In case you’ve forgotten just how much fun and carefree life is supposed to be. In case you’ve forgotten just how awesome your imagination really is, or how little it matters what others think of you, do yourself a favor and spend some time with kids. There’s nothing quite like the refreshing perspective a 3-8 (or so) year-old can offer you. Their charmingly innocent demeanor and humorously uninhibited commentary on the world around them provides the perfect opportunity for you to join in their totally awesome reality where worry is rare and the desire to be expressive is as important as the need to breath. I was reminded of all that today in one of the most unlikely of places, the local car service shop.
I was in for an early morning oil change. I’m the kind of guy who makes a trip in every 3,000 miles, and when you make frequent visits to service shops, you quickly learn that the earlier you arrive, the sooner you leave – which is especially true on Saturdays when everybody finally has a chance to bring their vehicles in for that long overdue oil change. I’ve been heading to the same shop for some time now, so dropping my car off is like making a trip to a local cafe and ordering “the usual.” The folks there know my car and my service preferences, making the trip all the more efficient. And that’s all great because as you well know, service stations aren’t exactly the most homey of spaces.
We’ve all been there; that tiny, always somewhat drafty sad excuse of a lobby with the pop machine too big for the hallway it’s in, a tiny t.v. turned up to the “just enough to be an annoyance” volume playing nothing but pointless infomercials, that table filled with magazines nobody really cares to look through (or touch, for that matter) and not to forget the trusty pot of coffee that sits off in the corner, which not even the most coffee-crazed among us would dare to drink from. All-in-all, it’s a pretty non-inviting set up, generally made even more awkward by the group of adults that slowly trickle in and sit (granted there are only four chairs total in this place) down in complete silence as you all blankly shift your stare from you phone (which currently has nothing important for you to actually be attending to) to the windows that allow you to see into the garage.
This is a pretty universal set-up no matter where you go, and this morning’s visit was everything I had anticipated…that was until a mother walked in with her two kids. One, a little girl probably no older than three with a pacifier in her mouth and a full head of frazzled “mom just pulled me out of bed and I had no say in the matter” hair. The other, an older boy, probably between 6-8 with wire-rim glasses and his own version of bedhead – some tufts of his short, dark hair sticking out from the back of his head. He may have just awoken, but he was more than ready to face the day, skipping and twirling around in the small lobby as if no one was watching. Every now and then his mother – who went straight to work on taming her daughter’s hair with spray bottle and comb in hand, would give her son a simple task.
“Go throw this away for mommy,” she would say, and he would happily oblige as if that one task was the most important thing he would do that day. In his hands was a small, orange plastic skeleton – the kind you might stick in a window for Halloween – and in the other hand, a fake plastic tooth. With his mother preoccupied, he wasted no time reaching out to me as the closest and most easily available point of contact.
“This is my skeleton,” he said, raising one hand “and this is his tooth,” he said as he opened up the other hand as if the tooth were a secret surprise.
I told him how awesome I thought that was, how that toy skeleton was a lot like his own, physical skeleton, and how cool it was that the color of the skeleton matched the color of his shirt (which he was thrilled to discover). After a moment of thought (a.k.a. pure imagination) he then explained to me that the similarity in color and likeness to his own skeleton was because he actually made the skeleton which popped out of his own body and through his orange shirt….genius. I mean, how else, right? And the best part, it wasn’t just a plain explanation. He played it all out as he pictured it happening in his own mind, and there is nothing more satisfying than watching a child’s imagination play out right in front of you.
All the while, I couldn’t help but to think of how awesome it was that this kid, who had never seen me before in his life, was really excited to share his world with me. For him, like for many kids, there’s no such thing as a social context that immediately changes how he behaves. As such the car service center isn’t a place where grown men and women sit in silence as they wait for their oil change to be completed, rather, it’s another environment to explore with your toy skeleton and his newly lost tooth. His unbounded joy brought a new light to to the room, and I was thrilled to be his playmate for the time being.
Noticing that her brother seemed to be getting all the attention, his litter sister couldn’t help but to chime in.
“I meeehhh wee feee doo I meeehh!” she proudly proclaimed through her pacifier as if it were clear as day.
“You did?!” I said excitedly with my eyes wide open. “That’s awesome!”
And after eventually taking the pacifier out, she proceeded list off all the reasons she was worth paying attention to over her brother.
“These are my shoes,” she showed me with sincere enthusiasm, “and this is my coat…I like them.”
In the middle of our conversation, my car was pulled out of the garage and around the corner.
“Who’s that car?” the little girl asked. “That’s my car,” I told her, “which means it’s time for me to go now.” And as I made my way up to the counter, the little boy turned to me and and with the most genuine of tones said, “Thank you for spending time with us today.”
With those words, two things came to mind (along with a big smile):
1) The concept of time as something to be appreciated on the whole, rather than constantly quantified in terms of time spent in days hours, and minutes. What I mean: To that little boy, the no more than five minutes we shared together was still time shared together, and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t important not how long we chatted, or what about, or why. He simply appreciated that shared time, as did I.
2) As I thanked them both for sharing with me I thought, these kids have no idea how my day has been made by them choosing to spend a little time with me.
It’s encounters like these that remind me how much I love interacting with other’s kids. I know that a few minutes worth of interaction is nothing like living with and raising them. Even so, I hope the joy other’s kids bring to me is a reminder to parents of just how genuinely good their kids are at heart, and how their playful passion and curiosity still has the power to melt hearts and move mountains.