The Little Girl With the Contagious Smile

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin. Children are like little snowflakes. So delicate, so gentle, and when one touches your nose you feel a strong sense of happiness. When you play with them you feel your inner child come out and you want to escape the adult life, just for a moment, into a world with no judgement, just happiness, as you surround yourself with the joy that comes from being a child.

As adults we live a different world than the little ones. We have discovered judgement, abuse, what it feels like to be betrayed. We have learned about social media and how to communicate through many versions of technology. We have learned how to love and what it means to be loved. We have felt anger, hate, and sadness. We know what it means to get butterflies in our stomach and feel anxious when we have a test to take. We have lived, and are still living. But through it all, we as adults have forgotten at times what it means to be a child. To not know what the world has in store. To not know the greatness that is ahead. And to just live in the moment as happy as can be. Remind yourself that it’s ok to pause your texting. It’s ok to not take a picture and post it to Instagram every second. It’s ok to be logged off of Facebook for more than an hour. It’s ok to put everything on hold to spend time with your little ones.

When children are young, spending time with your child is so important. A child needs to feel cared for, nurtured, and that you, the one they trust the most, care about them; they want your heart to ache with love. That special feeling, a feeling that you won’t let anything bad happen to them, not even the slightest bump on the head, is what a child wants. As the amazing Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” A child will always remember how you made them feel and they will hold that feeling close to them like their favorite stuffed animal, never letting go and always bringing it wherever they go.

How will a child feel, however, if you choose to ignore them, to not pay any attention to them, and to make them feel that they don’t matter? I was people-watching at a nearby beach, watching all the children splash around in the water or make epic sand-castles and holes in the sand. There was a little girl, roughly 3 years of age, sitting in the sand near me with two people who appeared to be her mother and father. She had a contagious smile on her face, a colorful swimsuit on, and dimples that brought out the innocence of a child. Her parents laid in the sand, hugging each other, the mother’s head faced down in the sand, the father’s back to the child. The little girl was spreading sand all over the guy’s back. Then, she moved over to the mother and played with the mother’s hair, the mother not once looking up at her daughter. Then the child stared at the adults, supposedly her parents, observing every little action they made. They were hugging, playing with each other as if to be very infatuated with one another, and sat looking at one another as if no one, yet alone their child, were around them. The little girl continued watching, so intently, at every movement the adults made, not saying a word at all, just watching closely.

I sat in my chair, watching the little girl, giving her smiles as often as I could. I observed her little hands wanting to be touched, her little toes waiting patiently to touch the water, and her eyes just staring at the adults in front of her paying no attention to her. I was saddened. Saddened to see a child be completely ignored. Saddened that this seemed to be completely normal for the child, as she did not cry or communicate at all but rather just watched. I was sad and I was having a hard time not rescuing this child.

About two hours passed and still the little girl was being ignored by whom I assumed to be the two people she is supposed to trust the most. At one point a plastic bag tied with a knot became the only toy the child could play with. Yet still she continued to be accommodating to the adults. I would notice her at times laying down with her back on the sand, squirming, as if to convey boredom. And yet the adults continued being in their own world, ignoring their child, not once laying their eyes on the beautiful child that sat before them.

The longer this family stayed at the beach the more I wanted to say something and give this child the attention she deserved. I didn’t. I wanted to but I didn’t think it was my place, as angry as this was making me feel. I did, however, smile as much as I could with each glance that the child gave me. At last, the family left and I exhaled with relief that I would not have to witness something so sad anymore.

As the family walked further away I couldn’t help but still think and wonder about the kind of life this child has. I don’t know the parent’s story. I don’t know anything about them. Yet I still questioned so many things based on this glimpse into their lives. Was this child ever getting any attention? Is this normal to the child? Why didn’t the parents interact with their child? Why didn’t the child communicate? So many questions and zero answers.

Despite how angry I felt and how saddened I was for the little girl, what amazed me beyond words was how happy the child still seemed to be. She smiled brightly, she was playful, she seemed to be having fun despite the lack of attention, and that made me smile. So many children could have acted differently towards being ignored and having their mommy and daddy not lay their eyes on them. But this little one, she was happy. She was fine. And that was good enough for me.

Rather than ignoring children let us simply remember what Forrest E. Witcraft said, “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” YOU can make a difference. Let’s do it!




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