I think I may have mentioned that I am a preschool teacher. I have actually worked in education for nearly a decade, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a variety of age groups from infants to 10 year olds. However, my current position allows me to work in all the classrooms at our little preschool, depending on the need of each room. Today I got to spend time with one of our older classrooms. The children range in ages 3 – 5 years old.
Today during their afternoon snack time, I happened to be sitting with 3 of the children – 2 girls and a boy. A variety of topics can come about when dealing with children at this age. People, frequently, underestimate how much children know. Especially, in our modern era where access to knowledge, experiences, and information is easily attained. This is even more true for our young ones, who become increasingly more technologically savvy then their older counterparts. But I digress.
So, while having snack with these three, the topic of love comes up,organically, between them. What’s more, they decide to give advice on love to not only myself, but my fellow co-teacher in the room. I’m sure you are thinking, “What on earth would they know about love?” Well, for the record, quite a lot. More than I sometimes feel I know myself. The beautiful thing about being this young is that they are primarily guided by instinct. At this age, children will do only what will make them happy, regardless of how this may effect others. And while, as adults, we can see the lack of consideration for others that can come from this type of thinking; there is also something admirable about knowing what you want and going for it with no doubt in your heart or mind.
Our first girl is Annie*, who is 5 years old, and has wholeheartedly decided that she is in love with Aaron*, a boy of 5 years old, who seems to be unsure as to how he ended up in a relationship with Annie in the first place – but never outright denies their love. However, the true adviser in this conversation was Star* who, at 4 years old, had the most to say on the topic.Today, these three happen to be experts on love. If you have ever worked with children, you will know that, according to them, they are experts at everything. So, entertaining this notion, I engaged in this conversation. In the end, they did more of the educating than I did.
Lesson 1. He/She can’t love you if you aren’t being you, so just be yourself. Ok?
It began with Star telling my fellow co-teacher and I, in no uncertain tone, that in order to be loved we must first just be ourselves, how ever that may look. “You’ve just gotta be yourself,” she tells us as she nibbles on an animal cracker. “Because if you’re not being you, how can they love you?” She asks.
Needless to say, I was impressed with her reasoning. If I am never my genuine self, then that person will never get the opportunity to love the true me. It sounds simple enough, right? But how hard is it to be yourself, especially when you want to make the perfect first impression? We become so caught up in our own thoughts, that we forget ourselves entirely. I can admit, that I have fallen into the trap of trying to be who – I think – he wants me to be, instead of just being my natural self. How many of you are guilty of the same offense? Its difficult to look in the mirror, and trust that the person looking back at you is worthy of being loved. Often, I fear that me – the real me – will fall short of some expectation or will disappoint the other person entirely. So, I become obsessed with wanting to please and be appealing at the cost of my true self.
Now, I had to ask a follow-up question to Star’s sage words, ‘Be myself,’ what did that mean exactly? So I inquired, “Should I dress up? Do I have to wear make-up? Do I have to make myself extra pretty?”
You may wonder why I asked this. Well, I’m sure many of you have heard of what has been called the ‘Disney Princess Syndrome’. Little girls are utterly, completely, and some obsessively dedicated to emulating their favorite Disney princesses. They want to sing like her, wear fancy dresses like her, be as beautiful as her, with long flowing manes of hair just like her. I thought for sure I would be told to dress up and get fancy. But imagine my surprise when Star shook her head vigorously, her dark tresses swinging wildly, as she continued with, “No. You don’t need all that. Just be you.” She reaffirmed.
Truth is, I love make-up and pretty dresses, so I had to be sure it was still acceptable for me to do those types of things, even if I did not need them for ‘him’ to love me. I informed her that I like wearing make-up, that it made me happy. She coolly replied, “Well, if you’re happy, you should do it. But that’s all.” This leads me to my second lesson of the day.
Lesson 2. Do whatever makes YOU happy. But that’s all.
I understand what Star was driving at. She was trying to tell me in so many words, that things I choose to do or not do should be based on my own happiness and not the approbation of others. Of course, she is four, and it was not going to come out like that. But I thought it was beautiful that this little girl already understood this. Especially living in a society that is constantly telling girls that they are never enough, body shaming them, objectifying them, demeaning them, and outright insulting them. It is my prayer to the Universe that she maintains this strength in mind for years to come.
