When An (Ugly) Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Check out this morning’s view.

ugly picture

Crews from the city are installing new sewage pipe down the center of our street. They’ve been working their way through the neighborhood over the past several weeks. For the next few days they’ll be right outside our door.

Sixteen years ago, I would have thought we’d won the lottery. My then two-year old loved tractors. We read from a number of tractor books at home and borrowed tractor videos from the library.

Wednesday mornings we would listen for the telltale signs of a truck on our street: trash pick-up day. His soft little hands clutched the windowsill, as he stood transfixed. I lifted him into my arms for a better look. He held his gaze till the garbage truck moved out of sight.

My sweet little boy never sat on Santa’s lap. It was too frightening. We avoided Santa as well as Santa’s cousins, the Easter Bunny and the large man at the bookstore dressed as the Cat in the Hat. They struck fear in his tiny soul.

Yet loud, bright, over-sized tractors were often the highlight of his day. What was once annoying (sitting in traffic next to an idling cement mixer) was suddenly a joy. In addition to Mommy-and-me art classes, visits to the bookstore and time at the park, tractors became a part of our days.

During my son’s second year, there were two construction sites in our neighborhood. As his fascination grew, I promised we would go see some of the tractors after his nap. You can’t get out and walk around a construction site, so I did the next best thing. I parked my van on the street next to the fence and we hung out there for thirty minutes.

Half an hour is a long time for an adult to sit idle. In toddler years, it must feel like a lifetime. Yet on that first trip to the construction site, he sat in his car seat transfixed for a full thirty minutes.

Once the framing is up, excavation tractors are no longer needed. We found another construction site in nearby Campbell. Our new  spot allowed us to park off the street under the shade of a tree. My son’s expanding vocabulary now referred to the excavators as scooping tractors. We bought him a soft-sided book for Christmas that year about Scotty Skid Steer and read it again and again and again.

By Halloween as we approached his third year I was noticeably pregnant with his brother. We attended a couple of children’s parties in costume. I dressed in maternity overalls as a scarecrow and my active little boy went as a “scooping tractor.”

I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had making his costume. It needed to be soft, flexible and easy to take on and off. We shopped together for the materials, and I worked on it during his naps. I could hardly wait to show it to him and still remember his tiny, tinkling, toddler voice when he first saw his tractor.

I bought a few pieces of soft foam for the frame and glued it together in a rectangle. I covered the frame with yellow felt, and then added foam wheels. An old, plastic vegetable cutting mat worked well for the “scoop” so if he fell wearing the costume he wouldn’t get hurt. I attached thick, black elastic in a crisscross pattern, much like suspenders. He wore a pair of hand-me-down coveralls underneath.

chris tractor halloween

That soft-sided scooping tractor was a dress-up favorite for years.

My tractor-loving toddler is now 18 with no memory of his early fascination. He’s grown into a complex, compassionate and intelligent young man. He has also overcome a number of obstacles to get where he is today.

While those tractors were making a rumbling ruckus on our street today, my son was busy doing what a number of teens do at this age: sleeping late. He just completed his first quarter of university classes and is home for the winter holiday.

Here’s what else I see in this picture.

I see a hard-working crew, working together on a cold morning and getting things done. I see teamwork.

I see a woman driving the excavator. That makes my heart happy in a thousand different ways. I see progress.

I see the tiniest of bird’s nests in our now-bare Chinese Pistache tree. I see the wonders of nature.

I see our over-sized outdoor Christmas tree with half the lights needed to cover it. Every year a neighbor orders 300 trees from a grower for our neighborhood. Mike and I are block captains for our street. The trees are normally about 5 feet tall and 40 pounds. This year’s trees were twice that size. We didn’t have enough lights to cover such a big tree, so my husband went out and bought two strands of tinsel garland. He went out a few days later and bought even more

I hate tinsel, but I’ve managed to keep my mouth shut.

Now that, my friend, is progress.

Do you have an (ugly) picture that inspires (close to) a thousand words?

28 thoughts on “When An (Ugly) Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Oh Alys, I don’t know why but this post made me cry buckets! Beautifully written and so full of love. Thank you for sharing these special things with us! xx I will now start thinking about a picture of mine that inspires a thousand words….

