I once read an essay written by a mom about how our children belong not only to us, but to the world. Shamefully, I cannot remember the title, the source, or the author of the essay. What I do remember is nodding my head in agreement as I read. The author wrote about how she watched in silence as her eight-year-old daughter conversed with a stranger on an airplane. She wrote about how she was not prompting her daughter with answers or nudging her daughter to tell the stranger this or that…she was just a silent witness as her child interacted with the world. That essay stuck with me.
It stuck with me last month when our neighbor greeted us on a walk after our long winter seclusions. “Did you lose some teeth, Maddie?” he asked. Maddie looked at me. I nodded back, encouraging her to speak
“Well, they were loose cuz they got knocked by my cousin Luke and then my friend Brian knocked them out on accident with his foot. I just turned five. Katie is three. My dad already turned forty and my mom is thirty-nine, but she’ll be forty on her next birthday. Bye!”
“I had a monkey pawty! I yub monkeys!” Katie added for good measure.
I smiled as we walked away. They belong not only to me, but to this world, I thought.
So last evening when we found ourselves in a public restroom with an older woman wheeling her oxygen tank behind her, I knew what to do when Maddie whispered in my ear, “Why does she have that thing?”
“Go ahead and ask her,” I encouraged Maddie.
“Excuse me, but why do you have that thing?” Maddie asked the woman.
“Well, it helps me breathe. This tube has air in it, and the air goes into my nose which helps me breathe.”
“Oh,” Maddie said. “Bye!”
I smiled at the kind woman as we made our exit. “That was a nice thing you just did, Maddie,” I told her. “If you’re ever curious about someone, it’s nice to ask a question and not just stare at them. I like how you used your nicest words.”
“Mommy?” Maddie said after a few moments of quiet contemplation. “I thought she was going to clean the floors. I thought that was a vacuum.”
I stifled a giggle. They’re still making sense of this world they belong to, I guess. And I’m lucky enough to be along for the ride.