Inspired By a Toddler’s Boldness

Benny walked up to a bunch of big kids — at least, big kids by his 2-year-old standards — at the park. No hesitation, no shyness. “Whatcha doin’?”
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BETH VRABEL

Smart Mama

Benny walked up to a bunch of big kids — at least, big kids by his 2-year-old standards — at the park. No hesitation, no shyness. “Whatcha doin’?”

He plunked down next to them in the sand pit. “That’s a big shovel,” he said to the 8-year-old next to him.

The older boy ignored him.

“You building a sandcastle?” Still no response. “I like that sandcastle.” Soon, the other child handed Benny a smaller shovel and a brief smile. Within seconds, he was part of the group.

“See my friends, Mommy?” he asked when he caught my eyes.

“Yes, Benny, I see your friends.”

Sometimes, his total confidence in the goodness of everyone around him frightens me. I can picture him being the kid who gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole on a frosty school day just because someone told him it’d be a cool thing to do.

On the other hand, I love how easy it is for him, how anyone he sees is a potential playmate. He smiles at the toddler in the grocery cart as we comb the aisles of Giant. He waves at the motorcyclist zooming through the development; cheering when he gets a wave back.

When we go to the playground, he scrambles ahead to the biggest cluster of kids, “My friends!” he shouts to the strangers.

Emma, his 6-year-old sister, is more like me when it comes to meeting new people.

She has lots of friends, but they’re not quite so easily made.

Once she makes a connection, they’re her friends forever. When she was in day care, she fell in love with Travis. It’s been months since she stopped going to day care and Travis moved to Hellam. But he’s still a constant presence in her drawings (always, strangely, wearing a crown). When we see a group of kids, she searches all of the boys for his face.

Even when Emma was Benny’s age, she would burrow into my side if another child so much as made eye contact. At a birthday party a few weeks ago, she perched on my lap, while all around us, her classmates danced, sang and played. About a half-hour before it was time to pack up, she finally joined in. (The ice-cream cone shaped cake was big incentive there.) I can relate. (And not just to being putty when faced with desserts.)

Recently, I was at a relative’s wedding. My sisters — even my mom — ripped up the dance floor late into the night. I kept the seats warm at our table, blowing the party favor bubbles with my teenage niece, dodging the inevitable conga line.

I’m sure no one would’ve laughed at me had I taken a turn on the dance floor. (Honestly, at that point of the wedding, I doubt anyone would’ve remembered me.)

But I stayed put.

And at that park, where Benny jumped right in and made friends, I hung back, sitting on a bench. Near me, another mom shot me a smile.

Inspired by my brave little boy, I smiled back. And Benny and I both left happy to have met new friends.

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Beth Vrabel lives in York County, Pa., with her children, Emma, 6, and Benny, 2. Read more Smart Mama columns here.

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