The past few Sunday mornings, I’ve been triangulating with my son and my grandsons from Oak Park to Carol Stream to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. It’s a big triangle. I’m thankful for satellites. Dylan is on deployment with his National Guard unit. He sits outside his room with his computer in his lap, surrounded by the desert in the dark, temperature in the 80s. Tyler and Bryce are curled up on the couch with their electronic tablet from school. They get antsy, of course, and take their tablet, and us, with them, showing us things they’re working on in their room or the basement or out to the garage so they can bounce on the trampoline.

This is Dylan’s weekly check-in and sometimes I jump on. I haven’t seen the grandboys much since school started because of the pandemic. They’re in class five days a week, four hours a day, so I stayed away just to be on the safe side. It has been my biggest deprivation. 

We’re on Zoom until I can get vaccinated. I have high hopes, now that someone is actually in charge of the federal government again. Zoom is great, but attention spans are limited, so I usually have a book to read to them when we hit a lull. Last week was “Archibald’s Next Big Thing” about a chick who explores his world after he hatches and finds a card in the mailbox that says, “Your Big Thing Is Here!” So off he goes in search of it. I asked the boys what they thought his first Next Big Thing would be.

Bryce said with remarkable confidence, “A dinosaur on a roller-coaster made out of chicken wire.” 

No, he wasn’t just being imaginative, though he is pretty imaginative. Sure enough, when I turned the page, there was a dinosaur on a roller-coaster. 

I had read this to them once before, I couldn’t remember how many months ago.

“In May!” Tyler piped up brightly. I had no reason to doubt him.

I’m used to doing double-takes when I’m with these two, but this one blew me away. It wasn’t so much that, despite the passage of some seven months, Bryce (and probably Tyler) remembered that what came next was a dinosaur on a roller-coaster. It was remembering that the entire structure was made out of chicken wire that really floored me. 

I asked if they knew what the Next Big Thing was after the dinosaur.

“A whale,” they said in unison.

Sure enough. 

No, this is not the moment where I insinuate that my grandsons are geniuses, though I do believe all of us have some genius in us and we occasionally show flashes of brilliance. I was more astounded by a greater wonder, the miracle of the rapidly developing 7-year-old human brain, firing on all cylinders, their memory cells practically aglow. My son’s 37-year-old brain is in its own prime, agile and highly active, hitting its stride. And I, with my older, slower, deeper-delving mind and deteriorating memory. Three generations, three ages of brain power. I sat back in wonder and thought, “Thank God they’re coming along in the nick of time. Give the world over to youth and let them run with it” — with, of course, a gentle reminder that if they’re smart, they’ll take advantage of our experience, appreciating that wisdom is knowledge aged, just waiting to be poured.

We were running out of time, so I asked them what their Next Big Thing is. They didn’t have a ready answer for that, probably because everything for them is the Next Big Thing, which was basically the message of the book. After flitting from Big Thing to Big Thing, the chick looks at the card again and realizes, “Your Big Thing is Here” means the Here and Now.

And yet they have so many Big Things ahead: honors and regrets, triumphs and defeats, breakthroughs and setbacks, beginnings and endings, exhilarations and disappointments. A lifetime of Next Big Things. Rilke wrote, “God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: ‘You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.'”

For now, Friday night pizza and watching a movie while cuddling with Mom is plenty big enough.

For me, the Next Big Thing is vaccination, so I can, without fear, be with them in-person, our new national aspiration, because they won’t be 7 forever despite wishing it could be so. There are so many double-takes I might be missing.

And the Next Biggest Thing after that is Daddy getting home safe and sound from Africa so that all our Zoom rectangles overlap at last.  

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