So, where was Annie and Aaron during all of this? Listening with quiet acquiescence. That is until I asked a very important question, “Well, how will I know he loves me?” Perhaps they would give me a check list to run over or a criteria to consider. So far, I had not been steered wrong and my trust in their words began to steadily increase. This is when Aaron spoke up, “He will look you in the eyes, and he’ll want to marry you.”
Well, for the only male of the conversation to speak up – I was impressed. Again, he spoke with the same confidence as Star, a certainty that simply would not waiver. Annie at this pointed added on, “Because if he loves you, he’ll marry you.” Aaron nodded. He agreed that that is what people in love do. So lesson three was confirmed.
Lesson 3. People in love commit to the relationship and to one another.
Or at least that is how I interpreted it. For in their young minds, marriage is the ultimate form of commitment to another person. So, replace “marry” with “commit,” and there you have a more universally acceptable interpretation. Often times, a committed relationship is interpreted as, “the end of all fun as we know it.” I dated a guy who thought in these very same terms, and once I dumped him, I could not for the life of me understand why he saw things in that way. Why does commitment equate to a fun-less life of misery? I mean it certainly will if you commit to someone you don’t love or like or share interests with. Or perhaps it is because in order to make a relationship last, the two parties involved will have to work at it? And there is the crutch – WORK at it. Work of any kind is always considered to be no fun.
Needless to say, I was intrigued and impressed by their young ideas already so well formed. But what impressed me the most was how simple they made it all seem. As if this was common, basic, rudimentary knowledge that any person on this earth would know. They took for granted that this was the way the world worked. It was both precious and naive. So, as the conversation continued on, I realized that I needed to take a back seat and allow them to run the show. I was the one being taught, and out of respect I refrained from adding to the narrative, and stuck to only asking questions.
So I asked, “Well, should I marry him if I don’t love him?” This was answered by all three with a unanimous and strongly stated, “NO!”
Annie added, ” You should never, ever do that. You both have to love each other, or else its not right.” She said as her pale-green eyes stared me squarely in the face.
Lesson 4. Never settle.
I do not think we need to be told not to settle. Nevertheless, out of fear of ending up alone, there are many who have done that very thing – most of the time it ending in failure. Isn’t it something, that these children already know not to do such a thing long before they have even tried it?
It was at this point the conversation began to taper off and head onto other topics – something about legos and a sticker book with superheros in it. So, we let the conversation go on, and went back to our classroom routines. Soon, the children were prepared to spend the end of the afternoon on the yard playing and waiting for their parents to come and take them home.
However, before stepping out, Star came back to me – it had been a good half hour or more since the earlier conversation. “Teacher,” she said sweetly as she lightly tapped me on the hip. “There is something else you gotta know.”
I stooped down to her level and asked, “What’s that?”
She smiled, and tossed her hair back over her shoulder, “Just remember to follow your heart, ok?”
And my heart simply melted. How did she know that? How could she know that? I was floored and a bit speechless by her statement. For one, I thought we had gone on past that conversation, but clearly she had thought some things over. But again, I admired her strength of mind more than anything. At four years old, she had it figured out.
In all honesty, its not like I have not heard this saying before. We have all heard this idiom at some point in our lifetimes. However, I have an incredible regard for the minds of children, their thought processes, and how they express themselves. It is telling when children who are only 4 and 5 years old already have a deep sense of care, commitment, morality, and confidence. In a way, it gives me hope for the future.
So without further ado:
Lesson 5. Just follow your heart. Ok?
I was being told be a 4 year old to simply live, follow my heart, and trust that I would be loved. She cannot and probably never will know the depths at which her words touched me. And that’s fine with me, because I will always have this precious memory to cherish.
Once her mother came to pick her up, I shared the conversation we had with her. Star’s mother was just as surprised by her young daughter’s words as I had been. She is such a darling girl, with such a good heart. I told her mother that talking to her, and hearing that had made this day special for me. I thanked Star for being herself, and her mother for raising such an amazing, insightful daughter. I could tell the mother seemed proud to know that her daughter had such a high sense of self.
The day ended. Life continued on, but the lessons I learned today will remain with me forever. My greatest take away from all of this is that children are inestimably intelligent and have a way of understanding the world that we assume they lack. I cannot help wondering if we – all of us – really are born with all the answers, and perhaps as we grow we lose or forget those answers along the way.
Maybe that is why we are here – to find those answers again.
May we all be sweetly inspired.
Credits & Notes:
* All names have been modified to respect and protect the privacy of the children in this article.