Generational Connection

Six Ways to Upgrade Your Praise

I am in such a good mood this morning. Even though I lost my vape somehow and spent nearly $200 on wine yesterday, I still got to spend the whole day with an amazing, loving little girl. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned her before on my blog, but my sister’s boyfriend has a six-year-old daughter named Alaina. She is the most precious, well-behaved child I have perhaps ever met. (and I work with kids everyday.) I can’t seem to stop being fascinated by how happy she makes me though. As someone who never interacted with or cared much for children before I got my current job, it is a constant mystery to me why I love her and the other children I meet so much.

It almost feels like a chemical reaction is trigged in my brain when children are around. My heart opens wide and loving kindness floods my senses. I am overwhelmed with the desire to see them happy and to make a positive impact on their young minds. Especially when it comes to young children, I am also touched by their accepting and curious nature. Children don’t seem to judge at all. Even when they point out something rude like someone’s weight, it is never done in a malicious way. It is simply an observation that we interpret as an insult. Children embrace the world and everyone in it for what they are. For this reason, I feel I am able to take down the mask I wear for the world when I am with them.

The most intriguing aspect of my love of children is that none of these children are related to me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would happen. And it’s not just me, my mom and grandma and aunt all seem to love Alaina just as much as I do despite none of us having a connection to her biologically. When I got older, I felt patronized by what I saw as my family’s feinted interest in the things I did when I was a young child. I felt lied to that they told me my art was good, that I was smart, etc. It felt like everyone around me must have just been playing a role. They couldn’t have really gave a damn about seeing me ride a pony around in a circle at the county fair.

Being with Alaina has taught me that that isn’t true at all. I genuinely loved watching her riding a pony yesterday. I loved seeing her happy. I loved watching the wonder that colors her perception of the world. I even had to laugh as she yelled, “WOAH!” at every single firework last night. I know a few years ago, I would have been the young woman angrily wondering why those people don’t make their kid be quiet. Now even the things that would have annoyed me about stranger’s children in the supermarket, only make me smile.

Funny enough, it reminds me of something from Interview with the Vampire, which I watched a few weeks ago for the first time. (I may have been an aspect of Twilight as well.) The vampires could live forever so it was important for them not to become too disconnected from the living world. They were encouraged to interact with the people of each time period to maintain some of their humanity.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I feel like I can relate to that sentiment. Children keep me connected to humanity. They also keep me grounded in the present moment, because that’s where they are. They allow me to see the world through fresh, eager, innocent eyes. It is a joy to be an influence on them, to know that you can potentially make a huge impact in their lives. It is a responsibility that I am honored to have. It is a joy and a privilege to be a protector, a teacher, an example. Time spent with a child, is a meaningful investment in the future.

That’s why it is all the more painful to realize that these children don’t have much of a future to invest in. As much as I’ve wished the rest of the world would acknowledge the fact that it’s largely too late for us to adequately address climate change, it was crushing to hear a newscaster in a video Alaina was watching address children with the message of an inevitably catastrophic future. After I had finally come to terms with my own shortened lifespan, my wound was ripped open anew at the prospect of the even greater loss for the tiny soul snuggled into my side. What shame, what anguish I feel to leave these children with a decimated earth. How badly I wish I could tell all the generations after me that I’m sorry.

Even if it’s futile, I am going to keep fighting for them, for the animals, for all the most vulnerable and innocent among us. Even though it hurts, it’s so worth it.

Using Praise to Encourage Good Behaviors

Money Maker

I’ve been drawing something every single day for around a year now. It has been a great habit to start. It helps me spend some time being playful and creative each day. The only issue I’ve encountered at this point is running out of ideas. Well, that and the ever-increasing stack of drawings I’ve started accumulating. In an attempt to think of some interesting drawing ideas, I came up with the idea to start doing drawings for the children I work with. A few people had suggested that I make a collection of my sketches into an adult coloring book. While this was a great idea, given that I don’t ever like to color my art, I didn’t feel much inspired to do so. After thinking on it for awhile, I decided I would feel more passionately about putting it together if it were a coloring book full of positive affirmations for children and teens.

One day early on in my career when I still felt very awkward about waiting with the children while my coworkers spoke with their parents, I decided to make a drawing for a little girl while she was busy playing. Even though I was too anxious to go join her or carry on a conversation, I didn’t want it to appear that I was cold or disinterested. So I did what I could, in my own socially awkward, anxious way. I drew a picture of a cute Japanese-style dragon with cherry blossoms around it. I added a banner that said: You deserve to be happy. Before she left I crouched down by her side and gave her the picture. I told her that I drew it especially for her while she was playing. I told her what it said and that I wanted her to always remember that and believe that it’s true. Even though it took a lot for me to build up the courage to do that, it was all worth it when I saw how happy it made her. She was so eager to show her mom. I can still hear her precious mousey voice saying, “Look mommy, she made this for me!”

