Helping Hands

Have you ever noticed that children are extremely apt and ready to help one another when they are in need? They have not yet learned to be cynical and wary of others. They see a need that they can meet and they jump to fulfill it. For instance, if Aiden is at the park and unable, due to size or age, to overcome an obstacle, another child will, perhaps shyly, reach out his hand and offer assistance. I have seen this simple and beautiful gesture time and time again. And when it happens, Aiden will excitedly exclaim, “Mommy, he helped me!” On the other hand, if an older child, who has begun to learn that sense of self-righteousness that we all seem to attain as adults to varying degrees, refuses to help or turns his back, Aiden will look at me confused and almost hurt, not understanding that what is natural to him does not come naturally to everyone.

And it is not just other children that these little ones are prone to help. Their desire does not discriminate by age. Whenever there is something that needs doing, like the dishes or sweeping the floor, cooking supper or carrying groceries, I hear the constant refrain, “Mommy, I wanna help!” I must admit, I sometimes see this eager offer as an annoyance, knowing that his “help” will actually be more of a hinderance. It is sadly ironic that now, while he is extremely willing to help, he is not very capable and when he becomes capable, he might not be so willing. But I know that if I let my annoyance show, I will only aid in the development of his cynicism. So help me he does with undeterred enthusiasm.

As I have said many times before, children sometime make the best teachers. I count myself blessed to learn such wonderful lessons from my son on a regular basis. I am humbled by his simple, unassuming, and poignant nature that seeks out the positive and finds wonder in the smallest of things. And what a lesson this is! If we, as adults, had a fraction of the helpful attitude of children, how much happier would our lives become! Because rather than seeking to serve ourselves most of the time, we would be actively serving others and, in turn, countless people would be serving us, doing far more than we could ever do for ourselves. That is what communities are all about.

Advertisements

Laughter is the Best Medicine

It’s true what they say that laughter is the best medicine. Today I had the distinct privilege of spending my Sunday morning in an after-hours clinic because of a stabbing headache that has lasted 3 days (and counting). I thought it might be due to an ear infection, otherwise I might have toughed it out. But I was fully prepared, upon leaving the clinic with no helpful news, to embark upon my terrible day full of head pain and crabbiness and exhaustion. Thankfully my boys had other plans. Jonathan took a sick day so he could take care of Aiden while I went to the doctor and he managed to wash, fold, and put away all the laundry and do the dishes while I played with Aiden, took a nap and read my book. Yes, I am a lucky woman. And we both discovered (again) that there is nothing quite like the laughter of a child to make you forget your woes. Aiden was in a remarkable mood and was constantly finding something to giggle about. Like pretending that dozens of kitties were coming out of the tiny box in his hand and tickling us with their tongues. Or spinning in circles till he collapsed on the floor and watched the room spin out of the corner of his eye. Later, because we were all getting cabin fever, and I wasn’t about to cook, we picked up some supper and went to the park.  There was a storm brewing and it was gloriously breezy for such a hot afternoon.  Aiden tromped around the park barefoot, in true boy fashion, and laughed at everything he saw. And not just little laughs. These were full-faced, throw your head back kind of laughs that were absolutely infectious. 

As we drove home, Aiden requested his favorite music, an album of high quality children’s bluegrass by David Holt. And, as always, he requested his favorite track, “I Got A Bullfrog,” which is a musical blooper of epic proportion consisting of at least 30 seconds of laughter that the singer is trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get under control. I LOVE that they left this “mistake” in the recording. Every time it comes on Aiden grins from ear to ear in the back seat and laughs along.  I can’t help but join him no matter how many times I have heard it. 

At home, after supper, I let him have a piece of cake and after every bite, he wriggled with glee, doing an excited little cake dance while he . . . you guessed it . . . laughed.  By the end of the day as I felt the piercing pains in my head again, I realized that although the pain had persisted all day, I had not thought about it in hours.  It had not dominated my day as I had feared it would.  And I had laughter to thank. I wonder how much healthier, and of course happier, we would all be if we learned to be a bit more light-hearted and laugh a lot more readily.

Compliments or Criticisms?

There is extraordinary power in the words we speak to one another. Be they negative or affirming, they are capable of completely making or breaking a moment, a day, a relationship. This, of course, is more true of some of us than others. I am a word person. I have never taken any of the “love languages” tests, but if I did, I feel fairly confident that ‘words of affirmation’ would be the primary vocabulary in which I speak. (‘Receiving gifts’ would be second, but that’s an entirely different blog post!) My husband, on the other hand, is an ‘acts of service’ kind of guy. He will do whatever needs doing without blinking an eye. He thrives on taking care of me and our son. Need groceries? He will go, after a long day at work, to get them in order to spare me the hassle of going with a toddler. Is there a huge mess after the elaborate supper I just created? He’ll clean it all up while Aiden and I play so that I don’t have to cook and clean. Getting behind on the laundry? He can do it while listening to a podcast (one of his favorite pastimes), so no biggie! I know that I am extremely lucky. Many women would kill for what I have. I recognize these things are a demonstration of love that I would never trade. Unfortunately, they just don’t speak to me as a gesture of affection. Whereas a note left by my coffee in the morning will make my entire day. Or an offhanded remark about my outfit will make me feel sexy for a week. Why is it that such seemingly frivolous things seem to speak so much more loudly to me than practical things that really matter? I think the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of such affirming words. Not just between husbands and wives but in all types of relationships. We as a society are, unfortunatly, not in the practice of lifting one another up – being generally encouraging or even interested in others. And this lact of verbalizing about things we admire, makes the rare compliment seem so unusual and valuable. I want to change this aspect of society. Every time I think something nice about someone else, I want to have the nerve to speak it, knowing it will probably make their day.

