*all names have been changed
My six-year-old daughter handed me her fall progress report. It displayed a steady stream of happy check marks in all the positive boxes.
There was just one check mark standing dejectedly alone from all the others.
“How am I doing, Mom?” my child asked with a level of maturity that did not match the small disheveled person gazing up at me with pink spectacles that teetered on the end of her nose.
I looked at her. Her fly-away hair and dirty knees indicated it had been a good day in kindergarten. I looked back at the progress report, then back to her again. Her face, lovely and round, still held traces of baby—unlike her older sister’s face that had elongated into an adult-like oval without so much as a warning.
Finally, once more, I glanced back to the progress report … and the one lonely check mark.
Before I consciously realized I had made a decision, my face broke into an encouraging smile. I gathered my child into my arms and pressed my lips against her silky, smooth cheek. Before I spoke, I briefly closed my eyes and offered up a silent prayer of gratitude; this child had come so far since this time one year ago.
“You’re doing great. You’re doing just fine.” I whispered into her ear, my voice containing a mixture of emotion and happiness.
I decided I would not say anything about the low check mark or the words written beside it. This was just something that didn’t need to be said right now … or perhaps ever.
But this child, with her bright blue eyes and sassy rose-rimmed glasses, misses nothing.
“What does that say?” With her small pointer-finger, she tapped the neatly-printed words that flowed out from the check mark that sat apart from the others.
Inside my head, I read the words: Distracted in large groups. But I already knew this. I knew this before it was written on an official report card. This news was no surprise to me. You see, each day this child comes home with an astute observation:
“Max has a group of warts on his right knee. There are exactly nineteen. I counted them.”
“Miss Stevens got a new hair cut. She got layers put in. It looks really pretty.”
“Miss Evans eats Greek yogurt every single day. I think her favorite flavor is peach because she brings that one a lot!”
“Sarah is a wonderful artist. She can draw butterflies that look like they could fly off the page!”
And outside the school walls, it’s no different.
“That waitress sure is working hard. We should leave a little extra money on the table.”
“That man is texting and driving.”
“Grandpa is slower than the rest of us. We should wait.”
“Hurry! Look out the window. Look at the gorgeous view!”
Distracted or observant?
Distracted or perceptive?
Distracted or empathetic?
I choose observant … perceptive … empathetic.
“What does it say, Mama?” My child was growing impatient to learn the meaning of those words she could not yet read herself.
Both my children know I will always give them truth, even when the truth can be difficult or uncomfortable to say or hear. So I read her teacher’s comment aloud word for word: “Distracted in large groups.”
My daughter gave a tiny, uncertain smile and shyly put her hand to her mouth. “Oh yeah. I do look around a lot.”
Before my child could feel one ounce of shame, one iota of failure, I came down on bended knee and looked her straight in the eye. And then I spoke the following words with every ounce of conviction I could muster; I didn’t want her to just hear these words, I wanted her to feel them.
“Yes. You do look around a lot.
You noticed Carter sitting off by himself with a skinned knee on the field trip, and you comforted him.
You noticed the little girl who couldn’t quite get up on the haystack at the pumpkin patch so you boosted her up.
You noticed Banjo had a running nose, and the vet said it was a good thing we brought him in when we did.
You notice the beautiful, breath-taking view every time we cross the bridge.
And you know what? You’ve taught me to notice.
And I don’t ever want you to stop noticing. That is your gift. It is your gift that you give to the world.”
By the look of blissful satisfaction on her face, you might of thought she just took a bite of a caramel sundae covered in gummy bears and brownie bites. She was literally glowing. Glowing. And even when she tried to suppress her smile and look serious, she couldn’t.
“Okay, Mama. I won’t stop noticing,” she vowed solemnly with her precious toothless smile. And because her teacher is one of the most extraordinary, loving educators I have been blessed to know, I knew she would also want this child to keep noticing, too.
Along this “Hands Free” journey we are required to make choices in order to grasp what really matters. These choices are not always the popular choice; they are not always status quo. These choices may be looked down upon by outsiders and rejected by the “experts.” But after you make these choices—these choices that feel right in your gut—there is always validation. Sometimes this validation takes days, weeks, even years, but it comes. And when it does, you know you made the right choice for your child, for your family, for yourself. Thankfully, validation for the choice I made about the progress report came within days.
I had just gotten my hair cut. It was shorter than usual. I was feeling a little insecure about it. I straightened it in such a way that was different from my usual style. I walked out into the living room, still in my pajamas, with this new hairstyle that I was not so sure about.
“Wow, Mama. You look so pretty! I love your hair.”
It was the voice of my observant child. My face relaxed into a smile, and I immediately felt better about my hair. Apparently my child could sense her words comforted me. What she said next stopped me in my tracks.
“You were just waiting for someone to notice, weren’t you?”
My hand covered my mouth to suppress my awe, my joy, and my tears.
Oh dear God. Yes. Yes. We are all just waiting for someone to notice—notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.
And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.
Thank you, my sweet child. You are only six-years-old, but you are so wise. And through you, I have received my affirmation to see the good before I see anything else:
To see the high check marks before I see the low ones …
To see her beautiful stroke formation before I notice what place she comes in …
To see she’s dressed herself before I notice the winter boots and tank top combination …
To see she’s made her own breakfast before I notice the cereal scattered across the counter …
To see the beautiful artwork she’s created before I notice the floor covered in a mess …
To see the beauty and goodness in all those who cross my path before I see the faults and imperfections.
This is how I want to live.
To notice the good—always the good—before anything else … and above all else.
Being able to look at a report card and see the positives before the negatives didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took a year of “letting go” to get to the point where things didn’t have to be perfect or appear perfect. It took practice to allow life situations to naturally evolve, instead of trying to control the outcome. It took deep introspection to let go of societal standards and create my own principles for living. I share more about this letting go transformation in a guest post this week entitled, “Growing Together: Growth from the Hands Free Mama.” I was honored to help out the talented author (and friend) of the inspiring “Raising Humans” blog who is expecting her precious baby to arrive any day now.
What are your thoughts? Do the people in your life have traits that are perceived as negative or troublesome by outside sources … or even by you? If so, I challenge you to see a positive side to this so-called “weakness.” Perhaps this negative attribute could evolve into a gift if someone recognizes it as so. And perhaps some of you already have. I love to hear your stories, comments, and words of wisdom. They fuel my writing and touch my heart. Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution.
The Notice The Good by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.