By Rachel Macy Stafford
I wonder just how many times I’ve asked the question. Not that it is a bad thing—I think most of us have inquired. And more than likely, we were asked the age-old inquiry when we were children.
Perhaps you have heard it or said it a time or two …
What do you want to be when you grown up?
There’s a good chance I won’t be asking that question anymore. I’ve decided there is something even more valuable going on now in a child’s life that deserves reflection. You see, I gained a new perspective recently, and it just happens to be at the heart of grasping what really matters in life.
When I read the following life-changing words, I knew immediately this innovative viewpoint was a gift. Little did I know it would change the way I look at my children … the way I talk to them … the way I listen to them.
“When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life, childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live – a child is living. The child is constantly confronted with the nagging question, ‘What are you going to be?’ Courageous would be the youngster who, looking the adult squarely in the face, would say, ‘I’m not going to be anything; I already am.'”– Professor T. Ripaldi
For days, I was preoccupied by these words. They cycled through my mind like an old-fashioned film reel. I knew Professor Ripaldi’s perspective was important—critical even—but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to apply his wisdom to my life.
Leave it to my children to show me.
My two children and I were crossing a rustic bridge—the same narrow bridge we cross virtually every day—when my younger daughter called out her usual command.
“Look at the view!”
I would estimate that day was at least the 100th time she has said those words since the bridge reopened one year ago after major repairs. But the way she said it that day, like every day, would cause you to believe she had never seen this particular sight. Her voice was etched in excitement as she pointed to the pristine lake, the glorious sunset, and wispy clouds.
As always, I glanced out the window per her request.
“Oh wow! It is beautiful,” I exclaimed with exaggerated enthusiasm. But I knew I wasn’t really seeing it—not the way she was seeing it. Because the truth is, I can’t possibly see what she sees—not from behind the wheel of a car. But on this particular day, I wanted to see what she sees; I needed to see what she sees.
As I searched for a place to pull over, I quickly spotted an old utility road. There was just enough room for me to park my vehicle at the gated entrance of the gravel path. I had not even put the car in park when confusion erupted from the backseat.
“Did we run out of gas? Did we hit a deer? ” inquired my worrisome first-born.
“Are we going fishing?” asked my optimistic second-born.
I simply said, “I want to look at the view.”
Surprisingly, the kids didn’t question what on earth possessed their mother to act on this unusual impulse. With a shrug of the shoulders, they opened the car doors and indicated they were game for Mom’s strange mission.
We slowly trudged through the wooded terrain so we could get to the water’s edge. Once there, the girls each raised a hand to shield their eyes from the rays of the setting sun. As my children surveyed the vast body of water in complete silence, that is when I saw it.
It was indeed remarkable. It was as if every miraculous detail was emphasized in a way I had never quite seen before.
But I am not talking about the crystal-clear lake against the backdrop of a brilliant orange sky.
I am talking about my children.
The setting sun, acting as a magnifying glass, revealed every miraculous ingredient of their very being. Their talents, fears, insights, quirks, insecurities, hopes, ambitions, and God-given gifts all beautifully exposed beneath nature’s warm light.
And the revelation that came to me in that moment nearly brought me to my knees.
She says she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
But she already is.
A teacher of sight words and letter formation to small kindergarteners who come to her summer school,
A teacher of compassion to a child in Africa named Pricilla who receives her thoughtful letters, pictures, and prayers …
A teacher of parking lot safety, friendship-bracelet creation, and underwater handstands to an adoring little sister …
She is not preparing to live … she is living.
She is not preparing to become … she already is.
She wants to be a musician when she grows up.
But she already is.
Playing music of joy by offering a smile that brightens her whole face and the hearts of those who receive it …
Playing music of serenity by taking her own sweet time despite the pressures to hurry through life …
Playing music of kindness by loving four-legged creatures, her baby nephews, and those who are left out.
She is not preparing to live … she is a human being living her life.
She is not preparing to become … she already is.
In mere days of reading Ripaldi’s words, I have felt a slow release … a further letting go on this Hands Free journey I am on. I need not know it all. I need not control or dictate. Instead, I am open to the wisdom and insights of my children in this amazing process of living.
As my oldest daughter writes her student council speech, I sit next to her but I refrain from making an outline, correcting misspellings, and providing my ideas. Instead I watch as she articulately describes the strengths she possesses that would make her a good class leader.
And I listen because she knows … she knows.
As my youngest child looks at me with tearful eyes awkwardly holding her new guitar and says, “I don’t think I am quite ready move up to guitar. I want to stick with my ukulele.” I do not argue. Instead I retrieve her ukulele and watch her tears evaporate as she holds the familiar instrument up to her chest and strums the music of her heart.
And I listen. Because she knows … she knows.
As my daughters and their two friends request loud dance music at 7:20 in the morning as we carpool to school, I grant their request. I look in the rearview mirror and marvel at their joy—singing with wide smiles and laughing at each other’s silly dance moves.
And I listen. And I observe. And I even join in the chorus. Because they know. They know.
Our children know a little something about this process called ‘living’ … perhaps more than adults do at times.
Thank you Professor Ripaldi. I’ve decided to take your advice. I will be discussing the trip with my children—after all, life is her journey, too.
And in that act of discussing, observing, and absorbing, I might just be blessed with the opportunity to enrich my own life … to expand my own heart … to grasp more moments that matter.
To regard my children as partners in the process of living means more chances to stop and admire the view.
Read more by Rachel Macy Stafford at www.handsfreemama.com and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is an inspirational guide to transforming a distracted life into one of connection and will be available in January from Zondervan publishers.
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