We tend to be so much better about doing this naturally with children. “Good job, sweetheart! What a beautiful picture you drew!” And yet, for some reason, we assume that, as adults, we just don’t need encouragement. We’ve all got this thing called life down pat by now, we shouldn’t need someone telling us what a good job we’re doing at it. But even if we don’t need the encouragement to succeed, it sure makes the path so much more rewarding! My husband recently went on a short business trip and when he returned, he seemed to be buzzing for days. When I asked him where all his positive energy was coming from, he said that he had met someone on his trip who was exceptionally good at being interested in and encouraging everyone that he met. And it was sincere and uplifting and inspiring. Why are people like this so rare? Why do we find it so hard to say nice things about and to one another? Shouldn’t this be the norm rather than the exception? I have a friend who taught me to fly a remote control helicopter. I was a natural, if I do say so myself, but I didn’t have to say so myself because he said it to me. As I was leaving, he kissed me on the head and said I did such a good job and that it was rare for someone so new to flying to do so well. Such a small and insignificant thing, but it made me feel good for days. I hope and pray we are training our son well in this aspect of life and relationships. And lately, he’s been complimenting me at such a rate, that I think we are succeeding. The other day as he was bent over for me to wipe his booty, he said, “Oooh, mama, I yuv your bootiful shoes!” I smiled all day. Later that week as I was trying on some clothes at a thrift store, he repeatedly told me, “I yike dat one! Dat one’s nice mama!” And these are not just the cute nothings of a two year old. They mean something! Perhaps we should all take note and learn to praise with the unreserved honesty of a child. If we complimented half as much as we criticized, we’d probably all feel a lot better about ourselves . . . or at least our footwear.

Dance with more than just your toes!

I admire the lack of inhibition in children.  Of course it has it down side, but for the most part, I think it is a trait to be nurtured and emulated.  Children have not yet learned to be afraid of what other people think of them.  They simply experience the world around them and engage it with undaunted enthusiasm and vigor.  A rather potent example of this is dance.  We are all hardwired to dance.  It is part of our nature as human beings to physically respond to music.  I have never met a young child who did not dance.  It begins almost as soon as they are able to make voluntary movements and continues till the time they learn to be afraid.  A baby who cannot even sit up by himself will bob his head to music and older children will jump and bounce and swing around the dance floor with an excitement that cannot be held back – as though they can’t help it.  And why should they?  It’s natural, joyous, active, FUN.

Children dancing at the "Delta Mountain Boys" concert at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

I recently attended a bluegrass concert where the music was as lively and dance-inducing as it ever gets.  And, as I looked around the room, I noticed that every single adult, without fail, sat straight and calm in their seat while their feet bounced in rhythm under their tables.   Try as they might (in order to maintain “dignity” and “self-respect”), they could not keep the dance inside.  Not completely.  It was wiggling out their toes, trying to escape.  But the children . . . they didn’t even try to keep it in.  They danced wildly around the floor as though no one was watching.  Or perhaps as though everyone was watching but they loved it.  When do we lose this sence of freedom?  What are we so afraid of?  Is it because we are so quick to judge others, that we assume everyone else is judging us?  Well, as my sister’s teacher told her in high school, “You’ll become much less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”   Children believe themselves to be the center of their own little world.  And with that understanding, they make the rules.  It doesn’t matter what other people think because it’s their world, after all.  As adults, we come to understand, rather brutally sometimes, that the world does not, in fact, revolve around us.  But some residual part of that belief holds on and we still believe that people are analyzing every little thing we do, because, I mean, why wouldn’t they?  But despite our immense worry, people are far less preoccupied with the things we do than we give them credit for.  And most people are much less judgemental than we often assume.  When you see someone dancing spiritedly at a concert, unconcerned about how professional they look or whether or not they’re messing up their hair . . . just dancing, do you think, “Look at that stupid person!  Why don’t they just sit down?”  Or do you smile and wish you had the nerve to live in the moment as they did?  If your answer is the former, than you deserve to be self conscious and fearful, because you will probably receive the same judgement you give out.  But if it is the latter, know that MANY people have that same thought.  And most likely they admire you for taking chances and living outside of a box.  Perhaps if we all lost a bit of our inhibitions, and let our kids teach us as much as we teach them, we might inspire one another to live a bit more vividly, with open eyes, open arms, open hearts, and more than just our toes dancing!