I had my picture taken this past week for my firm’s website. As I stood there feeling incredibly uncomfortable while the photographer kept telling me to relax (fat chance of that), I asked if children were the hardest to photograph. He thought about it for a minute and said “Actually, they are the easiest. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious yet.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s one of life’s great ironies, isn’t it?
In some very real way, we start off the way we are meant to end up.
But yet, we are convinced that children have so much to learn from adults. And that learning process is a lot like trying to put a bunch of balloons in a car.
We take these larger than life, untamed, unwieldy creatures and harness them until they fit as we need them to- as they are “supposed to” fit.
It starts out as this very necessary “taming.” Don’t play in traffic. Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t dive into the shallow end of the pool.
But, over time, it becomes something different. More subtle. More complicated.
And, because it comes from that strange mixed up place inside each of us where fear and love seem to fight for the same space, infinitely more dangerous.
“Say you’re sorry.”
“Don’t talk back.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“He/she isn’t right for you.”
“Don’t major in Liberal Arts.”
And before you know it, they have.
And it’s tragic really.
One benefit of not having children is that you get to spend time with other people’s children and just enjoy them.
You aren’t the one who is going to be embarrassed when they drop the f word at the grocery store or push another child down or throw a fit in the middle of church.
And the absence of those weighty responsibilities allows you to savor them in a very unique way.
It is like being on vacation. You don’t have to make up the bed or cook the food. All you have to do is sleep and swim and enjoy.
And enjoy them I do.
They have strong opinions. They know exactly what they like and want and aren’t one bit afraid to tell you. They aren’t stressed out. They don’t constantly look at their watches. If they get upset, they cry or yell or some combination thereof. And then they get over it. They eat when they are hungry and stop when full. They nap when they are tired. They don’t agonize over their bodies or bemoan their thighs. They believe they can do anything. If they don’t like you, they tell you. If they love you, they will tell you that too.
It is why I will sit at the kids’ table at every holiday until I am forced to leave.
It is why I am more likely to be found sitting on the floor coloring with the kids than mingling with the adults at any party I attend.
Quite frankly, the more time I spend with grown ups, the more I love children.
I will endure their rawness in exchange for their authenticity and confidence any day of the week.
And while we tell ourselves that kids need constant advice and guidance from adults, I am not at all sure we shouldn’t be taking a page from their books every now and again.
I joke with my mother that my niece has her life more figured out at 15 than I do at 40.
But the thing is, I am not really joking.
When I was changing jobs, I felt very stressed about telling my niece and nephews because I worried they would be anxious about it. Translation: I completely transferred my own anxieties onto them.
When I told them, their responses were so simple- and so right.
Have you ever been with a child and they say or do something that is seemingly benign and simple but yet it makes your heart ache?
I am convinced that in those moments something deep inside of us is remembering that we are supposed to be doing or saying that too. And our grown up souls miss whatever it is.
A few years ago, I was at a fundraiser luncheon for a charter school. Two of the school’s star students spoke to this huge room filled with stiff professionals all lined up like robots with their stupid smart phones next to their plates to be certain everyone knew how very valuable they were.
The little boy who spoke to the crowd could not have been more than ten years old. He got up to the microphone without an ounce of fear and explained that when he grew up, he wanted to be a pro football player. In his words, “I want to be like Cam Newton– except I don’t want to be Cam Newton. I want to be me.”
When he said it, I felt that pang. That ache.
And all I could think was how incredible it was that this child who did not have money to pay for his lunch most days was able to understand that his uniqueness was far more valuable than being an imitation of anyone- even a Heisman trophy winning athlete with obscene amounts of money.
I am pretty sure he was the only one in that room who truly grasped what makes us valuable.
I had a similar experience a few weeks ago while at lunch with two of my favorite people on the planet who happen to be four and six years old (and their parents tagged along too). When we finished eating, we decided to take a walk. After a little while, the grown ups realized that we were late for this or that and got into that harried state of perpetual busyness to which we all seem to be addicted. As we hurried the kids along to get back to our cars, we realized that four year old Wynn was lagging behind. The three adults turned around with “Hurry up” or some variation thereof on the tips of our tongues. And this is what we saw-
Yes, she had stopped to smell the roses. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
And the silly adults stood there speechless for a second or two and then did the only thing we could so as to pretend that we were as smart as she was…. We smelled the roses.
This week, tape a picture of yourself as a child to your bathroom mirror. And look at that picture every day. Really look at it.
Let yourself see her spirit. Her energy. Her light.
Get reacquainted with her.
Let her teach you some of the things adulthood has caused you to forget.
Listen to her crazy ideas.
Laugh with her.
Let her remind you how amazing you are.
And take her to smell the roses- again and again and again.