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Dignity

“Honor the Dignity of The Child” — That’s the sign I made and placed on the hall mirror when my children were little. I wanted a reminder that those small beings I birthed had the same right to respect and honor as us adults. Not that they had been being treated differently; I just wanted to make certain they felt it in their spirits with every action, in every moment, and in every encounter.

As I observe my grandchild, Vivienne, two years, three months old, I think about how it must feel to be experiencing so many new things as she learns about life. She hasn’t been on this earth that long, really, and each day there are a million moments of introduction… Introduction to new people, new words, new places, new objects, new feelings, new thoughts.

“Opplepus,” she said. I looked at her in the rearview mirror, “Opplepus”? I followed her eyes and agreed, “Yes, Opplepus!”  There it was, a mural on the side of a building, a painting of an octopus that she’d learned about in pre-school. A new creature and a new word to pronounce – all three syllables. We will say it Vivienne’s way, and celebrate her effort, for she has plenty of time to learn the specifics as she moves forward.

At home one day, she hurried to my side, asking me to “holder” her. I saw fear on her face, and I pulled her up into my lap to find out what was scary and to speak reassurance. Then I realized we adults had been talking about the new contraption at home, Alexa, which (who?) is much like Siri. Alexa is a “smart speaker” who can answer questions, give the weather forecast, play your song request, any number of things. Vivienne didn’t yet know that when we call out to Alexa and her response comes forth out of nowhere, she’s just a machine, a contraption, not a ghost or a scary person hiding in our cabinet, ready to pounce.

That got me thinking about Vivienne and all little ones who are just starting out in this world. What must it be like to have so much newness surrounding you, so much information to sort through and absorb? How often do most children hear “No” as they work their way through the day, learning about what’s ok and what’s not?  Of course, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes. But what a jarring feeling. I know how it makes me feel as an adult.

At the same time, how must it feel inside that little personage to have the same strong, innate desire that all of us have, for the comforting feeling of acknowledgment and validation?

Really, these little people are no different from the rest of us, are they. We adults all ride somewhat of a roller coaster each day, ourselves, as we navigate through life, learning what’s good, what’s bad, what’s crazy, what’s lovely. It’s a lot to sift through. Here’s the clincher: In the midst of it all, it seems we do best when we feel that our dignity has been honored. Right? We want to be treated with respect and when we are, we soar! We want our worthiness as a person to be validated. We want to be treated with honor. I believe we each yearn for that, no matter how long we’ve been here, and when we receive it, it raises us up.

Fortunately, Vivienne and her tiny, new brother, Charles receive enriching, valuable validation. Their dignity is indeed honored. I can’t help but feel that it washes over them, providing a sense of calm worthiness, which in turn frees them to move upward as they work their way through life. For that, I am profoundly grateful.

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