School had just let out, and my six year-old son and I are headed back inside against the flow of student traffic because we forgot something in his cubby. Kids are zooming down the stairs, teachers are urging the slackers to stop dawdling and put on their backpacks. As I head up the stairs, there’s a small space that kids are walking around and, when I get to the landing, I see why. A grade one boy is sitting on the floor, with tears streaming down his face, gripping a Tupperware container.
I crouch down to ask if he’s okay, and he looks at me with wide eyes. “My fossil!” he says. “My fossil broke!” He has one piece of charcoal-like rock in his hand, and another lies on the floor in front of him. He’s beside himself. The kids keep streaming by us, nobody seeming to notice that at this moment in time this fossil is the most important thing in the world, and it has broken. “I’m so sorry,” I say as I sit down on the floor in front of him. “I can tell this is really important to you.” He looks at me, sniffs and wipes his eyes. And we hold the two delicate pieces together.
I know this little boy’s sister, and I know they both go to the daycare after school. I help him place the two pieces of fossil gently back on some tissues in the container and ask him if he’d like me to let the daycare teacher know what happened. He nods. We walk together towards the daycare and he tries to wipe his tears away. I ask him if he’s okay and he shrugs. “Maybe you can glue it together again?” I ask. He thinks about it for a moment, and nods. I let the daycare teacher know why he’s upset, and to see if there’s anything they can do to help him. The grade one boy puts his backpack on his hook, places his Tupperware carefully beneath it, and joins his friends doing a puzzle on the carpet.
As I leave the daycare my son asks me why I have tears in my eyes. I try to explain that the exchange I had with that little boy had a really big effect on me. And that it was a strong reminder to me of why we should always take the time to acknowledge people’s feelings.
Because I know there are times when I haven’t done this with my kids. When I’ve rushed them out the door to get to school, or overlooked how important something was to them, or not truly listened to what they’ve been telling me. The times that it wasn’t “convenient” to stop, get down on the ground with them, and acknowledge what they were feeling.
Those few minutes spent on the floor of the school were like readjusting a camera lens, and pulling a picture back into focus. Not only were they a reminder of the way I want to interact with my kids and with the people around me; they were a reminder of the way I hope my kids interact with others.
All that boy wanted was a little empathy, for someone to pay attention, and to recognize how he was feeling. All of us have moments when we’re like that grade one student on the floor with a broken fossil; when we feel like the most important thing has just happened to us, yet the rest of the world is zooming past us or hurrying us up or not acknowledging what is happening. And whether we’re kids or adults, all we really want is simple: to be seen and to feel heard.