My husband and I were walking the other afternoon and came to a small intersection. A man and his daughter had stopped their bikes at the corner. The man was bent over fixing something, but the little girl–who looked to be about four–watched us approach. I smiled at her warmly, and she smiled back shyly.
I said, “I like your bike. I like the decorations and the streamers. It’s very pretty.”
The dad looked up and gently urged his daughter to say thank you, which she did. As we walked away, I heard her say, “Daddy, that lady liked my bike!”
Lately I’ve been trying even harder to notice children, to let them feel seen. Sometimes it leads to some pretty funny conversations, and sometimes those go on longer than I would prefer, but always they give me a lift. That little girl was watching us walk toward her. She never took her eyes off us. We don’t always see kids, but they see us.
I worry about children a lot in this chaotic year of 2020. I worry about the big issues, like the children who are spending more time at home with dangerous parents, or the kids who are going hungry because their caregivers lost their jobs, or the children who are being separated from their parents. But I also worry about the admittedly more privileged kids who are missing out on opportunities to play with their friends, or visit their grandparents, or go to school because we’re working hard to keep them safe. And I worry about our littlest humans and how they’re processing this experience when masked faces no longer show smiles, and fewer strangers stop to talk, and their little bodies and souls are feeling our stress no matter how hard we try to hide it.
With my mask on, I can’t smile easily at little kids in the grocery store anymore, so I wave. And sometimes they wave back. I can’t stoop down to admire their chalk pictures as they draw, but I can comment on them as I walk by. I can’t go to comfort them when they’re crying, but I can ask if they’re okay. And I can be specific, because all of us, no matter our ages, feel most seen when someone says something specific.
A little girl was walking past my house with her mother. I had just returned from the mailbox and was nearing my front door when I heard the girl say, “I like your house.”
I turned around and took a few steps toward her. “Thank you. What do you like about it?”
“I like blue too. It’s one of my favorite colors.”
“Me too! What’s your name?”
“My name is Teresa. What’s your name?”
“That’s a beautiful name. You’re lucky to have such a beautiful name.”
Little Audrey lit up. At this point, her mother waved at me and urged her daughter on.
“I like your name, too,” Audrey said as they walked away.
I went into the house feeling lighter, not just because I’d made Audrey feel seen, but because she’d made me feel seen as well. She told me she liked my house. She liked its color. She liked my name. As is so often the case, when we give to others, we get something in return.
I’m grateful to the everyday artists who’ve painted rocks and left them along the paths for children (and the child in all of us) to find. I’m grateful for the imaginative neighbors who’ve arranged stuffed animals in funny scenes in their windows for the children to notice. I’m grateful to the inspired friends and relatives who’ve decorated their cars to drive past a child’s house on his/her birthday. I’m grateful to the long-distance grandparents who sing songs with the kids over the phone and the exhausted parents who read stories to them at night and the teachers who act out their lessons over Zoom to make their students laugh. Thank you for using your art to make our children feel seen in this pandemic world. Please know that your efforts are also seen.
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