What I observed during an extended wait in the pediatrician's lobby convinced me that the world would be better off if we acted more like the toddlers and young children around us. In this optimal microcosm I observed children instinctively demonstrating:
Empathy. When a baby cried some of the other children responded by crying at the same time; comforting her by gently touching her foot, peering at her with soft and concerned expressions and distracting her by dancing.
Stepping up as needed. My daughter, the oldest by several years, seemed to draw the younger children as if by magnetic pull. Seeing their interest she gathered them to color on the chalkboard, sit at a table and listen to a story and the younger children took to her lead and settled into an impromptu playgroup.
Acceptance. The children in the lobby were boys and girls, toddlers and elementary school aged, black and white, healthy and sick, quiet and loud. Although curious about their differences (those who could talk and walk on their own were particularly fascinating) they focused mostly on their similarities seeking to laugh, play, dance and learn together.
Seeing the strengths in others. Though it may have seemed my daughter was given the leadership role, she actually shared the role. One boy was an excellent dancer, making the other children who were tired join him in that quad squatty dance the lovely way only toddlers can do. Another child was learning to zip the zipper on his new coat and he was given an audience, complete with a cheering section, as he repeatedly attempted to zip thus distracting those around him from the lollipop basket visible to all but not available until after the appointment.
Lean into discomfort. As the children saw some of the others climbing up to sit on chairs they looked at the chairs with furrowed brows in such a way that I imagine the chairs might have looked like a rock climbing wall does to me. But the children watched their peers climb, saw how they got a hand from the parent near by and tried it themselves. Standing by were two children who silently watched and then gave a loud cheer when their new friend made it up to sit by her mom.
Show love. Without speaking the children frequently showed a deep love toward each other and toward their moms with no hesitation or expectation.
Celebrate successes. Learning to walk, one girl attempted over and over again to walk to the children’s table and though she fell down far more often than she took a step, she cheered and clapped every time she made it one step closer to her goal.
Seek help when necessary. When overwhelmed or tired, the children found their moms, got a hug, heard an encouraging comment and a received pat on the back as fortification before rejoining the group.
Serve as connectors. We moms had never met before and probably would have spent the time in the waiting room on our phones but certainly not engaging with each other. Instead, we found ourselves chatting about milestones, sleep routines, schools and values all because our children had chosen to play together and provided a vehicle for us to connect.
Share your gifts. A little boy who had charm oozing out of him was the one to cheer up the crying babies, my daughter helped to keep the children from running out each time the door opened and a little girl kept everyone giggling with her deep belly laughs.
Listen. As the children took turns with their various activities, they listened to the others, mimicking the sounds made in a song or the movements in a dance, turning the page when my daughter stopped reading.
Take care of yourself. When tired, hungry or thirsty the children knew to get a drink, snack or find a lap to snuggle up on.
I saw children undeterred in their desire to be supportive, have fun and be accepting of each other. My heart breaks when I think of what is going in Baltimore. Yet, I think the problems of Baltimore City are like the problems of so many cities. These problems, which in my opinion, are solvable but solving them will take far more time, energy, care and love than sending a firetruck because a building burned. Our cities need empathy, listening to each other, stepping up, acceptance, willingness to do the hard work and all of the other skills demonstrated by our young children as they wait for their doctor. As I have thought so often before, we would be well served by learning from the examples set by children.