Do you remember what it is like to look at the world through a child’s eyes? When magic, wishes, and hope are as real as the miracle of the sun coming up each day? When trust is the default response? When everything is filled with wonder? How lucky we are to have children to bring us back to that time we better understood the world because now we’ve gotten too serious to appreciate or even see the mystery.
Sometimes it is liberating to see the world through the eyes of a child. They come at things fresh, point out odd inconsistencies we’ve come to not even notice, and make surprising observations and connections. We adults come to expect the reality we encounter day to day. The child is able to point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes.
Take a minute to grab a piece of ‘gubble bum’ and delight in these expressions coined by children for everyday things. It is guaranteed to help you see the world in a new way.
How many kids these days are seen by their parents as just another way to show off? Look at my honor student, or my beauty, or my accomplished someone. It’s a way of vicarious puffing–if my kid is so smart, beautiful, wonderful, popular, surely the parent must be, too. But that’s not love; it’s pride. Love loves without having to be earned. It is steady and true. The parent who truly loves their child delights in their essence, in their idiosyncrasies, in all the ways they are their own person. That kind of love sustains a child and lets them lay down the shackles of constant performance anxiety and welcomes them home.
Consider Thomas Edison. We think of him as one of our most brilliant inventors, a shining star. Would it surprise you to know his teachers gave up on him and sent him home to be educated by his mother? She, needless to say, did not give up on him but helped him thrive. We all could use a love like that!
Our children are ours for such a short time really. Or maybe it just seems like they are ours because we love them so. Maybe they always belonged to the universe, to a future we will not see, to their own stories more than they ever belonged to us. But, for a while, we hold them, love them, teach them, comfort them, and give them all we have to give. And then we let them go.
Khalil Gibran puts it beautifully:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
How important it is to be the “bow that is stable”. Our steadiness helps our children as living arrows find their arc, their trajectory, their brilliance. Our steady hands help our children take flight.
Children have a way of cutting through the fake and getting to the real. They look around themselves and wonder why things are the way they are. Sometimes the questions they ask are tamped down, leading those kids to spend their adult lives trying to answer them:
Why can’t boys cry?
Why do we have to always pretend to be happy? (Or, to put it another way, What’s wrong with having lots of different emotions?)
Why can’t I play with those children?
Why are you lying?
Why must I accept things that seem wrong?
In this brilliant essay by Courtney E. Martin, she asks ‘What was your first question?’and taps into the power that comes from looking at the world with innocent eyes, OUR own innocent eyes. Dorothy Day, for instance, witnessed an outpouring of love and charity after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and wondered, why don’t people care for each other like that all the time. She went on to make that her life’s work in the Catholic Worker Movement. Susan Cain showed up at camp with books and wondered what’s wrong with wanting to be quiet. She went on to write the book Quiet about society’s preference for the extroverted. Oprah Winfrey, sexually abused as a child, went on to constantly unveil the light and dark of human existence asking, “What’s the cathartic story here?”
That child question is powerful. Things we may have gotten used to over time or now just accept as the way things are weren’t so simple to the little child in you who wondered why.
In some ways, these questions are so powerful because they are asked from such a pure place. Children are famously intuitive about underlying dynamics that adults assume they couldn’t possibly understand. They focus in on unspoken truths like homing pigeons and then have the audacity to speak them; the world hasn’t yet acculturated them to fearing the sound of a silence breaking. They are not, in the best of all possible ways, team players. They are inexhaustible witnesses and truth seekers.
Which is what we all are, underneath the home training and the wear and tear of decades of living on this brutal planet. Peel back the layers and we are still the little people we once were, looking around at the adults and wondering what the heck is going on. We are curious and outraged and perhaps sometimes naively sure that there is a better way.
So what was your first question? What is the question you weren’t allowed to ask as a kid? Are you still asking that question? Is there some way, now that you are an adult, that you can answer it, or at least expose it to the light of day?
None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear–honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim. Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.