People say they can usually tell I don’t have children of my own when they hear me speak to other people’s children. I don’t switch conversational modes from Adult Mode to Child Mode when I interact with children. With the exception of dialing down the profanity, I speak to children the same way I speak to adults. The general consensus among parents seems to be that I would break this habit quickly if I had children of my own, because simplifying conversations would save me a lot of time in explanations, examples, and interpretations. Maybe that’s true. We’ll never know for sure unless I end up with grandchildren from The Chef’s kids.
The most memorable case of a parent who disapproved of my universal-speak across all age groups got a brand new ending this week, years after the original incident.
A few years ago I worked for a company with a very liberal policy regarding bringing kids to work during the summer. Specifically, once school let out for the summer it was okay to bring kids to volunteer (it was a non-profit organization) for part of the day, and then the rest of the day the kids were free to hang out until Mom or Dad finished work. This particular year my office became the hangout spot. During their free-time hours I’d have a handful of little girls playing in my office.
I’m still not sure why they chose me but for three months or so, my office was their gathering place, play space, clubhouse, and meeting room. Moms and Dads were cool with it too, since there was adult supervision (Me) and the girls were easy to check and easy to find. They made crafts, brought in toys or games from home, or colored pictures I’d print for them from the Internet. They’d talk among themselves, sing along to the radio, or ask me questions about life.
For a few weeks a boy cousin came to visit one of the girls so he was brought along to work with her. He also played in my office with the girls. One day they were all making Ugly Dolls out of yarn. When the dolls were complete the girls started making jewelry. The boy cousin wasn’t interested in jewelry so he asked me for some Internet coloring pages. He stood next to my chair while I searched for his request (tigers, bulldozers, or the Incredible Hulk, if memory serves).
He asked me why girls wear jewelry.
I told him to notice all the places women wore jewelry. He looked at my hands and my neck and the flower pinned to my hair. I asked him to name all the places he’d ever seen women wear jewelry. He listed off:
- hands & arms
- necks & ears
- his grandma wore big pins on her chest for church
- he’d seen his aunt wear a little gold ring on her toe
The little girls overheard and chimed in.
- Did piercings count? Because there was a girl at Taco Bell who was loaded up.
- When they’d gone to Hawaii they saw ladies there wearing sparkly chains around their bellies.
- At a wedding one girl had worn a tiara. Did that count?
- What about that girl from camp who put gold threads in her braids?
We agreed that ornaments in the hair and piercings did count, since earrings were piercings too. The little girls immediately switched gears and got busy making hair ornaments and braiding. The boy cousin repeated his question.
Why did girls and ladies wear jewelry all the time?
It isn’t exactly true to say I forgot that I was speaking to a child and gave him an adult answer. I don’t forget. It just occur to me to adjust my answer because I’ve never done so.
I told him, “Sacred places are usually marked in some way.”
He asked me to define sacred. I gave him several iterations of special, precious, and holy. He understood special and precious well enough. He balked at holy. Did I mean holy like church was a holy place? Yes, exactly. So jewelry marked sacred places our bodies? Yes, exactly. In this case, a woman’s body or a girl’s body, but sometimes men too.
He looked at my necklace and asked what was sacred about my neck. I told him my voice comes from my neck. My words are sacred. He asked about the rings on my fingers. I told him my hands make magic and give love. The flower in my hair? My mind was also a sacred place, full of everything I learn in life.
He seemed satisfied with those answers so he took his tiger printouts and moved over to my boss’s desk to color.
The next day when the girls came to play the boy was missing. When I asked the girl cousin about him she said his mom wouldn’t let him come back because I taught him something that sounded like witchcraft. Apparently he’d gone home and mentioned to his mom that her ears must be sacred places. He wasn’t allowed to return for the rest of the summer.
It’s been years since I left that job. I haven’t seen any of those little girls or their parents in all that time. Coming out of the post office yesterday I ran into the girl cousin and her mom going in. There were smiles and greetings as we recognized each other. The girl cousin isn’t a little girl anymore. She must be what they call a tween now.
When the girl cousin lifted her arms to hug me I noticed she wore several sparkly bangles on her arm. I complimented them. She grinned up at me as if we shared a secret and told me her cousin made them for her. I remembered him, didn’t I? It was the same boy cousin who played in my office that one summer. He makes them and sells them online and at local craft shows, along with necklaces and ponytail holders with long sparkled streamers. His mom helps.
I joked that his mom must have gotten over the witchcraft. Girl Cousin’s mom smiled and shook her head, “On the contrary, the witchcraft won her over.” We stood in the sunshine outside the post office and she told me the story.
Boy Cousin kissed his mom’s hands in tears one day after she buried his pet turtle. He’d been so upset he couldn’t do it himself so he asked mom to do it. After the turtle funeral he cried and kissed the palms of her hands and told her they were sacred because they had helped ease his sadness. For Mother’s Day a few weeks later he made her the first bracelet. He also made one for Grandma, his teacher, and his best friend’s mom. The business took off from there. Mom fully supported the project.
He is saving the money for college.
This is the perfect example of why we practice, so that statements or suggestions which provoke wellness will feel natural when we are given the opportunity to deliver them. I didn’t have to stop to calculate my response to this little boy because I’d practiced giving it so many times to so many others, regardless of age or gender.
Years later the practice manifests wellness in his life, in the life of his mother, the lives of his extended family, and the lives of everyone touched by his craft. Wellness is manifested anew in my life as well. This is how we directly affect the wellness of our communities even without grand gestures or media-blitzed events. It’s just one little practice at a time, practiced over time.