I’m sure it wasn’t just me, but this week felt like it went on forever. Just when I thought I was getting off work without pulling any overtime today, I ended up staying a full two hours later than I was supposed to. My husband came on time to pick me up, and I had to tell him that I would be getting off work late. I hate doing that to him because he’s always so prompt, and I am always so late, but I didn’t have any other options. To my surprise, he walked into my office with my two wonderful nephews, Isaiah (8) and Isaac (6).
The boys are wonderful. They patiently waited around while I finished working, entertaining themselves with my husband’s iPhone, the office saltwater aquarium, and pretzel snaps and honey nut Cheerios from the office snack bar. When we finally got around to going home, they started the 30-minute ride home (eternity for a 6-year-old, as far as I can remember) with a robust game of “I Spy.”
In case you aren’t familiar with the world-famous game “I Spy,” this is where people in a room would say “I spy with my little eye…” and then finish the sentence with some vague description of something they see. The rest of the people have to guess what they’re looking at based on that one vague description. It’s fun when you’re driving, because the stuff you see passes by fairly quickly, so people have to hurry and guess what it is before it’s gone. The boys “spied” the usual stuff you would spy on the road. Street signs. Signal lights. Stars. Then on one round, this happened:
Isaiah: I spy with my little eye…something VERY, VERY beautiful.
Isaac: Auntie Renee!!
Isaiah: No, it’s not auntie Renee.
Isaac: Oh. Well, I always think she looks pretty.
Naturally, I gushed. And then I jokingly pretended to be offended and tried to make Isaiah feel guilty about not saying it was me who he thought was “very, very beautiful.” He matter-of-factly informed us that he was referring to the city lights. Clearly, he’s not too concerned about letting me know how pretty he thinks I am. I’m not bitter.
In seriousness, though: there’s something remarkably precious about a compliment from a child. I think it’s because children – most children – have no sense of pretentiousness. Mind you, Isaac has been a natural charmer and flirt since he learned how to talk. I’m sure he’s going to give some teenage girl’s parents some serious heartburn when the time comes. At three years old, he used to sit beside me and compliment me on everything from my hair to the color of my sweaters. Maybe I’m working the rationale a bit to my advantage here, but somehow I feel that with kids, you never really have to worry about insincerity. They don’t even know what insincerity is. At least not yet. Not until some grown-up ruins him by telling lies, making promises they don’t keep, or saying things they don’t mean.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all communicated like children? Not in the way of vocabulary or maturity, but rather with regards to transparency and vulnerability. What if adults just said what they meant – nicely – to one another? What if we complimented each other openly and lavishly when the time is right, and said sorry when we’re wrong? What if we allowed ourselves to cry when we’re hurt, and to smile when we’re done being mad? Maybe life would be simpler. We wouldn’t have to worry about dissecting euphemisms or playing mind games. People would smile more often, argue less, heal more quickly, love more openly.
One day, sooner than I’d like, I’m sure my nephews will outgrow the silly games we play now. But I hope they never learn to play the heart-breaking, ridiculous mind games that grown-ups play. I hope they never learn to be disingenuous, manipulative or insincere. I hope they never have to build defenses around their hearts, that they will always be able to trust others with their hearts, to be vulnerable and open. This is asking for a lot – after all, the world is a tough place – but when I see their innocent faces, I have reason to believe that nothing is impossible. Indeed, when I look at them, I spy with my little eye something very, very beautiful: hope.