. The board slipped from under him. He stumbled onto the lawn.

I was in the middle of encouraging him when I glanced up on the neighbor’s porch.

What I saw sent jolts rippling through my brain.

It wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t terrifying.

It was beautiful.

An old man in a blue tee-shirt sat watching us from his porch.

On his beaming, wrinkled face was the proudest, sweetest smile I believe I have ever seen. It’s similar to the look I’ve seen on my husband’s face when he watches our sons, or my sisters’ faces when they watch their own kids, but electrified me with its … unexpectedness? With its pure, fully present pleasure?

“Good morning!” I called with a feeble wave. “Um, I mean, good evening.” He waved back without saying a word. His smile softened into a more polite one, but the joyous, electric shocks of connection from his first smile still coursed along my neurons.

He cheered and raised his arms in victory when my son got back on the skateboard.

I tried focusing on my son’s skating, but my mind was locked on my neighbor’s smile.

That is how it’s supposed to be, I told myself. I didn’t even know what “it” was, but I saw the truth of life in his smile.

When I shuffled my bruised but happy little boy back into the house last night, I asked my husband, “Have you seen the grandfatherly guy next door?”

“Yeah, he’s a nice guy.”

“Huh.” I chewed on that for a minute. “I thought all the neighbors here were terrible because of their yapping dogs, and because of our old neighbors, but I’m pretty sure I was wrong.”

“Yep,” he agreed kindly.

Today, my neighbor’s smile has been ever present with me.

Was the truth that overwhelmed me that we really should be closer to each other?

That we should treat people around us as potential friends instead of impingers on our personal convenience, like Mrs. Jerkface Friday evening?

That we’re supposed to be closer to our elders?

Yes, I think. All of the above. All of it. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’ve tried to find it by thinking myself to it. But I didn’t understand it until saw my neighbor’s unabashed, loving joy at watching my little boy stumble over and over again before getting right back on his–my–skateboard.

I don’t mean we should unhesitatingly show deference to everyone who’s older than us, because I’ve met plenty of hostile older people who know a whole lot less than my five-year-old. I can’t endorse revering age for age, but I can readily endorse the good for all in loving, nurturing elderly people being held close as little ones take bigger, firmer steps into the world.

I was there once, my neighbor’s smile said. Not on a skateboard, but learning how to walk, and run, and ride a bike, and work, and be a dad, just as you will someday learn what it’s like to sit on your porch and watch the younger generations learn what it is to live. 

Oh, all the life you have ahead of you!

I want that for my son.

I want that for every son, and every daughter.

I want that for every grandparent and invested older person.

I want it for me. I want it for the world.

And I want you to know of both his beautiful smile and my want, so you can imagine for yourself what it would be like to be surrounded by that–be surrounded by neighbors and friends, not by strangers but by the people of your village.

So you can wonder, as I do now, where to find that village. And what you can do to build it,

helping our children see themselves not as nuisances to be kept perpetually at home

but what they truly are, and what

my beaming neighbor saw:

our future.


  1. June 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Oh, I catch glimpses of this, too! Never could have written about it as beautifully as you have here. 🙂

    • June 7, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you! I’ve never seen anything like this from a stranger before … but I wonder now what else I’ve missed when I wasn’t looking!

      • June 7, 2015 at 7:04 pm

        I was standing today with my daughter at a hotel elevator. We have this game that she has to use The Force to being the elevator. So she was standing there with her fingers pressed to her forehead as an older couple approached. I had already pressed the elevator call button while her eyes were squinted closed. She moaned a bit, then said through gritted teeth, “Mommy, I am trying to call it!” “Think harder, baby…” I was afraid to even make eye contact with the couple, afraid of what they would think of my parenting skills. Finally, the elevator dings and the doors open up. She starts jumping up and down shouting, “I did it, mommy! I used the force!!!” We all get on and she looks up at me and says, “Mom, what floor is the penthouse on so I can push the button?” “Two. Push the button for the second floor.” Yes, I lied to my daughter about staying in the penthouse. She didn’t know any better and it magnified the magic. At that point I decided to steal an embarrassed look at the couple. They both had that smile that you describe. Whew! Some people are just not so understanding.

        • June 7, 2015 at 7:28 pm

          Aaaaaw, so much happiness reading this–thinking about you, your daughter, the Force and the other folks!

          I’m about to start my cooking, and I get this giddy feeling I’m going to be whistling while I work. Thank you. ♥

  2. June 7, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    It’s amazing how much perspective you can gain from the simplest of interactions. This was a wonderful story.
    And kudos for being able to maintain balance on a skateboard. I never mastered that skill.

    • June 8, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      It really did hit me like an electric shock! I’m reading a book right now about how much more we often actually perceive in an instant than following lengthy consideration. I’m feeling that more every day.

      I was so proud of Li’l D. I think he expected to go out and just start skating, but no. I told him it was great to be able to balance for a few seconds after one evening’s effort. We’ve talked about the merit of slow progress before, but this was the first time I think he really believed me. 🙂

  3. June 7, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Some people, some very special people, seem to remember that we should live in a community. Sharing joys, sharing pain. How wonderful that you seem to have found one of those special people.

    • June 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      I feel like seeing him might possibly be a gateway to seeing others like him. It could be wishful thinking, but it’s a lovely trail to follow either way …

  4. June 7, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Oh, simply beautiful! You are such a wonderful mom! Thank you for writing this! ❤

  5. June 7, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    People like that give me hope. 🙂

  6. June 8, 2015 at 3:24 am

    I continue to tell myself it isn’t hopeless, then sometimes I feel hopeless. Out of the blue though I read something that lifts me up, like this and I am renewed and reminded there is hope because humans remain and most of them are decent, some of them are even grand.

    This was a perfect reminder.

    • June 9, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      ♥ For a little while I struggled with the lack of stability where I’m at now. Now, I’m looking at where I’m at as a place where anything is possible. It’s kinda exciting. I do believe good things are ahead, for me and for you. I send so much love from here.

  7. June 8, 2015 at 8:48 am

    I had a great encounter with my new neighbor the other day and it really opened my eyes, and made me see how much I could be doing to make my world a better, friendlier and happier place! I’m excited to work on that!

    • June 9, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Ditto that! I’m starting by smiling at the sound of skate tricks outside my front door instead of imagining shooting laser beams there. It’s small, but it’s a start. 🙂

  8. June 8, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Love your beaming smile on that skateboard too ! And respect to you for mastering that particular way of getting around, I never managed it myself 😉 !
    I tend to notice a lot more kindly-looking and smiley people nowadays, I don’t know what it is… Perhaps the fact that I smile most of the time…
    Good luck to your son ! 🙂 x

    • June 9, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      I was overwhelmed with joy when that picture was taken! I bought that skateboard in Oregon in ’06 or ’07. To have a little boy–my son!–taking my picture on it in ’15 was just flabbergasting in all the best ways.

      I saw a lot of smiles today. I’m going to look for them more and more, and aspire to be the cause of more of them.

      Thank you!

  9. June 11, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I want that for all of us, too!

    I’m glad your neighbor took joy in your little one on his skateboard, glad your little one took his own form of pleasure in learning something new (and kinda challenging!) — and so glad you shared them both with us.

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