“I don’t like swimming,” said the little boy, five years-old.
“It’s too hard. And I have to do it every day at camp.”
“If you do it every day, then you’ll get better at it and then it won’t be so hard,” I responded.
“Hmmmm,” he remarked, twitching his little nose, dubiously.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. The boy looked at me, both curious but doubtful of the grown-up advice he was about to receive. I fully expected an eye-roll, selective listening or to be outright dismissed.
“If you believe in yourself,” I continued. “If you believe that every day you’ll get a little bit better than the day before, then I bet by the end of the summer, you will be an amazing swimmer.”
He looked at me.
And then returned to playing, or went off elsewhere. I don’t remember. This was probably the longest and most serious conversation I’d had with this little boy who I’ve known all his little life. But I presumed, to him, I was just another boring adult saying bla bla bla. I quickly forgot the conversation as I assumed he had.
A month or so later, his parents mentioned to me that suddenly he’s had a new attitude towards his swimming classes. He’s serious. Committed. Intent on doing the work and improving. He told them “Aunty Sam told me to believe in myself so that’s what I’m doing.”
Hearing this brought sudden hot tears to my eyes, surprising even myself. Who knew that the words that had come out of my mouth – without too much aforethought, admittedly – had actually been heard, instead of discarded? Those words were processed by that little mind. Absorbed and now, applied.
So many words. We say so many words to each other. Many without due thought, not even thinking about the impact they may have or unsure whether anyone is really listening.
But Sondheim was right: “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
This was a potent, and precious, reminder.