I have spent a lot of my life believing I was worthless. But a lot of what has happened over the course of the years has caused me to feel that that is not so.
I love children. Not all children, because some of them, like some adults, are not very nice. But if you’ve read the “About Rebecca” on my new website, I shared something that I really, truly love: A toddler’s smile. There is a reason for this. I have been subjected to some amazing smiles from toddlers. I’ll give you a few recent examples.
Just over a year ago, November or December, I think, I was in Safeway, looking over the various kinds of canned tuna. I was crouched down, and as I rose to my feet, a shopping cart came around the corner of the aisle. I looked, to see a woman pushing the cart, and a little girl, with short, curly, dark hair and dark eyes, bundled in her snowsuit, sitting in the front of the cart. My eyes went right to the little girl. She couldn’t have been any more than a year and a half. As soon as she saw me, she smiled at me. An amazing, open, brilliant smile. Like seeing me was the most wonderful thing. It was the kind of smile that just catches you completely unawares, completely unexpected. Immediately I smiled back, in wonder. I felt, I kid you not, as if the sun had just broken out from behind the clouds, as cliched as that sounds. I knew my smile was not even one of those close-mouthed polite kind of smiles. My jaw literally dropped into an open-mouthed smile. I felt almost in awe. The little girl’s face was lit with happiness, with pleasure, as she looked at me. Completely uninhibited, completely genuine.
Her mother (or so I assumed) said, as she saw the little girl smile like this, “Oh, that’s so nice, look at that! What a good girl!” As if she was as surprised and pleased as I was. “Hi,” I said to the little girl, who seemed to smile even more, if that were possible. And then they moved past me, and I left the aisle without my tuna, filled with such an amazing feeling of goodness.
Several months ago, I was on a plane to North Carolina. In the seat next to me, was a man who looked to be in his thirties. Across the aisle, a woman I guessed was his wife, who had seated next to her a girl of about 4 years, and in the woman’s lap she held a little girl, blonde haired and blue-eyed, who looked just over a year. The little girl had a very serious air about her, and was very intent on what was going on as the plane took off. As the plane leveled off, the woman handed the little girl over to the fellow beside me, and as she made the transition, the little girl looked at me, and she smiled. A big smile, that lit up her face and her eyes. She plopped down in her daddy’s lap, who positioned her to face forward, but just before he did, she looked over at me again, and smiled very cutely at me.
Her daddy pulled out his laptop, a MacBook, and he brought up Angry Birds, and taking her tiny index finger in his fingers, he moved it across the screen to play the game, flinging the birds for her, keeping her attention diverted. But every once in awhile, she looked over at me and smiled so sweetly, I felt it. Deep inside. It felt wonderful. Pure and sweet.
“How old is she?” I asked.
“Fifteen months,” he said proudly.
A couple of months ago, the beginning of February, I was at Southpoint Mall in Durham, NC. I was just about to go into the Barnes & Noble there, when I saw an older woman coming toward me, holding the hand of a little girl, who was obviously not very steady on her feet yet. She was tiny, a petite little girl, in her jacket and boots, with wispy strawberry blonde hair and big eyes. As they came closer, I paused, because they were intent, it seemed, on reaching the fountain just ahead, and I would have gotten in their way. The little girl looked up at me then, and she tilted her head, and she smiled at me. It was a shy smile, at first, and then she looked away, and looked back, and she paused, and her smile broadened. It was brilliant, uninhibited, sweet, warm. I smiled back, again in wonder, not expecting such a smile.
The woman holding her hand, who must have been her grandmother, noticed the exchange, because the little girl had paused.
“Say Hello,” she said gently, to the little girl. “Go on, say Hello, it’s alright.”
And the little girl lifted her tiny right hand, held it close to her face, and did that little scrunching thing with her fist, the fingers closing in to her palm as she waved Hello.
I felt my heart lift, and I smiled and returned the Hello wave in the exact same way. I had to. And then, with a final shy smile, she turned toward the fountain she’d been so set on, and I turned away, forgetting about Barnes & Noble.
I love children. For the most part, I really do. I may not be overly fond of most people, and many people may not like me, and perhaps I am not always completely likeable. But I almost always get along with children, with toddlers. I seem to have an affinity for children of that age. I’ve never understood it, no more than I try to understand why I seem to have an affinity for puppies. I just do. There’s a sweetness there that seems to respond to something in me. Or I respond to it.That something that tells me, that affirms, that I am not worthless, that I am not a bad person, that I am a good person, and sometimes, that can be seen right off. The fact that it’s usually toddlers doesn’t bother me in the least.
This is what I am trying to convey here. I don’t always know it. Or believe it. But little children, barely over a year old, smile at me, as if they see that, know it, feel it. And their smiles, those smiles that I rarely get from adults, reassure me that such a smile is not something that just happens. Such a smile, from a little child who is full of trust and goodness, and whose perception perhaps I should not trust, is what I trust most of all.
You may think I’m deluding myself. You may think that.
But I doubt those little children think that.
Because if you think about it, how could they?