She looked at me with widened eyes, in complete trust and earnestness. She was accepting that what I said would be true and was ready to learn how to perform what she could not naturally do. She was not ashamed of her lack of understanding and she was not humiliated in the asking for help. As much as possible of her body was in physical contact with me that would still allow for movement and balance toward her goal.
She is six years old with skin so fair and hair of gold. Her eyes are as blue as the sky and often when I am looking deeply into them, it feels as though I am glimpsing into heaven. She is just beginning to write in cursive. She easily recognizes how things should appear and can easily enough recognize words that she already knows when written in this cursive style.
With fat pencil and learner’s pad in hand, she slowly began to draw her name. A bombardment of thoughts and mixed emotions forced me to focus on this wee child and what she required of me. She was asking me to teach her the right way to write the adult way.
Briefly I pointed out that my left-handed performance would be different than hers and began to outline the movements I would use. Twice I showed her my way and eagerly she reclaimed the pencil and the pad. The first letter she pens with no problem but it is the second one that gives her pause. She enters the sweeping stroke with temerity but then suddenly stops. Her hand quivers and her lips move in agitation. She is frozen in that moment of trying to let go of her self-taught habit while realizing that she has already progressed too far in the wrong direction. My quiet words encourage her, but there is still much she has to ponder. I tried to praise her, telling her that she would indeed “get it” and that she was on the right track. I told her that I was in the third grade before I was taught how to write in the cursive script. As she looked intently at me, I knew her mind was still trying to sort out all the issues.
We moved on to more playful activities and alas it was time for her to go. She did not want to go for indeed she said so. She delayed the departure with one more game in which she intended to display her cunning and precocious prowess. Inadvertently, her strength was misjudged and I received a slap that she had not intended. Giggles were overtaken by the presence of pain. Both of us looked at the other in surprise with eyes large and mouths wide open. Quietly but firmly I stated that that was not nice as I blinked away tears.
She quickly removed herself from my presence and even though we tried to reassure her that I was okay and that we all knew it was an accident, she would not return to me. I followed her to the porch. She would not look at me and only half-heartedly gave me a hug when forced. It took a few minutes of us all joking and playing around and for me to receive exaggerated hugs from the grown-ups for her to feel as though she would not break me. She flung herself at me with all her might and I hung on to the doorpost to ensure her safety from me tumbling down upon her.
Though my openness to her and intense embracing of her reassured her of our continued bond, there was still a cautiousness and a guardedness for further injury. Her shame of having harmed me previously she had not forgotten. As she walked away, she grabbed the oversized–but empty–box that was to be tossed into the bed of the pickup truck. And indeed that is where she deposited, even though the sides of the truck were far above her head. Proud of her strength again and proud to be of service for me, she turned and asked, “Did you see what I did?” I hollered a “Woohooo!” and did a happy dance, bringing back her dancing eyes and glowing smile.
Before she climbed into the cab of the truck, I repeatedly yelled, “I love you!” She would not respond or acknowledge and kept moving further away until forced, again, to act accordingly. Again, she would not turn to look at me.
Only minutes had passed between the moments of complete trust, earnestness and teachability to the moments of shame, avoidance and hiding. This diminutive wise teacher taught me this day. When there is trust, earnestness and teachability, it is no problem to be open, vulnerable and approachable to the “master” teacher. The “master” teacher’s heart almost bursts with joy. Where there is shame, there is avoidance and hiding. An intense embrace may be a step toward renewed relationship, but the words “I love you” are still hard to accept.