The Back of Her Head

There are two pictures that adorn our house that I just love. Both are of Rylie when she was little. Both are just the back of her head.

It seems strange to me that these are some of my favorite pictures of her, especially given the fact that one of the things I miss most is the way she’d tilt up her head, smile with her eyes and just laugh.

Still these pictures of the back of Rylie speak to me. Perhaps it’s because they are of her when she was little, when she was all innocence and curls. Perhaps it’s because of the message of promise and youthful imagination that they hold.

In one picture, Rylie is standing in a park somewhere in Chicago. We were visiting my parents and I believe had finished a family bike ride along Lake Shore Drive. In this picture Rylie is wearing a cute little green and white patterned dress. Her hair was wildly curly, tousled even more so because of the wind on the shore of Lake Michigan.

A view of the back of her head as Rylie looks out at Lake Michigan and the magic of seagulls in flight.
Rylie on the shores of Lake Michigan

I remember being at that park, it was really just an open space – a patch of grass near the shore where families and friends could gather for a picnic or a game. At the edge of the park, there was a retaining wall that was flocked by seagulls eager to see if the humans had left anything behind.

Rylie was fascinated by the way that the birds would swoop down and land. Fascinated by the way they could be flying, get caught by an air current, and spiral to another level without flapping a wing. She kept watching the birds, looking to us with wonder and turning back to them. The more she watched, the more enamored she became. Her curiosity took flight with those birds and she lost her sense of apprehension, moving closer and closer to them. Testing to see how close they’d let her get.

It was then that I snapped the picture. Her head turned away, dress billowing, curls tousled. For me, it’s a reminder of the joy of being a child. The joy of possibilities. In that moment, she wasn’t concerned with the perils that could lay just over the wall. She wasn’t concerned that one of the birds might think she had food and get a little too close. In fact it’s very possible that she had some food tucked into her sweet chubby hand. This was at that phase when her fingers would curl around something she liked and hold onto it for ages. She didn’t consider that these birds might be dirty or carry some sort of disease.

All she could see was the magic of flight. The freedom of opening one’s wings, being caught in a current and enjoying an unexpected ride. All she could see was the possibility of imagination. What if she was a bird? What could she do? Where would she go? How did it work?

In the other picture she is just about the same age. Still all curls and a sense of exploration mixed with imagination. At some point before the photo, she came across my bike helmet, a pair of my fuzzy slipper socks, and my bike shoes.

Image of Rylie and the back of her head while she standing at the front door in bike shoes, bike helmet and fuzzy slipper socks.
Rylie looking out on the world, ready to go.

Rylie, like most little girls, loved to find my shoes and wear them while playing dress up. Usually she’d find a pair of heels or something “work” like. This time, however, she found my bike shoes complete with cleats on the bottom of them. Maybe that was the draw – the tap shoe like sound they made when she walked.

Everytime I look at this picture, I’m curious how she came upon that particular ensemble at the same point. The bike shoes and helmet I get. But the fuzzy slipper socks still is a bit of a puzzle.

I don’t recall her coming out of our room in the outfit or what exactly preceded it, I just know that at some point, I caught her standing, staring out the front door. She had a pair of little denim shorts on that were a bit plump because of the diaper underneath and a white shirt. My slipper socks were huge on her, coming up to her thighs and wrinkled around the calves and ankles like a little old lady’s knee highs.

She stood at our glass front door with the helmet, way too big, balanced on her head yet slipping backward. Her hands were in front of her trying to figure out the clasp so that it would potentially stay attached to her head in some fashion even if it slipped all over the place.

I remember watching her as she stood enraptured at the possibilities. I wish I could have gotten in her head. She was never one to stand still for long, but she stood at the door for a long time. Long enough that I was able to go find my digital camera and snap a picture of her.

As I watched her, my own imagination came alive. I let myself imagine the adventures she was planning as she looked out on the big, wild world of our cul de sac. To her tiny self, that held huge possibilities. I imagined her pretending to be a mom, headed out of a bike ride leaving the little ones behind for a while. I imagined her pretending to be on a mission to save the world – who needs a cape when you have bike gear and fuzzy socks? I imagined that she was setting off on grand adventures and would return home to tell us all about it.

I think that’s what I love about both of these pictures. They capture a level of imagination and possibility that is often found in the innocence of youth. They remind me to look for moments to strap on my helmet, fuzzy socks and bike shoes and embrace all that the world beyond my front door may hold for me. They remind me to turn my face to the wind, to ignore the fear of the unknown and instead latch on to curiosity.

These characteristics aren’t unique to Rylie. Most people, at least at one point in their childhood, I hope, have experienced unbridled curiosity, and the power of imagination to transform the limits of current circumstances into so much more. These pictures just remind me that, as an adult, I should focus on those characteristics. I should be more intentional about letting my imagination run wild. Because when we do this, we experience joy. We experience the promise of the future. We experience possibility and that makes everything better.

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