It is Sunday evening at the dessert store. Families are out looking for a sweet treat to enjoy together. And, out of the corner of my eye, I spy a little princess. Dressed in a cute little dress and the cutest sandals with hearts across her toes, she sat confidently in her Daddy’s arms. What’s her order? A chocolate ice-cream cone. But, she is probably just graduating to a cone as she does not know what to do with it when it is placed in her hands. Daddy says, “Lick it, A…” But she just stands holding it. So, he bends down and shows her what to do by taking a lick of her cone. She quickly follows. Obviously, it is nice as she licks the ice-cream from her lips. But she gets stuck again. Daddy says, “Lick here, A…,” pointing this time where she should lick. But she does not move. So again, Daddy bends down and licks the ice-cream so that she can see. She quickly follows. With ice-cream on her chin and sparkling eyes, she takes her Daddy’s offered hand and they walk out the store together.
Dorothy Law Nolte (1972) wrote some famous words more than four decades ago which still ring true today. She wrote, “If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience. If children live with praise, they learn appreciation. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love”. As demonstrated in my opening vignette, everything that a child begins to live they have learned through mimicking the actions of the adult who taught them. According to the World Bank (2015), there are approximately 7.347 billion people on the earth. Of this number, 49.55%, or 1 in every 2, is female with the remaining 50.45% male. Additionally, approximately 26%, or 1 in every 4, falls within the age range 0-14 years. So, 1.8 billion little people in the world under the age of 14 have to be loved and cared for by men and women all around the world. Through these primary relationships, they have to be taught how to live – to live in community. Traditionally, May is celebrated as Child’s Month in Jamaica. Internationally, it is also the month of Mother’s Day and all activities honouring mothers. So, in the next few blogs I wish to highlight the power of love that sustains these important familial relationships.
Children are gifts, a heritage from the Lord the scripture says (Psalm 127:3). But, even without the scripture, we know in our hearts that babies are special. Even if you feel emotionally exhausted, there is energy when you glimpse the sparkling eyes of a baby. You can feel their wonder at being held by you. You can see their rapt attention on the toy that you dangle before them. As they grow, you can understand their need for assurance that you are watching them as they explore their world, glancing back frequently to see if you are still there.
As an older child, it can be fun playing with a baby because you get to be the grown-up and to make all the decisions. If there is a disagreement, you feel the power to take charge and have your own way. But, what happens to parents, grown-ups who have anticipated the arrival of the evidence of the relationship that they share? Through the eyes of a child, they understand love. They understand helplessness. They understand hope. Through the life of their child they have the opportunity to learn more about love, helplessness and hope. Let’s explore these opportunities one by one.
Love through the eyes of a child. Adults can become hardened by life and all the experiences that they have had. However, loving a baby can reverse all the hate that they may have previously known. It is hard to hate what you have created. There is peace in seeing a small version of yourself lying in a bed, waving arms and wildly kicking their legs, grinning widely as they look up at you. Even if the child is not yours, your heart swells with something that is hard to describe. You feel tension right in the middle of your chest somewhere between trying to catch the next breath and feel the next heartbeat. You feel alive looking at this slice of the eternal that just entered into time. But what do you do with such immense love? You express it in action. You do what is necessary to sustain it. You do what is necessary to keep it alive and growing.
Yet, there is another emotion that can accompany the deep love that one feels for a baby. It is helplessness. By the time you see this beautiful child you have lived a little, or lived a lot. You have made decisions that shaped your life. But, when you realize that you are this baby’s source for everything, helplessness can overwhelm you. The questions assail you: How do I help someone who cannot tell me what is wrong? How do I give them everything that they need when sometimes I neglect to care for myself? How can I teach them about life when I wrestle with questions of my own? How do I tell them that love conquers all when there is so much pain in this world? It can be overwhelming if we carry the burden alone. But answers can be found in the midst of community.
Communities provide hope. In community, we feel like we belong, we can cope with crises, and find social support to accomplish personal and collective goals (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2001, 2006, 2011). Babies are received into communities. Given to us from the beginning of time, each new life is celebrated by the receiving parents as a sign of joy and a future together. Rituals accompany the birth that remind the parents that they are only stewards for a time, that the child will grow up and choose a life of their own. Rituals remind the community, including godparents, grandparents and other relatives, that they are committing their resources to supporting the parents as they raise their beautiful child. Rituals include prayers that remind the community that the God who gave life to this child will be present always to watch over this child and assist them as they journey through life. In this we can hope. Hope recognizes that the Creator of life will not abandon this life, but will sustain it as it travels through the earth. Hope springs eternal when we understand as parents, godparents, relatives and neighbours in a global community, that the responsibility of loving children and making a safe place for them lies in all of our hands.
So as we celebrate Child’s Month this May 2017, let us remember the love that can burst the heart at the sight of a baby, stimulate the overwhelming helplessness in the face of their dependence, and most of all sustain the hope that is shared in communities.