The other night I read my 5-year-old son a book about being a big brother. He's been a big brother for over 2 ½ years now, but he asked for this book again recently. We read and talked about how he is unique and special, and how there is no "Zachary" in the world exactly like him.
He thought to himself for a moment, then carefully chose these words: "Mommy, I think I am the most loved person in the world."
Wow. I was filled with joy and happiness that he felt this way. Is this not what all parents want their children to feel? It was one of those moments where I knew my child's words carried a greater significance.
As parents, we play a large role in our children developing a sense of self-worth; however, I sensed his feeling was coming from more than the love and attention he receives from us.
Love comes from his little sister who spontaneously hugs him and looks for him first thing in the morning.
Love comes from the grandparents who treat him like the center of the universe. It comes from the aunts and uncles who travel hours just to see him.
Love comes from the teachers at school who greet him with a hug and a kiss everyday, and often send him home with a hug and an "I love you."
Love comes from the neighbors who wave and show interest in what he is playing.
Love comes from the parents of his friends who say hello to him, who take a moment to talk, or let him be himself in his own quiet way.
How wonderful would it be if all children felt like they were "the most loved person in the world"? What would life be like for those children? What would our country, our world, be like if all children felt loved and important and valued? Imagine the adults those children would grow into.
Since hearing these words from my son, I have become more aware of how I interact with all children, not just my own.
My eyes can light up when my child, or any child, walks into a room.
I can smile and say hello to my child's classmates and neighborhood kids whom I see day-in and day-out.
I can bend down and make eye contact and talk for a moment with the young children at a family gathering. In a sea of 25 adults and ten children under the age of five, the little ones can get lost in the shuffle.
I can quietly smile and wave to babies and toddlers who stare as I pass them in town or at the mall. My response may shape their world into a friendly one.
When a little girl at my son's school mistakes me for another mother at pick-up, I can put out my hands and smile and explain that I'm another child's mommy, and ask her name.
I can continue to strive to connect with the teenagers I teach every day even as they become increasingly focused on devices and screens, and I can approach another mother who is standing alone at school pick-up.
It could be as simple as making eye contact, giving a moment of undivided attention, smiling, greeting...
Are we doing our part to create the communities we want for our children, and for ourselves?
Are we moms who play with a friend's child at school pick-up and dads who cheer for all the kids on the sports team?
These small acts may appear minor, but they could have great significance in the life of one person, as I have seen first hand with my own son.
I am not claiming to seize every opportunity to show kindness, especially on days where I am especially tired, overwhelmed, or just trying to get through the day (okay, so most days : ). Maybe I am 1% more aware than I was before my son's declaration, but I do believe that 1% makes a difference.
In a world where many of us feel we have little control and much to fear, we can remember we do have power through our words and actions, and the infinite choices we make throughout the day. Mother Theresa's words are a good reminder:
Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.
By starting with the person nearest us, we can raise a generation of children who feel like the most loved children in the world.