As the little boy struggled to run toward me, his mother seemed a bit embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but he seems to want to come to you. I don’t know why.”
Her 2-year-old son ran to me with his little arms extended and I reached down to pick him up. His mother smiled as she realized that I wasn’t bothered by her son’s eagerness for attention. As the toddler threw his arms around my neck and hugged me tightly, I told her that I found her son delightful.
I don’t know why this little boy was so eager to see me. He and his mother had just arrived to look at a home that I was showing to them. He had certainly never seen me before. But he wanted my attention — and I was delighted to give it to him.
The meeting was only a few minutes. There wasn’t really anything of lasting importance about it. But as I look back over my day Monday, those are the only minutes that stand out as enjoyable and meaningful.
I still haven’t had children of my own, but I really want them. Something about helping to create children and then raising them to be fully independent and successful adults seems immensely satisfying to me.
But even without children of my own, there’s something deeply emotional to me about connecting with these little humans. I know some childless people who enjoy spending limited time with children simply because they’re cute or fun. They see them almost as a form of brief entertainment.
There’s nothing really wrong with that, but it’s different for me. I almost prefer the times when such children aren’t at their best — when they’re cranky or upset or unhappy. Anybody can enjoy time with a cute child who’s being fun and happy.
But there’s something special about being able to take care of a child when things aren’t so happy and cute. For me, there’s meaning in being able to be a small part of the process of helping this tiny human being make the long transition to mature adulthood — and helping them get through their worst times is an under-appreciated part of that process.
As the little boy looked around the house with his mother, he got too excited and wanted to run around. The mother wouldn’t let him run loose in an unfamiliar house — with a stranger’s things — and he didn’t understand that.
Before long, he was whining and then crying that someone was telling him, “No.”
His mother apologized for the way he was acting, but it didn’t really bother me. He was acting exactly as a normal 2-year-old has to act. He’s still learning what limits are. He doesn’t like those limits and he’s pushing back against them. He wouldn’t be a normal child if we didn’t see that side of him.
The boy and I had a few more interactions before they left. To anybody else, there was nothing important about them. But it all felt meaningful to me.
I’ll quickly forget about this little boy. He will almost certainly not remember me. But I like to think I played a tiny part in his development. By the time he becomes a mature adult, he will have encountered hundreds or thousands of strangers along the way. Every one of us will have played a tiny role in determining the sort of man he becomes.
And no matter how tiny my role was, I played a little part in his life today. That feels as though it mattered.
As he and his mother were leaving, he toddled to the back door of the car, where his mom was about to strap him into a car seat. He suddenly turned around and smiled at me and waved with his fingers.
“Goodbye, little man,” I smiled to myself. “I’m so happy that I got to meet you.”