Just thinking about that day makes me tear up. That experience is what inspired me to make more drawings with positive affirmations for kids. The first few I drew made me so happy and excited. I couldn’t wait to show my coworkers and see what they thought about the idea. I already knew they liked my art, but I really underestimated how much they would love this new endeavor. They immediately started talking about copyrights and publishing, selling them to therapists and other child advocacy centers, all the potential money there was to be made. They urged me not to do anything with them until I put legal protections in place. I was excited and flattered and more than a little embarrassed. I never know how to respond to praise or compliments. Soon those feelings began to fade, though. They were replaced by hesitation, regret, anxiety, and fear.

I went from making a new coloring page every day to once a week, to not at all. It feels as if all the passion behind this idea has drained out of me. Now whenever I think about it I become lost in a fog of copyright law, fees, plagiarism, business plans, and marketing. I had only been waiting for my coworkers’ approval before happily handing them over to each kid that came in. Now it seemed like a much longer wait was ahead of me before I could start giving them away. All I had been thinking about was being useful to my advocacy center, to the children I see every day. I was excited about how this gift would impact them, if the words on the page would some day make a lasting impact on their hearts and minds. However, dollar signs were first and foremost for everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that my friends at work thought so highly of my art that they want me to protect it and make a profit from it. I’m sure they have no idea how this business advice left me feeling deflated and frustrated instead of proud. I never wanted to make any money off of this idea. My only desire was to make children happy, to introduce them to the power of intention, self-talk, and positive thinking. Now I feel pressured to secure my claim to these images before sharing them with the world. I feel pressured to come up with a way to profit from this work. I feel as though it would be stupid of me not to do these things. That others would think me stupid for not doing these things.

It reminds me of a study I read about once. One group of children was told to do a fun activity, then rate their enjoyment afterwards. Another group was told to do the very same fun activity, but with the added bonus that they would be paid afterwards. This group surprisingly rated their enjoyment much lower than the first, non-paid group. You see once money becomes a motivator, it becomes work rather than play. When you shift your focus from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic, a task becomes much less fulfilling. Making art to positively impact the lives of children, means a lot to me. Making art to make money, leaves me feeling empty.

It all comes down to caring too much about what other people think of my actions and decisions in the end. No one is forcing me to guard these drawings and add price tags. I am free to give them away whenever I see fit. The only thing holding me back is the opinions other people may have about that. But I’ve got to trust myself and hold on to the passion that led me to start this project in the first place. This was never about money or even what other adults would think about it. This is about helping children. This is about making small, vulnerable humans feel happy and loved. That is what motivates me. That is what sparks joy in my heart.

Children

It is crazy how much can change within you in only a year. When I first began working at a child advocacy center, I really didn’t like children very much. I know it sounds awful, but it’s true. I didn’t dislike them. I just hadn’t had hardly any experience with them in my personal life, let alone at work. I have no idea why I was even hired to be honest. My social anxiety has always been extra overwhelming when it comes to children. I had never learned what I was supposed to do or say around them. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond.

Learning how to talk to and behave around children is just another one of the many reasons I am inexpressibly grateful for this job. Now that I have been able to spend so much time with children, it turns out that I actually love them. They are so much better than adult humans. So innocent and loving. So eager to please. So eager to learn and to understand. They are truly amazing little creatures. There is a unique joy that comes from gaining the trust of a child, to be offered a tiny hand or hug. Even though we aren’t supposed to be touching one another right now because of the pandemic, who could deny such a blessed gift?

Part of me began to worry when I realized I actually love children now. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but when I was 22 or 23 I had my tubes tied. I never had the desire to have children, and was always terrified at the idea of accidentally getting pregnant and having to have an abortion. Or even worse, not being able to get an abortion. I am still so grateful that I found a caring doctor that was willing to respect my wishes and my right to make decisions about my own body. Never once did she talk down to me or try to tell me I’d change my mind some day. And I’m relieved to be able to say I haven’t.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to regret that decision. I still firmly believe that human being in general are a plague upon this planet. I would never add more fuel to that fire. Besides, I could never allow myself to bring a child into this world knowing I’d have to watch them die when the earth becomes uninhabitable in a few decades. I still think I am too selfish and impatient to be the kind of mother I would want to be. I’m still more than happy just having my fur children. Besides even if I ever wanted a child of my own, I would never be brave enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth. That whole process still seems horrific to me. I see no difference between an adopted child and one that has my DNA. I’d happily be a foster parent or adopt a child if the urge ever struck me to bring a child into my life.

For now I feel like I am exactly where I need to be. Being a child advocate is the perfect job for me in so many ways. Apparently a lot of people that don’t want to have children of their own end up working with children instead. I think it’s a perfect compromise for the nurturing, motherly instinct I have as a woman. I am still able to have children in my life without having them in my home. I have a place to help them learn and grow and thrive, while also still having my privacy and personal space at home.

I finally understand that deeply fulfilling feeling of being a positive influence in the life of a child. It is such a magical thing to see the world through their eyes, to see how much your words and actions mean to them. I can see now why so many people are able to have limitless hope in humanity. These little beings are capable of becoming anything. They have so much potential to do good in this world. They are so full of curiosity and love. If only there were more people around them to teach them how to hold onto that love as they grow older. The children of this world are definitely capable of learning, sadly the adults are not competent enough to teach them.

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