At the end of the summer, I found myself on babysitting duty. The last thing I expected was to experience something I often find happen in my counseling office. My sister needed me to watch her 2-year-old daughter. The way the places and time worked out, I met her in downtown Chicago and spent the morning with my niece, Addison, while my sister was at an appointment. I found myself with the dilemma of what do you do with a two-year-old for an hour in the middle of downtown. Fortunately, there were countless donut shops available! I told Addison we would eat donuts and go for a walk. This little child knew exactly what that I meant. Once we arrived at the donut shop, she searched for the vanilla sprinkled donut and pointed. As we were sitting (donut crumbs covering her face and fingers), she waved and greeted every person who walked into the door. Some were elderly people, some were small kids, some came in for a quick bite between meetings and everyone smiled in her direction. After indulging in our donuts (yes, she ate the whole thing), we went for a walk.
This past summer, there have been dog statues around Chicago with various paintings on them, such as a dog in Cubs sports gear. Addison went to one with her eyes widened, her mouth opened, and was amazed to see a dog, but not yet realizing it was not real. After she said bye to the dog, and began to walk again, she continued to greet and wave to everyone. She said "hi" to the man on the street passing out his latest demo CD, to the security guard outside a hotel, and the numerous residents and tourists that filled the street. It was clear to me that she was bringing a lot of joy to each person she met that day. I didn't notice this at first, but she was also doing something for me in that moment. She made me slow down and see other people. I walked slower, and closer to her as she was saying hi, on high alert that she wouldn’t run into the street. I even found myself saying hi to the same people as she was, or making a side comment of how friendly she is.
It made me consider how often I walk down this same street quickly, with headphones playing music, trying, yes trying, to make sure I don’t make eye contact with anyone too long. I suddenly saw that same part of Michigan Avenue in a different light. I needed someone, who in this case happened to be two-years-old, to show me a new perspective: to slow down, to notice people I would usually brush past, to listen to the cars around me and people’s delight to see such a strong-willed little child. I found myself with a smile on my face, laughing and enjoying the scene. My niece had taken me out of my comfort zone, and what a refreshing place to be.
Since then, I've continued to ponder this brief hour with my niece, and the joy she had while exploring the streets of Chicago. It led me to think of the people who often come in my counseling office and take a seat across from me. Often times, someone might describe a typical day that consists of their version of eyes down, headphones in, and determination not to run into someone. They might talk about being tied to their phones, scrolling through social media, music, and pictures, and yet all the while disconnection and loneliness lurk in the shadows. As a counselor, I've come to value the experience of slowing down in order to connect. I've found that it's possible to look around in all the same places we’ve been before; and to find those connections and moments where one laughs and lives in the carefree as the shadows shrink.
I'm thankful for what Addison did for me during our morning downtown. Perhaps we can all learn to see a little more through the eyes of a child.