The Gift of Wonder

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas

with short reflections on 12 gifts

We have some things in common, my next-seat neighbour and I: we are both female, we are both bored. She, however, is about 7 years old; I am more like 57. Although she’s perfectly well behaved, her slump tells me that she’s about exhausted the delights of this passport office waiting room.

I engage gingerly — not every kid is OK talking to strangers and not every parent is OK with strangers (even grandmotherly strangers) talking to their kids — gauging the reaction at every stage to know when it’s time to knock it off. You know the sort of thing.


Mumble mumble in response.

My name’s Isabel. What’s yours?

Something almost inaudible in response.

Have you been here a long time?

Yes! OK, that’s clear enough.

And there I stop. She’s squirming on her plastic chair — I’m glad to know it’s not just my aging butt that doesn’t appreciate them. As ‘240’ comes up on the overhead display, she looks at the ticket she’s been entrusted with and says in a discouraged tone, Not yet.

I glance over: her ticket is ‘242’.

That’s an interesting number, I offer.

She looks at her ticket, and then up at me, Huh? written on her face, if not quite voiced.

Look, I say, it’s the same frontwards as backwards.

Oh yeah — she sees it all right, and perks up a little bit. In this entertainment wasteland, it’s no small distinction to be the holder of an Interesting Number. With uncharacteristic restraint, I let it lie. There is a processing pause, and then she speaks. I don’t think I imagine a slight reticence: after all, if my answer is negative she doesn’t want me to feel badly.

Do you have an interesting number, too?

I show her my ticket: 246.

I think so. Each number is two more than the one before it: it’s like counting by twos.

As she digests that notion, I try not to grin too broadly. The meme may have jumped. There is just the chance that this kidlet will never look at numbers the same way again.

As the display reaches 242, she and her accommodating mother move on to the next stage in this trial by endurance. We say goodbye, and I am left to give thanks for the gift of wonder: there is so much to marvel at in this world, from interesting numbers to moments of completely unexpected connection.

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6 Responses to The Gift of Wonder

  1. Judith says:

    Lovely story – calmed the little girl, you and me. Thanks

  2. Dave says:

    Love this story – it is always interesting to see what will hold a child’s attention, no matter how ordinary the subject. When I introduce kids to the wonders of a real aircraft, I am often surprised that some obscure piece of kit in the plane will attract their attention and convert them from “I don’t want to go there Dad …” to “That’s cool!”

    Good story and may use the idea in my encounters with the younger set – thanks.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dave – I think “being interested” is catching. Looked at aright, the world is full of neat bits – and the best introduction to them is someone who is also interested.

  3. Mike Saker says:

    Waiting rooms with children can have special moments, even within families. I recall waiting with our young son to see his eye specialist regarding a lazy eye. Having undergone two previous surgeries Paul was understandably nervous and looking to make small talk. At some point, clearly lost for something to say, he looked around the room and asked me in a stage whisper “Dad, why is there a door over there?”. Being an engineer I replied in all earnestness (but with a twinkle in my eye) “so they can get through the wall.” The response brought the house down so to speak, as my response to our young son’s innocent question broke the ice for all of us in the waiting room. As they say, timing is everything.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Mike – And thus began your notable career in proposal writing? (Just answer the question!) My then-young niece was once asked by her optometrist if she could read the bottom line on the eye chart. “Yes”, she replied.

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