This column was originally published on Jan. 23, 2019.
There’s nothing like a good piece of quartz, am I right?
I have memories of wandering the backyard with my sister, the pair of us scooping up stones unearthed during a renovation. Our parents had a screened-in porch added to the house when I was in elementary school, and the construction process brought lots of dirt temporarily into our lives.
Bringing dusty stones into the house is the extent of my outdoorsy qualities. I really like air conditioning and can’t stand bugs. I am usually surprised by how much fun I have wandering park trails or walking the neighborhood, but conveniently forget that the second I’m back in a climate-controlled house.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate nature. I have never felt more awed than the first time I visited Yosemite National Park, with its waterfalls and winding trails and towering trees. It looks like a fairytale setting: all babbling brooks and blue summer skies. Yosemite? I can do Yosemite. No problem.
The rest of the outside world is . . . less appealing. But I’m getting used to it, given “being outside” is my children’s preferred state of being. Even little Hadley will shout, “Jacket on! Jacket on!” when she’s bored with our house and everything in it, including us. She heads for the door with her sneakers, jabbing a finger at the porch.
Getting us all ready for work and daycare in the morning is a challenge for many reasons, but the required walkabout is definitely one of them. We build an extra 10 minutes of exploration into the schedule; both Oliver and Hadley will make a break for it as soon as the front door is opened.
My daughter takes the same route each day: down the front path and over to the trash can at the top of our drive, where she points out the “M” in the name on the side. When you’re nearly two, letters are exciting.
Once they’re out in the fresh air (even arctic air), it’s difficult to get the kids into the van. Ollie listens better these days, fighting me less on every request, but he is loathe to climb into his car seat before his sister does. If Hadley is free, you’d better believe he’ll be out there, too.
Our walkabouts gradually included acorns, which he discovered last spring. My husband helped him pick the best ones, and it became a game to see who could find more as we went in and out of the house each day.
Acorns were a gateway to rocks — and this, surprisingly, is where I got involved. Thinking back on my childhood obsession with splitting stones open to look for quartz, I encouraged Ollie’s newfound interest in the big rocks lining our walkway.
It started with Oliver picking a “special” one each time he went in and out. That grew into quite a pile — big enough to justify its own container, kept up and away from the curious hands of his little sister. In the beginning, before he was really invested, I would sneak them back outside after bedtime. No sense in having random rocks all over the house.
But in time, Ollie began to inventory them, and I knew we weren’t going to get away with chucking them out anymore. Spence began to walk him around looking for bigger and cooler rocks. They would both return with hands full, our son’s eyes round with happiness.
Today, we often play “bumpy or smooth” — the process by which we sort the dozens and dozens of stones that now sit on our kitchen table and many surfaces of his room. Ollie separates out the smooth rocks, and I form mounds of bumpy ones.
I’m still fascinated by rocks, it turns out. Igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic — the fourth-grade terms come back as I turn them over in my hands. Ollie often asks which are my favorites. We can’t both love the same rocks, he tells me, but no matter, I always choose the rose quartz. It’s pretty, jagged and fits neatly in my palm.
Rocks aren’t always just rocks, either. Oliver’s imagination transforms our piles into a crackling campfire (“Careful, it’s dangerous!” he shouts), or a mountain that must be scaled by the PAW Patrol pups.
He proudly totes around his containers, and I still have the little purse used to store my collection of favorite old stones. I’ve lost track of it since we emptied out the spare room, where I’d stored all my childhood memorabilia before we readied the bedroom for Hadley.
I still have them somewhere, though — no way would my best rocks get pitched.
Who knows? Maybe Ollie’s will head off with him to college.
Better make sure that rose quartz stays behind.