I was sitting in traffic the other day in San Francisco. Being a total country girl when it comes to driving the “Big City”, I had successfully made it all the way to Van Ness on my way to a conference I got to attend over the weekend. And I was pretty proud of myself. But at the same time, I was incredibly nervous. The conference start time was creeping up on me and I was unsure how much longer I had to drive. Plus, I’m not one to drive the San Francisco maze of streets every day. While I wanted to be sure to get to the conference safely, I also didn’t want to appear as the annoying tourist from out of town by driving stupidly. So I had to navigate the streets as if I knew what I was doing, even though I was only one wrong turn away from getting lost.
Thank goodness for a decent GPS.
At any rate, there I was in traffic, anticipating my next turn, and trying not to stress too much about being in unfamiliar surroundings headed to unfamiliar surroundings to attend a bunch of unfamiliar seminars when the bus driver in the bus next to me opened his door and waved me down.
“Great,” I thought. I rolled down my window, expecting him to inform me of a flat tire or that the gas pump was still hanging out of my gas tank.
“Gumorng,” he said. I squinted as I tried to understand which part of my car he was telling me was broken.
“Excuse me?” I asked him.
“Good morning!” he said, and belly laughed.
Shocking. Here I was in this big city where, at times, I feel like a tiny speck in a crowded anthill, and a San Francisco native had gone out of his way to bring little ole me a bit of cheer.
And it turned my whole day around.
It’s amazing how some of the smallest things mean the most. In this instance, two little words spoke a novel of ideas. While the bus driver had only said “good morning,” his action of kindness said, “You’re noticed. I see you. You matter.”
This made me think of the way we go about things in our own families. In my family, we tend to get overrun by activities. Now that there are 5 of us, there are 5 different schedules to adhere to. One has baseball, the other has soccer, and the oldest has high school band and sports. School triumphs all, and homework dictates life. Chores must be finished, and papers have to be signed. Add in to that equation two parents with very busy jobs, and you have a very busy family – and a very normal one.
Thing is, busy-ness can also create the same anthill effect I felt in San Francisco. Everyone is so intent on their own direction, just getting things done, that it’s possible for at least one member of the family to go a whole day without being seen. Most of the time, that person is the kid. While a parent might be carting kids from Point A to Point B, or instructing them to do their chores, or for the millionth time “please pick your backpack up off the floor!” there is no actual time of acknowledging their existence any further than “student” or “child” or “extremely forgetful kid who needs a reminder for every action”. After a grueling day of school (in the classroom, as well as surviving the playground), getting everything done on his list, and being lectured about everything he “forgot”, a very clear message is being sent – “It is not YOU that matters, it is what you do.”
What kind of difference would it make if we took the time to acknowledge them as WHO they are rather than what they’re supposed to be doing?
I was talking with a bunch of moms the other day, and one of them lamented the lack of time she spends with her children. She described her hectic morning with the kids and realized that through it all she hadn’t actually spent any quality time with them.
“I drove them to the grocery store and then home again, made them lunch, cleaned up after them… And yet, I don’t think I really saw them all day,” she said remorsefully. And we could all relate.
But in that same conversation, solutions were made. One of the favored suggestions was for car conversations. Much of our time is spent on the road carting the kids to and from activities or dragging them along on errands. What a perfect time to chat! First of all, your audience is held captive without choice. Ha! Take that teenagers! One mom I know promotes this by prohibiting phones or earbuds in the car to ensure that even when they aren’t speaking, they’re still hearing. Also, the fact that a child isn’t looking you in the eye makes it easier for them to share what’s going on with them. Admitting that their friend avoided them all day or that boy they’ve been eyeing doesn’t even know they exist is way easier when their parent’s watchful eye isn’t focused on them.
The point is, every child needs to be noticed. They need a kind word to turn around their day. They need to be given the chance to be heard. They need the message that they are noticed, that you see them, and that they matter.
Heck, we all need this, right?
So starting today, let’s make an effort to offer kind words generously. And let’s start with our own families. Who’s with me?