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Our Youth: Innocence & Influence

The lifelong effect we have on each other.

Humans are born into this world innocent and pure. My son walks around saying hi to EVERYONE and sees no other person as a threat. I will cry the day that changes. The day he grows up and realizes not all people are good. When he sees that people's differences are too often judged and ridiculed instead of celebrated. The day when he has to put his guard up to protect his heart and even his mind. Until that day comes, I will relish this time when he is the best version of humanity. Of course, I will nurture this for as long as I can, but there will come a time when another human will be unkind to him, ultimately popping his utopian bubble.

My baby boy has started preschool, which to me feels like sending him out into the real world for the very first time. I'm not there to shield him from the unkind actions or words of other children. Now I'm not saying other children are bad, in fact, I think all children are inherently good. But you never know what another child is going through - difficult home situations, big life changes, lack of nurturing that they so need and crave. This, and many other factors, can cause kids to lash out, bully and put-down other schoolmates.

As a young child, I remember being kind to EVERYONE. I couldn't handle it if even one person was upset with me. As a people pleaser who had quite a few friends (I always joke that I peaked in elementary school), I was very much taken off-guard when two of those friends ganged up on me. I was invited over to a neighboring friend's house (let's call her Beth) when she and another girl read me a lengthy letter about how horrible I was. Completely flabbergasted, all I wanted to do in that moment was run home to the comfort of my caring mama. I wanted to share this ridiculous letter with her, which Beth made sure couldn't happen as she dipped it in her pool to destroy the evidence. Needless to say, in that instant my bubble burst. It was the first time that people I trusted showed me a different side of humanity. A moment I will never forget and one that ultimately affected how I deal with people who I deem a threat still today.

I found out later in life that Beth's parents were engaged in a contentious divorce during that time and had unfortunately put her in the middle. She quickly picked up on their manipulative behavior as they tried to pit her against one another. It is that same behavior that she emulated as she tried to pit me and my other friend against each other. A toxic cycle. I strongly feel that detrimental cycles like this (and too many other forms of abuse to count) are our generation's responsibility to break.

I relived that moment in therapy as an adult, which opened my eyes to the profound effect adolescents can have on each other. I've watched small kids' confidence plummet and have wanted nothing more than to be able to lift them back up. I realize now that I can't protect my son, nieces and other family friends' littles from this unfortunate rite of passage. However, I will do my best to raise my son to be a kind and compassionate friend to all others and to celebrate what makes him and everyone else uniquely different.

A book I was reading to my son before bed a few nights ago struck a chord and really got me thinking about this. Here's a snippet:

You're here for a reason, you certainly are.

The world would be different without you, by far.

If not for your hands and your eyes and your feet,

the world like a puzzle, would be incomplete.

Life can be tricky, there isn't a doubt.

You'll skin your knees trying to figure it out.

But life works together, the good and the bad,

the silly and awful, and happy and sad,

to paint a big picture, we can't always see. . .

a picture that needs you, most definitely.

Let's do our best to teach kindness, empathy and compassion. Let's lead by example. Let's reject divisiveness. Let's celebrate all religions, backgrounds, sexual preferences, abilities, and ethnicities. Let's continue to guard our hearts, but let love in often. Let's peacefully accept that not all people are meant to be in our lives, but all people are here for a reason, and we should treat them as such. Let's mold our children into better versions of ourselves.


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