Small Seeds of Hope: An Out-of-the-Mouths-of-Babes Story
[Note: For the sake of privacy, all names have been changed].
Teachers and parents are not supposed to have favorites, but at each nursery school or Sunday school where I have taught, one or two children have touched my life in special ways.
At Greene Knoll, there was Nathaniel. He was tall for a three and a half year old, and slight, with long silver blonde hair that slipped over his eyes. He was an artist who enjoyed the absurd, a dreamer, a thinker, and already a little eccentric. One of the other teachers said he belonged in Paris. I laughed and agreed.
He painted with a brush in each hand, getting more than the usual amount of paint on himself. In fact, he had a talent for getting remarkably dirty, and yet at the same time he was strangely ethereal. And quite verbally precocious. His architect parents told me that by the time he turned two he could reel off the ingredients of concrete: calcium carbonate, shale, aggregate and water. But with Nathaniel it came out: "calcium cahbanate, sale, aggwegett and watuh," because, like many young children, there were some sounds he just couldn't make.
For much of the time I taught at Greene Knoll, I was obsessed about a relationship with a man I'll call Jim. He was a friend, but I desperately wanted the friendship to develop into "something more." (This was pre-Lawrence, of course.) Occasionally I could let go and live peaceably within myself. Most of the time, however, I was a raving lunatic, at least on the inside. I think I kept it from spilling out most of the time, but internally I unable to free myself from an insatiable obsession with this man. And if I was terrified of losing him, I was equally afraid of getting involved. That fearful, paralyzing double-edged sword approach to romantic relationships had, sadly, dominated my life for many years. This was just the newest incarnation.
One afternoon I sat on the floor at Greene Knoll, in the midst of a happy, noisy throng of children, utterly preoccupied with my thoughts and fears about the relationship, desperately trying to figure it out.
"Does he like me? Does he like me the way I like him? The other day he said such and such, and maybe that means he does...but then he didn't call me yesterday, so maybe he doesn't? Should I tell him I like him? What if he's not ready yet? Will it push him away? What if he doesn't like me that way? What if he does? Maybe he's scared of getting involved too. Maybe I should let him know I like him. But what if that scares him away? Should I wait a little longer before bringing it up? Does he like me the way I like him?"
And on and on. And on. I was frantic and frenzied and completely obsessed with the man, guilty of paying only very marginal attention to the children playing around me, lost in my own worried little world. They were building cities out of blocks, dressing dolls, reading books--oblivious to my internal distress.
Or so I thought.
At that point I looked up. And saw Nathaniel standing in front of me, a few feet away, not saying a word. He just stood there looking at me--quizzically, almost gravely. There was a long pause. Then, in his endearing three year old accent, he dropped a little bomb.
"Yaw haht--it's in yaw head. It sould be in yaw tummy."
I stared at him. I knew instantly what the words meant. And I was dumbfounded. How could he know what was going on inside me? Maybe I had heard it wrong.
"What?" I finally managed to croak, trying to buy some time.
"Yaw haht--it's in yaw head. It sould be in yaw tummy."
"Oh," I said. I couldn't think, let alone formulate any words.
There was a pause that seemed to go on forever but was, perhaps, just a few seconds long. Nathaniel stood there patiently. Finally, years of working with children came to my rescue. Without really making a decision, I found myself placing my hands, palms inward, on my forehead. I held them there for a second or two, then briefly placed them on my belly.
"How's that?" I asked, stumbling around in unknown territory.
I may have been confused but he seemed to know what he was talking about. "Now it's in yaw hands," he said with authority.
So I tried again. This time I pressed my hands to my head for 6 or 7 seconds, then held them firmly to my belly and kept them there for several long moments.
I looked up at him. "How's that?" I asked.
"That's bettah." He gazed at me serenely for a few more moments, then meandered off to construct more towers and bridges with his buddies.
I felt as if I had just been clobbered with an angelic two-by-four, wielded by a grubby three year old.
I have no idea if Nathaniel had any clue about what I had been dealing with, what he had said, or what it meant. But with twelve simple words this eccentric, marvelous young being had just diagnosed--and prescribed treatment for--a pervasive, age-old malady.
I shook my head, clearing away the mental debris. The message was pretty obvious: "Don't try and think your way through this. Let your heart be where it is most at home--in your tummy. And live from there." I sat for a while, relieved, still bewildered, even amused. Finally I got up and joined the children in their play.
"Yaw haht--it's in yaw head. It sould be in yaw tummy." It became a mantra for me over the next few months.
I was tempted to ask Nathaniel why he had come over and said it. But I think I was afraid of breaking the spell. Besides, I'm not sure he would have remembered doing it, let alone known why.
That relationship I worried about so much? It didn't work out the way I had hoped. But that was okay--I went on to bigger and better things. And my heart's in my tummy more often these days. But I still need a lot of reminders.
And you? Is yaw haht in yaw head? Or in yaw tummy?
Until next time.
Alice Dietrich, unSplash
Nathan Dumlao, unSplash
Nick Owuor, unSplash
Oleg Illarionov, unSplash