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Challenge: Raising Kind Kids

Small Kindness Matters

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We’re at the North Carolina State Fair, on a perfect autumn night. The sky is cloudless, speckled with stars. The air is crisp, cool but not cold. It’s a night for pumpkins and bonfires, sweatshirts and cider. It’s also a Saturday night, which means that the entire population of North Carolina has been inspired by our same not-so-brilliant idea: “Let’s spend two hundred dollars buying deep-fried candy bars wrapped in bacon, and then get on rides that simulate standing inside a blender, and try not to throw up!”

But the harvest sky will not be ignored, so now here we are, fighting our way through a heaving river of humanity to find the kiddie area. My husband, Kevin, is muscling our double stroller through gaps in the mass of people, parting the crowd like Moses with the Red Sea, only with more shouting and carnage. I’m right behind him, clutching fistfuls of the two older kids’ sweatshirts in my hands, praying we don’t lose any of our four struggling, goggle-eyed children in the swarm. Over the crowd, Kevin and I keep flashing each other this forced, crazy-eyed smile that means something along the lines of: “Maybe if we keep fake-smiling we’ll trick ourselves into believing we’re having fun, even though we’re terrified—and for the love of October how did we talk each other in to this?”

Finally the wave of people dumps us out into the kiddie area—along the way we’ve mowed down twelve love-struck teenagers and one giant stuffed banana wearing dreadlocks, in between dropping sixty bucks on kettle corn, elephant ears, and a Lebanese dish we can’t pronounce but that tasted like glory—and by some miracle, all four kids are still with us, and no one has thrown up (yet).

I convince the three older kids to ride the giant swings with me, and all through the line they do a dance of delighted terror. We stumble off two minutes later, giddy and giggling. I’m starting to feel like the fair wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.

And now it’s the two-year-old’s turn to ride something her speed. We ease back into the torrent of people, searching until we spot a merry-go-round of glittery miniature cars. At first we hesitate, hands pressed against our ears, because the ride’s designer (who has clearly never met a child) thought it would be clever to equip the cars with ear-splitting horns, which the happy toddlers are honking as aggressively as their fat fists can manage. But Sawyer’s eyes light up, and we all sigh:

She must ride this ride.

She must honk a horn.

We must sacrifice our hearing for her happiness.

As the girls and I get in line, Kevin pantomimes a message over the relentless horns: he and our son, Blake, are going to save their eardrums and go throw weighted darts at unpoppable balloons. I roll my eyes at them, because they’re totally getting the better end of the arrangement. Besides, they might win a stuffed banana.

When it’s finally our turn, I stand behind the parent fence as my nine-year-old, Cassidy, helps buckle Sawyer in, and then folds her own long legs into their tiny car. Cassidy’s knees are bent almost up to her ears, and she throws me a dimpled, self-deprecating grin—a grin that says nineteen, not nine. Sawyer attacks the horn with gusto. Avery, my six-year-old adrenaline junkie, scrambles into the car in front of them.

Lights flash. Music blares. Horns crescendo. The ride jolts forward, and Sawyer squeals her delight. Cassidy leans in close, showing Sawyer how to turn the steering wheel. For a moment, their twin grins are all I can see, but then I notice Avery. She’s still young enough that she should be swept up in her own ride—spinning her own wheel, honking her own horn—but instead she is twisted backwards, shining brown eyes locked on Sawyer. She is ignoring her own ride so she can watch her baby sister experience hers. Avery beams at Sawyer, a proud, knowing smile. The same maternal smile I feel lighting my own face.

The simple, honest sweetness steals my breath. For a few seconds my ears forget to hurt. I stand there, blinking tears, drinking in the beautiful sight of my three girls, adoring each other in this small moment.

I think to myself, This may seem like a small thing, but it is not small. Not to me. My girls, here in this fleeting moment, are all that sisters should be. For these few seconds, the older ones care more about their baby sister than about themselves. They may have squabbled a dozen times on the way to the fair today, they may have begged too insistently for cotton candy and fought over cheap stuffed animals, but right here, right now, in these sparkling seconds, they are loving each other, and how lovely it is. This is no small victory, no insignificant thing. It is the promise of things to come, the foundation of all we are trying to build in our family.


I put the night on pause: I will not overlook this moment, small as it seems. I will not let it pass by unnoticed, unappreciated, unpraised. I will write it down and make it last. I will make it sacred, sending a prayer of thanks up into the starry October sky. And when the ride ends, I will sweep my daughter up in my arms, swing her around, and gush over her kindness—help her see the wonderful person she's already becoming—already is.

As my children grow, I will seek more moments like this, small victories I might miss if I’m not paying attention. Small kindnesses. Quiet gifts. Humble growth.

I will correct and redirect their cutting words and selfish acts, yes, but I will do so much more than that: I will seek the good, and praise it; notice the possibilities, and draw them out. Where kindness sparks, I'll help it catch fire.

I will strive to model kindness the best I can in my marriage, even through this chaotic stage—the years of sleepless nights and zombie days, of stolen romance and secret smiles— days that demand so much, yet make us better if we let them. Together—messy, imperfect—we will savor these too-short childhood years, this endless stream of simple joys.

And I suspect we will find that small kindnesses and simple victories at home are not small, not simple, after all.

That quiet days of small things are the best days—the biggest things—after all.

That kindness begins at home, a tiny spark, but lights the world, a mighty flame.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author's website, LizzyLife.

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