I remember it clearly. It was the middle of the night. I had just finished a doozy of a diaper change. He was lying there just chillin’ on the fuzzy brown carpet, his tender face aglow from the lamp in the corner. The sky outside was dark, the household thick with sleepy stillness. That’s when it happened. Right when I was going to scoop him up and top him off with a midnight snack, we locked eyes. He examined me carefully and thoughtfully. And then with all the innocence in the world, he smiled.
I could feel fireworks going off in my soul (at lullaby decibels, of course) and the warmest sensation of love and fullness shot throughout my body. He smiled at ME! Time was irrelevant and sleep no longer mattered. This moment was worth marinating in….
There is just something about a smile. A real one. An honest one. It’s like a hug you can give to anyone and everyone, no matter how well you know them.
One day I was on a walk with my pre-school son and my toddler and baby in the double stroller. We met a woman on the sidewalk—the tiny sidewalk of which my baby-filled-barge was using almost every inch. We tried to scoot over as best we could and as she passed, I looked into her eyes, smiled, and said a cheery, “Hello!” She seemed a bit surprised and sort of half-smiled, mumbling something inaudible as she scooted on her way. Once the sidewalk was free again, we continued our journey towards home.
“Mom, why do we smile and say hello to people?” My son’s curious hazel eyes stared up at me; his head inquisitively tilted to the side.
I had to stop and think for a moment myself. Sure it was the “nice” thing to do. But that wasn’t the real reason. I’d been teaching my kids since they were little to smile and greet others they come across. Why?
All of us have felt invisible at times; left out, unnoticed, unimportant—what lonely, terrible feelings. When we take the time to look into someone’s face, catch their eye, and give a sincere greeting, it means we SEE them. It’s means they are alive and important enough to notice. By seeing someone, you are assigning value to them; acknowledging their worth. That person may really need to feel valued today. Maybe that person has felt invisible for far too long.
So, say hello to that mom in the park. Smile at that fellow patient in the doctor’s office. Interact with that kid waiting in line at grocery store. Say a cheery “thank you” to that person cleaning the public restroom. Sure, you may never see them again. But for that moment, they are seen, valued, and wrapped in the powerful embrace of kindness (which has great, long-lasting side effects.)
What about those people you already know, like your family and friends? Here are a few suggestions to incorporate this a little closer to home:
Show your kids you SEE them by being HAPPY to see them. I will be the first to admit to not being a morning person. But a hug, smile, and mild-yet-positive reaction to seeing them at the breakfast table is a great way to get the day off on a wonderful path to success! Greet them by name when they get home from school. Tell them you are glad they are home. And especially when that parent/child relationship is a little strained, this can be an easy way to show that through it all you are still glad to be their parent. That night when my infant son smiled at me—he SAW me. Not only that, but he LIKED what he saw. Show your kids you like what you see when you look at them.
Teach your kids to SEE others. I believe this is one of the best lessons we can teach our kids. Children are naturally self-absorbed. And it is our job to show them how to think outside of themselves. Point out the person who has their hands full and could use the door to be opened for them. Talk about classmates who may be new to the school and how they may be feeling. What about that person on the sports team who sits on the bench not talking to anyone? Could that neighbor who is “mean” simply want to be invited to play? When my oldest was around three, we came across a front stoop full of ‘tough guys’ while on a family walk. I said hello and smiled, but received no response. I was content to keep on walking. But not my son. He relentlessly shouted “Hi! Hi, guys!” and moved around to catch their gaze. His enthusiasm was undeniable and their lack of participation was unacceptable. Within 15 seconds, a game of peek-a-boo broke out between my persistent son and these bandana clad ‘tough guys.’ Kids have a way of disarming even the most persnickety of individuals.
When you can’t SEE someone in person, SEE them from afar. How many times do you think about a friend or loved one but they are nowhere near you to tell them? Send a text, an email, a card–even a short message will do. “Hey, just wanted you to know we missed you at Mom’s group today.” Or, “I wore that shirt I bought when we were shopping together and it made me think of you.” Or how about, “Miss you!” It feels great to be missed and thought of! Be a day-maker!
See–there are no excuses! In person or not; a spontaneous “chance” meeting or a planned date; strangers to family members….What a beautiful gift to receive, and an easy, valuable gift to give away! Who can you SEE today? What possible lasting impact could that momentary interaction of kindness have on them? Let’s find out.