When I became a mother, I never expected how profoundly and painfully my heart could ache. And to be fair, nor did I clearly fathom how deeply joyful the love I also experience would be. I did expect difficult conversations and having to make decisions about how to teach and model and practice values that are important to me. But not like this conversation, nor like this request of me, and of you.
This morning on the way to school, I was talking with my littles about how “fasting from indifference towards others” might look for them at school (given that the triplets are two and Henry is four years old). For your frame of reference, this concept was based on a challenge the Pope gave for Lent that we accepted after reading an article together. And yes, I do share parts of articles or stories that I am reading and inspired by with my littles, granted with a little language interpretation. I do think it is important for them to see me read and be curious about what I find interesting.
As we were talking about how to show compassion for others, the typical examples of sharing and saying nice things were given. (Of course, the triplets think that “sharing” is when they take something from someone else!) However, when we started talking about standing up with someone who might be targeted because of their social identity (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity, religion, ability level, parent’s sexuality, etc.), the following conversation, and request, with Henry ensued.
Henry: Mama, so, if my friend’s heart or body might be hurt because someone else is being mean and a friend that I have yet to meet (this is what we call people who are “safe” strangers, like other children playing nicely on the playground) might also be hurt, how do I choose which one to protect?
Mama: We don’t really choose which one, Henry. We figure out how we can all be safe and how we can show compassion both for people we know and people we don’t know yet. There are lots of different ways to do this, and you do many of them already, like asking them if they need help, asking for an adult to help, drawing others attention by yelling “Not Nice! Let go! Go away!”, moving all of you to a safer area, just all sorts of ways you are already brave and show compassion towards others being mistreated.
Henry: Well, would you choose to protect someone else instead of me?
Mama (gulp): Henry, I love you. You are my very favorite Henry in the whole wide world. I waited 12 years for you to be able to be born and you have given me the the most amazing gift of your presence in my life. I will do my very best to fiercely protect you AND to protect the other person who is being treated unfairly or meanly because of someone else’s hate. Are you worried about something in particular?
Henry: Well, what if you can’t protect us both? What if you are afraid? What if they hurt you?
Mama: Sometimes we will still get hurt. Sometimes we will still be afraid. But I will not let fear or pain allow us to avoid compassion and action for ourselves or others, because this will only make ALL of us even less safe. And we believe in a world that is compassionate and socially just. Henry, honey, I know how to get help or find other resources. We will figure it out so that all of us can be as safe as possible. We will keep figuring it out. I will continue to teach you more and more ways to be the wonderful you that you are AND show compassion for others that are different than you AND to keep yourself as safe as can while doing this, too.
Henry: What if there aren’t people out there that will help you, or me, protect people? What if there aren’t people with enough love? Only with hate?
Mama: Henry, I believe that there are lots more people out there who will stand with you on the playground, or anywhere else that you are, with love, and help you protect people who are being mistreated or protect you if you are being mistreated.
Henry: Well how do you know that there are REAL people that will help?
Mama: Henry, what do you think might be a way that would help you feel better and help you to know that there are real people out there that will stand with you, and love you already, whether they know you or not?
Henry (thinking): Mama, please write on your computer and ask people about it. Ask them what they think. Ask them to tell me that if there are too many people for you to protect, that they will help find ways to keep us all safe. I want you to ask them that. That will help my heart and it will give you even more and better ideas of how to protect me.
And so, I am asking you to please comment. Comment for Henry’s reassurance and comment for me with more ideas about how to handle this world that we currently live in with as much joy as possible. I have also made this post public with permission, and invitation, to share if you know people who may also have ideas or compassion for toddlers and their mamas.