“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle
It is a day that begs to be lived outside.
The air is the perfect temperature where one isn’t the slightest bit too cold or hot, where long sleeves and sandals provide the perfect amount of coziness and comfort, where the orangey-browns of Autumn trees contrast beautifully against a pale blue sky. It is a day for the park.
My girlfriend and I loaded up our children and snacks and ventured to the playground for a welcome break. We sat at a sunny table. Our older ones ran off immediately, the younger ones swarmed like eager minnows in a pond of snacks, grabbing with open mouths for whatever edible item would emerge before them.
And then I heard her — beside us, a kind voice with a New York accent — “Hi there. I just have to say —”
We looked up into the sun to greet the face of a smiling grandmother who was there with her 2-year-old grandson.
“I just have to say,” she continued, “You have wonderful children.”
“Thank you!” my girlfriend and I said in unison, surprised, trying to feed the babies below us quickly enough to appease the whines and grabbing hands.
“No, really, they’re just great. I’ve been watching them with my little grandson. Often the big kids run away from him or push him away when I take him to the park, but they have been including him and playing with him,” she said appreciatively.
We thanked her for her kind words and carried on to another topic of conversation (about how she, too, had given birth to a child with Down syndrome 30 years ago, and all that entailed). And yet, as I sit here this afternoon, her simple appreciation of our children’s niceness is what has echoed in my mind.
Who knows, our older kids may have distractedly thought her grandson was just another little brother in our brood — and my own young children still need plenty of reminders about sharing and kindness — but yet, I am appreciative to that grandmother for making the point to say something. Their apparent kindness stood out to her — and that stood out to me.
As a mother and homeschooler, I put a lot of pressure on myself: are my children learning everything they should? Am I pushing them enough academically? Am I exposing them to enough this or that for whatever standards we measure these sorts of things by?
But then, on a beautiful day as they play and run and encourage and include each other, I think to myself: well, that’s sort of it, isn’t it?
There are lots of things to be learned in this life, but there’s not much more important than learning how to be a friend.
I don’t remember too many specifics from my academic experiences growing up, but I have been the new girl a lot — and I do remember the kids who stepped out of their comfort zones to say hi and invite me to sit at their table. I don’t recall who all of the CEOs at every job I ever had was, but I do remember the coworkers and janitors who took the extra moment to go out of their way to see how I was doing. It is something not all people do, but that all people need — to be noticed, to be connected with, to be included.
Every day I am grateful to observe and be part of a community of friends and families who model this inclusion. Big kids who aren’t too old or cool to indulge a doting little toddler. Children who aren’t too embarrassed or busy to notice that a new kid is standing alone. Parents who teach from a generous heart by treating others with the same kindness. This spirit of love and inclusion and coming out of oneself is lived within their homes and overflows into the greater community. It is a lesson that grows exponentially as families connect together, as friends meet friends, as love begets love.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou