When I was a child, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I wrote fantastical stories about princesses and make-believe lands and talking animals. I wrote stories imagining what my elementary-school friends and I might do when we were in college and real grown-ups. When I was seven years old, I even drafted a children’s book about my first pet, a one-eyed cat named Midnight. My dad agreed to do the illustrations in his scrawling pen-and-ink style.
When I was about nine, I accompanied my parents to an art opening at Michigan State University’s Kresge Museum. There were lots of fancy graduate students and faculty and alumni and community members present, drinking wine and eating cheese with tiny forks and doing impossibly grown-up things. I often went to this art museum since it was in the same building where my dad worked, but this was a whole new world of adults doing important and intellectual things.
But one person, my dad’s friend Bianca, took the time to notice me. She began talking to me about my writing. I was working on a collection of stories that imagined me and my best friends Claire and Lizzie all grown up and living together in a peach-colored Victorian house on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. We traveled around the island by horse and buggy (no cars allowed, there, you know) and cooked magnificent foods and explored the famous butterfly conservatory and hosted musicians and dances on our wide front porch overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. This out of a nine year old imagination. I was nervous sharing my precious ideas with Bianca, afraid she’d laugh or say ”that’s cute” condescendingly or walk away to get on with the real party. But she sat next to me throughout the evening and listened to me. She asked questions. ”What color are the horses that pull the carriage around the island?” “Do you ever visit the Grand Hotel in your story?” “Are the winters cold in the Straits of Mackinac?” ”Does your family come to visit you on the island?”
Bianca behaved with nine year old Anita the way I hope and pray that all adults can interact with children. With curiosity, openness, imagination, and validation. Children are so often written off by adults, dismissed to play with someone their own age, ignored and condescended to. This had happened to me, a young child who felt mature beyond years, made to feel silly or embarrassed about my writing activities. And Bianca, a caring and interested adult, validated me and my creativity. Her questions were thoughtful and meaningful, her comments became valued feedback to a budding author. She took the time to get to know me on my level. She showed me that she thought I was important.
This is my hope for all children. That all of the adults in their lives, not just the ones in their family, will take the same interest in the person inside the young body. That all children will have that experience of having an adult get to know them as an equal through conversations filled with curiosity, care and kindness. That all children will have their emotions and ideas and questions and experiences validated by people four- and five- and six-times their age, tapping into that soul of humanity that transcends differences in life stage.
Nine-year-old Anita sure appreciated having multiple caring and inquisitive adults in her life. I know the children in your life, and in our church, will appreciate that as well.