“I wish friends held hands more often, like the children I see on the streets sometimes. I’m not sure why we have to grow up and get embarrassed about it.” –Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss
I just spent a weekend with my kids and their little cousins. A few times, while sitting in their midst as they played, I was able to sort of rise above the chaos and just take them in for the marvel that they all are, individually and collectively. I was completely tickled by it. Certain qualities stood out so clearly in their interactions with one another: excitement, playfulness, honesty, activity, generosity, forgiveness, and authenticity. It was quite amazing to sit back and take in these beautiful characteristics that these kids seem to employ so naturally, so effortlessly. The magic just seems to ooze from them.
In one of my appreciative moments, I was struck by a strange, intrusive thought: What would this gathering be like without the children??? It is really an unusual question coming from me, as I do basically everything with my kids. Still, there it was in my mind, this query begging for a response. Really, what qualities would a fly on the wall—or someone stepping outside of the moment like I did—notice distinctly from this hypothetical gathering of adults only? Let’s be clear: this is not just a random assortment of strangers. It was me, my sisters, and their husbands. I love these people. I even like them and admire them. So, how would the situation look to the objective viewer? What would stand out for them about us and our interactions? What is common to most friendly adult gatherings?
As with the kids and their interactions, I hope that the love would be clear, the enjoyment in each other’s company. I think you would see generosity. I am not sure what else would be clear, though. The activity would be absent. There would be very little play, less sharing, less forgiveness, and, perhaps most tragic in my eyes, less authenticity. Mostly, I think the adults-only gathering reveals just a dimmer expression of the joys of life and the range of human expression.
Adults, when denied the influence of children and left to their own devices, tend to play their interactions—and often the entire game of Life–so close to the vest, not wanting to ruffle any feathers or be uncool. Much gets repressed. The unfortunate result of this self-censorship is that it leads people to be inauthentic. They are not expressing their Truth. It is not done in an intentionally devious way, but still it is an assault on Truth. Whether it stems from wanting to fit in, wanting people to like you, or just not wanting to create a stir, this lack of authentic expression and interaction leads to a real dulling of the scene. The fullness of human spirit and emotional range is stifled. The adult-only landscape runs the risk of being both false and boring.
I admit it, though: I am heavily biased. I have always much preferred the company of children. Through every phase of my life, if I have been forced—and yes, I need to be forced—to attend a large social gathering, you can bet you will find me hanging out with the kids rather than the adults (I love that, now that I am a parent, I have an excuse to “just be in here to keep an eye on the kids” at such events.). Sure, some of it is just my natural introversion, but there is no doubt that I just prefer the way kids interact. I am drawn to their authenticity. I love how they tell their Truth. Not just verbally—though that can be absolutely hilarious—but with all of their being. As I said, it simply oozes from their pores. They come by their Truth naturally and haven’t been trained enough to filter it. It is pure and beautiful to me.
Kids not only display the whole range of human spirit and emotions; if you are deeply connected to them, they take you through it, too! But as taxing, frustrating, heartbreaking, and downright exhausting as that is, it is somehow one hundred times more exhilarating, uplifting, rewarding, joyous, and downright soul-stirring.
I don’t know how to explain it. If you surveyed folks on individual factors such as stress, self-care, frustration, and exhaustion, I am certain that parents and caregivers would score highly on incidences of these negative factors, possibly much higher than non-kid people. They would probably also score high on the positive end of the spectrum, such as tender, loving moments, or moments that they feel immense pride. If you weigh out all of the factors on paper, it may look like the kid people come out only even at best, and perhaps much worse off than the non-kid crowd. But then ask just about any parent, teacher, coach, or caregiver if they would prefer to be without those stress-inducing kids. Heck no! That theory on paper goes right out the window.
Seriously, I remember so many nights at journal-writing time, when my little ones were just babies and I was totally wiped out from some string of parenting ordeals that day, and I caught myself writing how fantastic it was to spend the day with my angels and how wildly grateful I was feeling. I would try a reality check and ask myself, “Weren’t you the one who got up at four o’clock this morning and hasn’t been back to sleep; who has been peed on, pooped on, and vomited on; who almost went out of your mind because she wouldn’t stop crying; who got so mad when he threw his plate of food on the floor for the seventeenth time; who just about worried yourself to death when his temperature spiked; and who cried with her when she fell and hurt her head? You have NO CAUSE to think this day was so awesome or that you are so blessed to get to spend it here with them rather than at work! There is no logic in it!” Still, there it was. Logic and surveys cannot explain it. I wouldn’t trade any of those days for anything, and I still look back on that time as blissful. Insane, perhaps, but still blissful.
So, this afternoon, with this topic on my mind, I took my kids to the local YMCA for swimming lessons. I was in the process of thinking how narrow-minded I might sound by writing something like this letter I am writing to you now. After all, people who don’t have kids and don’t interact with kids are still happy and fulfilled and wonderful, too. I worried that I may end up writing something that made it sound like if you aren’t a parent, then your life just isn’t very full and worthwhile. So, I took a few minutes and, instead of watching my own kids in their lessons, I turned my eyes to the “play pool” and watched other people’s children. They were dragging each other around on pool noodles, splashing, sometimes fighting, most of the time giggling. They were just generally being silly, playful, dramatic, and completely authentic. It might have been more emotional watching my own kids do this stuff, but even watching complete strangers, I found it tremendously comical, fascinating, and thoroughly moving. It is raw LIFE on display. I highly recommend finding ways to get involved with it (even if people think you are that creepy guy at the playground or pool who just likes to watch the kids play!).
Kids—yours, mine, or someone else’s—are absolutely magical. They can be all four seasons in one day. But even as they take us on this rollercoaster ride, they teach us a million different lessons. My biggest takeaway from this weekend with children—my lesson learned—is to be myself. To tell my Truth, no matter how many emotions that stirs. To just be me, boldly and unapologetically. And, oh yeah, to have a little fun along the way!
How about you? What do the children in your life teach you? Open up your journal and get real. How much are children a part of your everyday world? Do you wish that amount were more or less? How are you going to go about making the adjustment to your preferred amount? What do you like to do with children—teach them things, just chat, or play whatever they are playing? How different are your interactions with kids than with adults? How much more do you smile? How much more imagination do you use? How much more engaged are you? How different are the feelings you are left with afterwards? As I write those questions, I am picturing one of my best friend’s faces when he is with my kids—he is childless–and how it so totally seems to make his heart sing. This otherwise quiet, unassuming guy just completely lights up. Is that you, or don’t kids really do that much for you? Whether or not you have kids of your own, do you think that raising children generally leads to a more happy and fulfilling life than remaining childless and pursuing one’s other passions more fully? What is the single greatest lesson you can learn from being around children? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do kids teach you?