Before I was five years old, I had discovered that the walkway of vinyl between our dining room and our kitchen was a good place to sulk, especially when I wanted my dissatisfaction to be noticed. I would sit there for a long time and feel that no one understood or loved me.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. My teenage sister, Rebecca, found me there one evening before dinner. She knelt down and quietly said to me, “Manda, let’s go count your freckles.”
It was a simple suggestion but so kindly put forth that I forgot my frowns and followed her to the bathroom mirror. She set up a stool for me so I’d be tall enough to see my nose up close in the mirror. With her chin resting on my head, she started with number one, and I helped her as high as I could count. I remember proudly entering the kitchen with the announcement that I had more than a thousand freckles, and we hadn’t even finished counting.
With just a small investment of her time and energy, my sister had changed my black mood. And, although my sulkiness that night probably wouldn’t have lasted very long, by giving me some positive attention, Rebecca insured me against the next time I felt unhappy.
A few months ago I was able to work in an elementary school, helping to teach struggling first graders how to read and write better. One boy I worked with, Steven, acted quiet and uninterested every time we got the books out. I wasn’t sure how to help him. Nothing I tried worked. I just desperately wanted to let this boy know how important reading and writing were.
One day I sat there next to him, both of us silent as the rest of the class buzzed around us. Steven was slumped halfway around in his chair. As I surveyed his untied shoelaces and the dirt and streaks of grass stains on his clothing, a picture of myself at the same age sulking on the kitchen floor came to my mind. I realized that for Steven to trust me he needed to know that I cared about him and not just his reading and writing ability.
“Wow, you sure are dirty,” I commented to his back. “You must be a really good soccer player at recess.”
Steven looked at me sideways and said, “No, I got in a fight.”
I was quiet for a few moments before I asked, “Are you okay?”
And then, still without really looking at me, Steven started to tell me about his day. We spent the whole half hour talking. By the end of our time, I knew Steven would be more excited to see me in the future. And, in a few days, we were working on his reading skills.
When I was five, I never thought to thank my sister for loving me. It wasn’t until I had the experience with Steven that I remembered how preoccupied I was with myself when I was his age. The things I learned early in life shaped how I feel about myself now, and my older sibling’s constant love was, and still is, a positive influence in my life.
I want to pass that on. I’m not a parent yet, but even as a teenager, I’ve found how joyful and how fun it can be to tell my little sisters, nieces, and nephews about freckles or big feet or any other simple reason why I love them.