*name has been changed
I still remember her baby fine blonde hair that hung just above her shoulders. She had a freckle-dusted nose, Snow White skin, and a toothy smile. The way her hair was combed till it shined revealed that someone took great care in getting this little first grader ready for school each day.
Grace* was a beautiful, well-behaved child who, at first glance, appeared to be any teacher’s dream. But within ten minutes of the first day of school, I knew Grace would offer an extreme test of patience despite my previous experience in the most challenging special education classrooms.
As if pulled by some magnetic force, Grace physically gravitated toward me. If she was not sitting at her desk, she could be found directly under my nose looking up at me with a concerned expression.
Why the nearness? Why the concern? You may wonder.
Because Grace was a Persistent Question Asker. Whatever inquiry popped into her 6-year-old brain came out of her mouth—and the question was always addressed to me.
“Mrs. Stafford, where should we put our name on this paper?”
“Mrs. Stafford, how many minutes till lunch time?”
“Mrs. Stafford, do we need to wash our hands now?”
“Mrs. Stafford, is it time to get a drink?”
Sharpen our pencil?
Blow our nose?
Take a breath?
Okay, the last one question is an exaggeration, but honestly, the child’s incessant inquiries wore me out. I was not a mother yet, but in less than six months I would be welcoming my baby girl into the world. The patience and effort Grace required gave me cause for concern. Whenever my baby kicked during a lesson on pronouns or one-digit subtraction, I completely lost my train of thought. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had my very own Persistent Question Asker right there in my belly. It just couldn’t be.
After an especially tiring morning of intense interrogation, I pulled Grace aside at recess. We sat on a bench and I gently pointed out that she often asked questions that had already been answered or questions, if she thought about them for a moment, could be figured out on her own. I asked her to try something.
“Before you ask me a question, I want you to take one minute and think to yourself: ‘Do I know the answer to this question?’ And if the answer is no, ask yourself, ‘Can I figure it out myself without asking Mrs. Stafford?’”
I proceeded to describe some additional ways Grace could problem solve when she had a question, but I was not sure she heard a word. The look on Grace’s face was heartbreaking. The thought of answering her own questions caused panic to grip her face. But despite the initial shock, I noticed an immediate change in Grace’s behavior. Although her hand would often shoot up out of habit, she’d quickly pull it down and think. I noticed she looked to see what others were doing and then she’d begin her work. I saw her whispering to herself as she figured things out. I complimented Grace right away for the independence she was demonstrating.
As I was leaving school that day, I ran into a colleague. She asked me how my class was doing. My response was, “Well, now that my Persistent Questioner Asker seems to be under control, I think things will go better.”
That’s when the veteran teacher looked me directly in the eyes and said something I have yet to forget. With a mixture of understanding and authority, she leaned in close and said: “Just remember, every little person in that room is somebody’s child.”
I thought about my colleague’s words all weekend and was anxious to see Grace and her 100-watt smile on Monday. When she arrived, I met Grace’s cheerful gaze a little longer and gave her a wide smile. Like the lyrics to an old 50’s song, I kept hearing, “She’s somebody’s baby … somebody’s baby,” over and over. For the first time, I saw Grace as someone’s most beloved gift who, for whatever reason, needed extra assurances. Extra hugs. Extra smiles.
And that slight but significant change in my perspective made a huge difference that resulted in:
a little more patience,
a little more kindness,
a little more compassion,
a little more tolerance
And that was a very good thing. Although Grace’s questioning habit continued to decrease, she still found reasons to be underfoot. If I dropped the chalk, it was Grace who practically dove across her desk to retrieve it. Grace wiped the chalkboard when I ran out of room to write and organized the top of my desk daily. Basically, she was my personal assistant. Grace did all the grunt work so that never once did I have to bend over or exert myself in my pregnant state.
Grace was a gift to my growing belly. One day when she sprinted across the room to grab a fallen paper. I heard myself say, “What would I do without you, Grace?”
She was unable to suppress her smile as she walked back to her desk practically walking on air.
At spring conferences, Grace’s parents joined me at the little round table. Before I could speak, her mother said, “Thank you for loving our Grace. She talks about you all the time. She loves you and Baby Natalie growing in your tummy. We know she can be … well, a little needy, so thank you for loving her.”
Grace was somebody’s baby. I saw it so clearly in that moment. Despite her challenges, her parents loved her. They loved her because that’s what parents do.
I told Grace’s parents that their daughter was a gift to my growing belly, but it was not until recently that I realized the full extent of that gift. Now ten years later, I see the impact of Grace’s presence in my life.
When my child is walking too slowly, I am reminded that my child’s legs can't go as fast as mine.
And just because my life is dictated by the pace of an adult world, doesn’t mean my child’s should.
When my child takes her sweet time deciding which outfit to wear or what snack to have, I am reminded that children need time to select among an array of choices.
And just because I have learned to be decisive and often ignore the luxury of contemplation, doesn’t mean my child should.
When I want to sigh exasperatedly when she pours the milk too quickly and it overflows from her cereal bowl, I am reminded that accuracy comes with practice.
And just because I get irritated with myself when I make mistakes doesn’t mean my child should be subjected to the same unreasonable standards.
When she searches high and low for her misplaced shoes,
When she can't seem to focus on homework,
When she acts silly in serious situations,
When I find myself expecting perfection, speed, accuracy and maturity from my child,
I think of Grace.
And then I look at my child who won’t be little forever, and I say to myself:
She’s somebody's child.
She’s not yet an adult.
She has a lot to learn.
Let me give her the patience and freedom to grow and become independent.
Let me remember that small offerings of love and acceptance are the best gifts I can give.
Let me remember she values my opinion of her: what I say and how I treat her matter.
Let me speak words of kindness for she will begin to repeat these words to herself.
Let me love her without conditions, without restraint.
Let me love her for who she is.
She is somebody's child.
She is my child.
She is my gift—my everyday miracle.
Let me treat her as such.
Does seeing a child as a true child rather than a small adult change your perspective? Does it make you more compassionate? More patient? What struggles or successes can you share? Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution—a supportive community of people striving to let go of distraction to grasp what really matters! Thank you all so much for the kind words about the design of my new site last week & for your continued support & interest in my upcoming book. I am truly, truly grateful!
*An additional resource:
Many readers often email me asking for specific actions they can take to connect in simple, meaningful ways with their children. I am currently reading the book “What Your Child Needs From You” by Dr. Justin Coulson and am gaining so much from the wisdom and experience Justin provides. Justin is truly passionate about sharing the science, the skills, and the heart that connect and strengthen families. Check out his book and his blog, Happy Families!