I'm starting this week's update with two stories. Both of them are about my oldest, Teddy. I would give a little introduction about him, but...well, I think these stories will speak for themselves.
Teddy has never, since he began speaking in little babbles, passed up an opportunity to say hello to anyone. And I mean anyone. Wherever we'd go, whether he was snug in his stroller, strapped to me in a carrier, or buckled in the front of a shopping cart, he was craning his neck to find a new person, waving his tiny hand and eagerly shouting "hi! hi!" Normally I didn't mind it, as I'd just smile at his victims and keep walking past their amused smiles. But one day, we found ourselves at a mall, and he happened to spot a group of teenagers.
I was embarrassed. I thought they would raise their eyebrows at him. I thought they'd look me up down as they laughed at us to each other. I thought they'd ignore him.
Instead, they matched his enthusiasm. "Hey, little guy," one of them cooed, kneeling in front of the stroller. The three of them gathered around, rewarding tiny Teddy with smiles and hellos. He was thrilled. He giggled and kicked his feet. As they stood to leave, one of them flipped his hair out of his eyes to grin at me. "He's so cute," he remarked kindly. I found myself feeling choked up, in the middle of Claire's.
Fast forward about five years. Teddy is older now...six, to be exact...but his desire to meet everybody has only gotten more pronounced, if possible. He's fine tuned his approach ("Hi, I'm Teddy, what's your name?") and learned that he gets really favorable responses when he compliments people ("That's such a cute baby!"), but ultimately, he's still just that overeager, tender, affectionate little heart that loves the entire world.
This time, we find ourselves in a Costco. Ahead of us in line is a dad, distracted at the help counter, his two young kids staring at us from the cart. Kids...Teddy's favorite. He immediately strikes up a dialogue, introducing himself and his siblings. He gets only blank looks back. He continues on, talking about favorite colors or commenting on the nearby stack of tires, something along those lines. The boy in front of him scowls and sticks out his tongue.
I felt my stomach flip. On the one hand, I was nervous about what Teddy would do. Would he say something unkind in return? On the other hand, I was sick over how his heart would take this rejection. I know he'll face hurt feelings in his life; but it's hard to see it happen. I watched him with apprehension.
He laughed. A gleeful, merry, deep laugh. "That is a funny face!" he exclaimed.
I could tell the boy was as taken aback as I was. And...would you believe it...the corner of his mouth began to turn up in a smile. By the time we were all done at the counter, they were both talking over each other and grinning ear to ear. "Bye!!!" the boy shouted, frantically waving as his father pushed his cart out the door.
I've learned so much from my friendly little boy, and one of the things I've learned is how judgmental I am. I don't talk to people because, surely, they won't want to talk to me. They're too busy for me. They'll think I'm weird. They look grumpy and they might be mean to me. They won't like me. They won't approve of how I parent. They won't agree with my decisions.
And yet, I realize, I'm making it all about...me. Teddy makes it all about them. He shows no discrimination, no hesitancy. If it's breathing, he will talk to it. And he has been ignored, or had people respond shortly. But it never carries over to his next interaction because he grasps the idea that everyone deserves a chance to be judged according to their character, not according to his past experiences. He is confident in his personality ("Mom says I'm very friendly!"), sure of his character ("Love is definitely the fruit of the spirit I'm best at, Mom!") and most of all, knows that he is treasured by the people that matter in his sphere. Us, his family.
Homesteading shouldn't be done without community. Life shouldn't be done without community. I've learned that lesson the hard way the past couple years. I've noticed how much encouragement can be shared, person to person. Hope is hard to hold on to alone, sometimes. I want, probably for the first time, to truly "bear with one another in love" (Eph.4:2). I want a community of real and deep friendships. And yet, I feel so awkward in the face of building it. Getting beyond impersonal small talk is uncomfortable for me. I don't strike up conversations. I don't ask questions. I smile and nod and walk by.
I am forcing myself to lean into just being friendly. I walk over beside him as he makes new friends at the park. I tell people my name and ask theirs. I try to shift the focus off of myself and wondering what people are thinking about me (because, honestly, I think about me far more than anyone else is) and, instead, wonder about them. I ask questions. I listen. I try to learn a little bit more about who they are.
So, for this week, I saw a post in a local moms group, asking if there was anyone who could be a "volunteer" doula, as it were, for a single mom about to have a baby. I knew that wasn't a role I could fill, and so I started to scroll past. But then I stopped. I typed a comment, offering to bring her a meal once the baby was born. I didn't do it because I'm such a selfless, giving, warm-hearted person. I did it because I'm not...but I'm trying to be. I second guessed myself every time I'd get a Meal Train reminder. But I know that forming relationships in this new state is worth it, as anxious as it makes me. And I know that, like all skills, practicing will eventually make it more habit than work.
I'll probably never see that girl and her cute little family again, but for today, our interaction brought warmth to my heart. And I know that meeting people and making the connections I want...I need...in my life is going to continue to intimidate me for awhile. But then I'd look at Teddy and I'd remember that, sure, I may get rejected. But I also may miss the opportunity to make a friend, share a moment, or turn a frown into a smile. And that, to me, is far worse.