Seeing the child within

Callie was her name. I remember her auburn hair. Her scrawny frame. Her risqué vocabulary- peppered with colorful words I wasn’t allowed to say at my house. Perhaps I was a little bit scared of her- perhaps I was even a little in awe. She was the community bully, came from the wrong side of the tracks. Lived in a little, run-down house on the other side of the school, although like the wind- she was everywhere, it seemed. Her nose pressed up hard against the door frame looking in to see what she might discover in her neighbours’ houses. The adults- they were afraid she’d be a bad influence on us- what with her swagger and bravado. We kids thought she was the boss. And she was the boss- she ordered us around and gave directions like she was a drill sergeant. But somehow- even as a kid. I always knew Callie was different. I knew that she came from different stuff than I did. I knew even as a child that part of the reason Callie acted the way she did was because her life was a whole lot different than mine. Somehow, the fact that I could see this about her helped me understand her a tiny bit better- even in my child-like mind.

Even now, I can still see her playing in my backyard under the old oak tree- just like it was yesterday.

Sometimes, when I allow my mind to go back to that time, that place- I think of her as she was then. I remember the child. And I wonder if we were ever to cross paths today, what would the adult in her be like? Would she have changed? And would I still see in her the child whom she once was? Would I still see in her the child I knew from way back then?

It is tempting as adults to view our adult counterparts in adult terms. We see them as our equals- our colleagues, our co-workers or our friends. We see them as having crossed the threshold somehow- as having gone from one realm to another. We somehow equate maturing with entering a different dimension. A different time zone. But we forget sometimes- and to our great disadvantage: there is a child within all of us. And that child is forever part of every adult, no matter how old we live to become.

As a teacher, I have disciplined myself to look for the story inside my students. I have made it a practice- a purpose of mine. When I find that I am having difficulty seeing the best in any one of the children I teach, it gives me pause for reflection: to stop and carefully look for the story that is within each of them, my students. Can I always read the story from cover to cover? No. Is the story always complete? No. Does the story leave me feeling I have all the answers? Never. But the story I discover inside each of the little people in my class always leaves me feeling that I have a better understanding of who they are as a person. I am better able to appreciate the intervening variables when I understand the story- even if only but a little bit.

As an adult person, I find it easy to see the story in children, but harder to read that same story in the adults with whom I have encounters. How easy it is to forget that every person- young and old, has a story within. True. It is easier sometimes to find that story in children. For one reason, children are often so warm and inviting. Their story is sometimes more accessible. Not easier- just newer. Even when children are more closed with their story, we as adults make it our priority to listen to the story nevertheless. For children’s stories are often closer to the surface than are those of adults’. Any children are so fragile- we work at listening to their stories because that is our job as adults.

But whose job is it to listen to adult stories?

While I have found that we as adults have a vested interest in understanding childrens’ stories, we do not have the same vested interest in understanding each other’s stories. I know that I certainly have this strong desire to hear my student’s stories- I want to know their story so I can help them become the best person they can be. But when it comes to adults- to my equals and counterparts- when it comes to adults it’s harder sometimes to hear their story. Their stories are that much more complicated. They are harder to read. They are hidden more deeply inside of intervening variables, circumstances and emotions. And sometimes instead of trying to read the story, I just make my own story up- because it’s easier to do that. Especially when the story I write for each person matches up with what I believe to be true. And the result of this process is that I sometimes fail to give people the chance or opportunity to tell their story. I fail to give them the opportunity to be the storyteller. And what I lose as a result of this choice is understanding. And the opportunity to let a person share with me their life.

Inside every person is a child. And inside every child is a story. And inside every story is a meaning for who we are, why we do what we do and what that all means. Adults, it is time we started listening to each other’s stories.

When we don’t see each other for our story- when we fail to see the inner child within, we also miss an opportunity to hear the lifestory within all of us. That is, when we fail to recognize that every adult was once a child- because we know every child has a story: we miss an opportunity to validate that person as an individual worthy of love, acceptance and empathy.

It’s sometimes easier to give those three things to a child- is it not? It’s a little more complicated when it comes to doing this for adults- particularly adults that we don’t feel close to, for one reason or another. One thing I try to do- especially for those whom I feel particularly difficult to connect with as adults is to see in each individual I encounter- both the negative and the positive encounters- as if they were the child again. Because the child inside of them is someone for whom I have empathy and understanding. Someone I can identify with. And I can give caring support to a child more easily than I might to an adult- which is why I choose to see people for their inner child. Not for the adult they have become. But for the child they once were.

Seeing adults for the child they use to be helps explain to me their story just a little bit better. And it also allows me the opportunity to offer empathy, compassion and caring- if not for the adult, for the child they use to be.

I often wonder what happened to Callie. I wonder where she ended up, what she does for a living, how she is. And I sometimes wonder- if I were to see her today, would I see her for the child within her? And if I could still see her that way, would it help me to better understand her story?