    Liked by 2 people

    • A Sensitive Santa!!! I’ve never heard of this program but applaud the efforts. Thanks so much for including the link.

      And I agree: why not offer this to all children.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your perspectives.

      Merry Christmas! xox


  2. I have nothing to share right now – but I will say this is maybe one of the most moving and beautiful and thought provoking posts I have ever read. There is so much in here to delight and move the heart and soul – tears stung my eyes in many places and I had to read slowly and reread to garner the full majesty of your thoughts and all you have shared here. That photo of your blonde haired beautiful boy taken so long ago makes my heart sing! The thought of you sitting on your hands for a half hour in the van while he watched his first tractors at work completely transfixed, makes my heart sing and my eyes leak………… All this brought on by some civic work going on in the street that one normally gives no thought to, except maybe irritation at the noise and disruption. You are a wonder, you exhibit love in action and your lovely boys are incredibly fortunate to have you as their mother. There is a lot of street work going on right now – it is the season and we always grumble about it. I shall navigate the working areas with a different frame of mind and keep an eye open for all the women working in roles traditionally held by men. I love how you bit your tongue over the tinsel! 🙂 And I love you, thank you for sharing these memories and thoughts – you have brightened my evening immeasurably xoxo

    Liked by 4 people

    • Pauline, how lucky I am to have you in my life. Thank you for your thoughtful reading of this post, and for your caring words. “Love in action” is such a beautiful phrase. Parenting is hard and rewarding, exhausting and exhilarating, and truly, as I once heard said, “a commitment to wearing your heart on your sleeve for the rest of your life.” I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the vulnerability one feels when you love a child. What a privilege it’s been raising my two boys.

      And ***you** have brightened my day immeasurably. xox

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t say it better than Cathy or Pauline. We are blessed by your vision of the world. You have to wonder what makes a child so young fixate on one thing and not another. Honestly, I think most kids are afraid of Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny along with the myriad of other characters we surround them with. I like how you look at the world and see things most of us miss. I loved this post too. It gentles my heart. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Alys, you are a delight! Thank you for sharing your sensitive view of the world.
    It is the second time in a week that I have been encouraged to see the world through the eyes of a child. I was beside a toddler boy on the tram, and like your son, was fascinated by trucks, buses, trams and trains. He was even delighted when we went under railway bridges, calling them tunnels! To have the time to be the child again is precious. Have a wonderful Christmas.


    • Anne, what a lovely thing to say. Thank you, both for reading and for your kind words. I’m glad you had the joy of spending some time with a small child this week. It’s magically seeing life through there eyes, isn’t it?

      I hope you too have a wonderful Christmas.


  5. Alys, this is an amazing post! How you turned this image into such a touching walk down memory lane is just brilliant. You brought back so many memories of my own children’s passions and what, as parents, we did to foster them for each. The scooper truck costume (oh, how I remember the planning surrounding that holiday) is just brimming with love – from both you and your son. Such a beautiful story with an unexpected twist at the end that was the icing on the cake. You, my dear, are a very talented writer!

    Enjoy having your son home for the holidays. Two of my three are now under my roof, awaiting the arrival of my oldest next week. It’s a wonderful feeling 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stacy, thank you so much for reading and for sharing your own memories. I’m glad it set you on the path of happy recollections as your own children grew. I’m happy to hear you’ll all be together sometime this week. It’s good having both boys home, and a slower pace of life that comes with my more limited mobility. I’m enjoying it.

      As I write this, we’ve had some gentle rain, so my oldest is out for a walk. I told him I ordered it up special just for him, something that still elicits a smile. He loves and misses the rain as much as I do.

      Merry Christmas xox


    • Thank you, LB. What a kind thing to say. Both of my boys have been such a gift, giving me the chance to nurture and love and hold them in this confusing world. You too are a mom so you know our world can be a cruel place. My friend Marcia once said that if you’re parenting properly, your child will be able to leave home and do just fine without you. I’ve often thought of that over the years. We don’t actually push them out of the nest so much as groom them to go, even though our own heart cracks a little when they do. xox


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