Last Saturday I went to Toronto Island and spent the day on the beach dancing with friends. It was a lovely day of movement and connection.
When evening came I took the ferry back to the city. A friend and I sat on a bench watching people exit the ferry. The ferry from center island where all the kids go had just got in.
As we were sitting there we started to watch all the families with young children going by.
I was observing their eyes.
Some time ago I noticed that the majority of kids I see walking around,
in malls, on the street or in playgrounds
have a sad and defeated look in their eyes.
When I first noticed this I was quite shocked for I had never recognized it before.
It saddened me for a long time.
Now it still makes me sad, but I’m used to it. In fact I expect it.
When I see a young person that doesn’t have this look in their eyes
I am taken by surprise. That is how common this phenomenon is.
So as I was sitting there I started to see that look in all the kids that were walking out of the ferry.
I wanted to verify if what I was seeing was really happening or if I had been imagining it all these years.
So I described the phenomenon to my friend and asked if she could see that look in the kids eyes as they walked by?
She started to look at the eyes of the children and immediately she saw what I was seeing.
She was in shock at first also.
She had never seen it before.
The beautiful thing and also the most painful thing was
that we didn’t just get to see one or two kids or five or ten,
we saw a hundred children walk by with their parents and families.
And every single child, one after the other had this look in their eyes.
It was like getting punched in the face over and over again
seeing all these kids parade by looking sad, disconnected and defeated.
Every now and then we would see a child that had a little less of this painful look and energy.
This child would stand out so dramatically from the rest even with just a 20% difference.
And then… A baby would come by.
I mean really young, like less than 6 months old.
And it would be like a breath of fresh air, or the sunshine peeking out from the clouds.
The unfettered joy and wonder of life was so very present in these babies.
And looking into that joy, that curiosity and love in those eyes, it resonated with something inside of us.
Especially after seeing one child after the other who had lost it
or perhaps deeply repressed it already at such a young age.
I had the idea as I was sitting there that it would be a useful experience to take a parenting class to a place like that where we could see a hundred children walk by. We would observe them and notice how many had this look in their eyes.
I think after seeing how widespread and common this phenomenon is people would want to do anything to save their kids from this state.
Perhaps it is not possible to maintain a hundred percent of the joy and wonder that a baby has as a child grows, but it is possible to greatly reduce the effect by how we treat our children from day one.
It might be an interesting experiment to see if you can see this sadness when you look at the kids in general.
A harder thing to do is to see it in your own children, because it hurts to see it there.
But if we can see it in our kids, both the joy and beauty they are
as well as the the heaviness in their eyes,
then we can make conscious choices on how to work with that information.
One thing I did when my daughter was very young,
I made a conscious commitment that one of my highest parenting priorities
would always be to maintain and protect that wonder and joy I saw in my baby’s eyes.
It is actually quite challenging to make that a priority,
because so many other traditional priorities contradict it directly.
Traditional parenting focuses on behaviour. manners and achievements.
I try and put them second when they get in the way of protecting that light.
Letting those things go is hard though. it takes work!
This practice of prioritizing the heart over the practical has guided me through these past two decades.
While it has been challenging it is also rewarding beyond measure.
I can see the effects of it in my daughter’s life, in her eyes and demeanor, and in the beautiful relationship she and I have.
Her dominant experience of me is somebody who values her happiness and sees her beauty in every moment and every experience.
This is a beautiful gift to give your kids and yourself.