Years ago, my now-twentysomething nieces were in their car seats in the back seat of my sister’s Ford Explorer. Abby, then younger than 2, was looking at her hand and making a fussy sound. I turned from the passenger seat to see what was the trouble. I had no idea. But Natalie, around 3, looked over to her sister, pointed a little finger in that direction, and explained with a casual certitude, “Abby has baby’s hair on her hand.”
So she did. Abby’s blond-haired doll had produced a stray strand of blond hair that was imperceptible to anyone but Abby and Natalie. And it was stuck on Abby’s hand.
Abby was panicked, like, “I can’t get it off!”
Natalie was more like, “Yeah, I’ve seen that happen before. You’re going to need to get one of the adults to help with that. I’m stuck in this car seat and can’t get over there right now.”
The adults were like, “I don’t see the problem. Can someone tell me what the problem is?”
In that way, Natalie and Abby could see what the grown-ups couldn’t see.
An African proverb says, “No one shows a child the sky.” There are some things children can sense with their eyes, ears or nose that they don’t need to be taught. And sometimes these are things adults forget to notice.
Children can see a heart that needs to be cut from a piece of green construction paper. Or the castle or car wash in the building blocks. Or the beauty of a muddy puddle. Or the mystery of the caterpillar. Or hear the sound of footsteps crunching through the leaves. Or smell the steam rising from the pavement after a summer rain.
On Palm Sunday, in the preschool class I’m in, one of the children saw in the building blocks what Jesus would look like riding on a donkey colt in a procession. The teachers were unaware that this could be done.
Some kids can even see the future. One of the little girls in the class rocks some awesome fashion statements, and as she dressed herself for church one Sunday, she told her mom, “My teachers are going to love my outfit.” After making her clever choices with confidence, she was right. We did love her outfit.
Sometimes, however, kids make the wrong initial prediction: “I’m not going to like it in that room.” Yet they’ll change their mind as the morning progresses. That’s usually how it works. But I remember one experience when it didn’t go quite that way.
Early in my preschool class tenure, we had an out-of-town visitor who was fairly offended about being dropped off in this unfamiliar room in this unfamiliar church. Nothing anyone said or did persuaded him otherwise. The problem was compounded by the fact that our director was out, and she is the professional at this. I am not. I don’t know any secrets about how to get along with kids who are in the midst of a fit of pique. And he was a person of commitment; he didn’t relent. But I do remember I had a moment of insight.
I had found his behavior irritating, and I had felt some sense of offense in response. Yet if I looked just beyond my offense, I was sad that he wasn’t having any fun. And if I looked just beyond that sadness, I actually did like that kid. I could even appreciate his protest at the injustice of being DROPPED OFF, of all things, in this unfamiliar place.
In any case, at the end of class, I felt I had one choice remaining to salvage the experience in the least little way. When his relative returned to pick him up, I wanted to say positive words to him in front of her. So as I looked down to his little face, I said, “I am so glad that you visited us this morning.”
That was the only smart move I made all day, and great was my reward. For as the little boy heard those words, he smiled a big smile and reached out to grab me in a hug. What an amazing thing that was to see, and that’s the image I kept. For 90 minutes I got it wrong but in those final 30 seconds came through with a good instinct.
It’s a good idea to step back sometimes to see things differently than you usually see them – to see beyond the problem or frustration toward a better way to frame the experience. Those 30 seconds wouldn’t have been nearly as sweet if I hadn’t had to make it through my error-prone 90 minutes. Fortunately, that last moment was when I snapped the picture for the memories I carried away.
Enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 13