Late one night last week, my husband walked over to me, handed me a folded piece of paper and said, “I think your boyfriend left this for you in the mailbox.”
On one side of the paper, someone had drawn the cutest dinosaur I’ve ever seen and on the other side was a drawing of his mom and us walking, along with our names and the words, “I love you,” — a birthday greeting from my 5-year-old friend, Evan.
I met Evan by chance one afternoon about a month ago when I happened to be the lucky human walking by his house just as he found a millipede. Since then, my “Evan spottings” have been some of life’s highlights.
Evan exudes joy — as in when he sees me walking down the street, he takes off running toward me, movie-style, and jumps in my arms. Evan is the first person I have hugged in almost a year, outside my family.
One day, Evan, his mom and I were walking down the street together and he wanted to fly. He grabbed his mom’s hand and mine, and we powered his flight. Evan’s is the first hand I’ve touched or held, outside my family, since the pandemic started.
On the first day I met him, as I was walking away from his house, he shouted, with all his heart, “Bye, Jan.” Earlier this week as I was walking away, he shouted, “I love you.” On both occasions, I shouted right back.
I want to do everything I can do to encourage this little human to keep on emanating the love that comes so easy to him now.
His mom has older children.
So I know she knows what I know.
One day Evan will stop showing millipedes crawling on envelopes to strangers.
One day Evan will stop grabbing whatever hand is nearby and ask to fly.
One day Evan will stop using red pens to draw the cutest dinosaurs you ever did see and leave them in my mailbox.
Chances are that his decisions to stop those things will be gradual and almost invisible, but one day that little spirit will not show up in the same way that it has. And though I am trying with all my might to focus on appreciating the moments of joy I get to share with Evan, I mourn whatever it is that happens to stamp out the willingness for children to put themselves out there.
On the other hand, I know the whole process is a part of growing up, but I can’t help but wish that it wasn’t.
Just this week, Piper, our 19-year-old daughter told me on two different occasions that she couldn’t send a text message to someone because she had sent the last message and needed to wait for the person to text back first.
Fortunately, Evan can now use his mom’s phone to send me texts. I’m happy to report that he doesn’t feel the need or demonstrate the restraint to follow Piper’s protocol regarding texting. He’s happy to send multiple texts in a row before waiting for a reply.
Also, Evan is a fan of emojis.
Brené Brown said, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”
At this point, Evan is totally OK with showing and sharing his imperfections — and that willingness is what draws others in. The truth is that even after he grows up and doesn’t leave love notes of dinosaurs in my mailbox anymore, that spirit will still be with him — just like it’s with the rest of us too.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to know and maintain that sense of love and belonging have a responsibility to those who are in the process of finding the same — to do what we can to nurture their spirits, to keep that “Do-you-want-to-see-my-millipede” spirit alive for as long as is possible — and to resuscitate that spirit when need be. Metaphorically, we’ve put our masks on first and now is the time to help others do the same.
Now, I believe we can and should go out of our way to create times and places to encourage others, regardless of age, to feel safe enough to dance, to sing, to draw dinosaurs with red ballpoint pens and leave them for a neighbor to find.