I met a four-year-old at the grocery story yesterday. Her mom and I were both looking at teas and the kid looked a little bored. I noticed she was wearing a pretty pink scarf so I looked up and said, “Hey! That’s a beautiful scarf you’re wearing.”
“Thank you,” she responded.
“Did someone make it for you?” I asked
“No, my mommy gave it to me!” was the answer.
“Actually,” interrupted the mother, “I did make it for her.”
“It’s really great,” I replied. Then, turning to the girl, “You must be awful special for someone to make you such a great scarf!”
“I am special!” she exclaimed with all her heart. “Mommy says I am so special all the time!”
It’s amazing what little kids can get away with. This girl was not boasting; she was relaying facts to me: (1) that she knew she was something special and (2) that she knew this because her mother made sure she was told this all the time. If a twelve-year-old had said this, we would all jump to the conclusion that he or she was conceited – at least, those of us who grew up Southern would jump to this conclusion, though I seriously doubt we Southerns are alone in this prejudice.
It’s funny though. I think if we were to let ourselves be honest, we would all agree that we want what this girl has: to know without a shadow of a doubt that we are special, valued, and needed – AND we want to know this to such a degree that we would not be afraid to proclaim it to a stranger trying to pick out the right chamomile tea. It’s not that we want to be thought of as conceited, but we do want the confidence that conceited people seem to radiate.
Why don’t we know this? I believe that most of us know very few, if any, people we would consider invaluable, and useless clones. Actually, maybe we do, unfortunately, consider many people to be just this, but I wonder if we have actually taken the time to get to know them. See, a four-year-old child asks a lot from her parent(s): they must put her to bed on time, keep her safe from accidents, clean up spills when she tries to help, clean up vomit when she is sick, wake up at the crack of dawn because she is not tired anymore, etc. Also, a parent does not keep (or should not keep) a list of gains such as “I changed your diapers for over a year, now you must do all my laundry until you are 30.” What is it that makes us tell a child they are so special over and over again?
So, a four-year-old child could know indubitably that she is special and if everyone we encounter is valuable if we take the time to look for it. I ask again, why do we have such a hard time believing this of ourselves? Why is, nestled in our deepest fears, the terror that we don’t add up to much? Is it all the mistakes we have made along the way? Is it because we were not loved properly when we were children? Have we spent too many weeks under Murphy’s Law? Is it that someone has told us we were worthless and we believed them? Why is it that we will call everything and everyone under the sun worthy, but can’t believe it of ourselves?