Waiting in line at the grocery store last evening, wishing the clerk might move, um, just a little speedier, I caught the sparkle of a little voice behind me. Chattering a mile a minute, bubbling out her thoughts about every little thing around her, bouncing questions at her mom… I could hear her dancing feet in the sound of her delight. Life to her was full of stars she had yet to discover, and her sweet words spoke to me… Slow down, take time to look around you…
Child: Question, question, question…
Mom: Uh huh….Mmhmmm… We’re checking out, honey…
Child: Oh? What are we checking out?
Mom: That just means this is where we buy our groceries. We are waiting in line at the check out.
Child: Ohhhhh…I get it. (Importantly)
I turned to the mom and smiled companionably, taking in the fun little dynamo beside her. About four years old, apple-cheeked, chestnut ponytail bobbing, she met my eyes and turned back to her mom. Her shining face reminded me of a miniature of another child I know who’s been feeling insecure lately. Someone I wish I could help, but can’t. Something about her also reminded me of old photos of myself at her age. I love kids, and this one made me want to scoop her up in a hug.
“Stop laughing at me, you guys!” she demanded with a little stamp of her foot. Embarrassed, she focused her eyes a little above me.
In a whoosh, I was five years old again, feeling my face flush crimson as Grandma and her friends laughed gaily…obliviously…at me. I felt SO humiliated. They had asked me to tell them the time, and not knowing how to read the clock yet, I’d made up a time that was obviously TOTALLY WRONG. How I’d cringed at their laughter!
“Oh… I’m just smiling because you are cute!” I assured the little fury now.
“Yes, we just smiled because you were cute,” her mom echoed.
“I’m not talking to you,” the little girl informed me. “But I’m not cute…”
Something gripped me in the way she’d said that, and I knew… Somehow she really believed her own words against herself. So untrue.
I smiled, caught her eye. “Well, I’m talking to you,” I asserted, “and I think you are!”
She studied me a moment. “We-ell…” she said, thoughtfully. Then, apropos of nothing, she began to confide in me. “I’m going to stay at my Nanna’s tonight,” she remarked happily. “Well, but first I have to go home and pack my bag and get my stuff ready.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” I said.
“Yes, I like my Nanna,” she mused. “But you know…she hugs me a lot…”
“She hugs you a lot?” I asked.
“Yes, but she has me a lot…,” she tried again. “Ohhhh,” I said, conversationally. Unsure what she really meant by that, and not wanting to embarrass the mom, I didn’t pursue it…but I wanted to let the child know I was listening.
“I have to fix my ponytail,” she told me then, pulling it up to show me it needed freshening.
“Because I really love my hair this way…” she explained, one girl to another.
“I do, too,” I assured her. “It looks perfect on you.”
Grinning, I turned back to my groceries, stepped ahead and set the divider on the conveyor for her mom to begin placing hers. The conversation continued on behind me between mom and daughter, and I let my mind wander to things on my list for the night.
Suddenly, I heard the mom addressing me, and I turned back. Like we were friends, she told me why she was buying a festive holiday can of popcorn. “My husband ate the whole thing last year,” she chatted, “so I thought I’d get another one…he should really like it…” I smiled back, a little wonderingly, as she told me a bit of their life. I don’t often strike up conversations in grocery lines. My mom used to do that. We always laughed that she could talk to anybody, anywhere. Secretly, I envied that talent.
I beamed one more time at the little doll as she wiggled and danced in anticipation of a penny ride on the store pony (well, probably more-than-a-penny ride these days). “Have fun!” I waved. She flashed me a bright smile back. I didn’t know her name. But her words stirred delight in my heart and lifted my day. I hoped mine had done the same for her…and her mom.
Later I pondered… is it possible to plant a lasting encouraging word in a child, in one brief moment-in-time like that? One she will pull out like a memory snapshot someday to lift her from self-doubt?
Do you remember any moments like that where a kind word from a stranger — or maybe just someone older than you — stayed in your heart? I’d love to hear about them…