I was crossing an intersection a couple of weeks ago where a car facing me was waiting to make a right turn. A little girl standing at the window greeted me with a cheerful “hi.” Setting aside the why-isn’t-that-child-in-a-carseat discussion, she was a pop-up ray of sunshine in my day and I happily returned the greeting as I stepped up on the sidewalk and the car turned past me.
My Pied Piper Syndrome. That’s what my mom called it from the time I was a pre-teenager. It’s the tendency of children to recognize that I’m someone who will share a smile and who is willing to be playful. I like to think they recognize the child in me. Time and time again, children see me and say hello to me, smile at me, and trust me. From infants to pre-teens, they just look at me and know it’s okay.
When I was a boy, the neighborhood kids that were five to ten years younger than me would come knocking at our door to see if I could come out and play. I often went out to run around the yard with them, pretend, play tag, that sort of thing. The kids my age couldn’t understand why I wanted to play with these little ones. I couldn’t understand why hitting a baseball could be so all consuming. Mom watched and shook her head, bemused.
With great power comes great responsibility, right? I know what it is that parents fear about predators. I’m a parent. I’m very careful to guard my amiability until I get a clear sign of approval from the adult who is with that child. When I’m in the company of my wife or daughter, the adults are ten times more trusting, but when I’m on my own I feel the need to rein in my response to friendly children. It’s too bad, really, because a woman can ooh and ahh over another person’s child, but as a man I have to be more restrained. Again, I fully understand, but it does reflect on our societal ideas about gender roles.
Walking in the park with Angel also gives me with a pass when children want to come up and say hello. They want to know if they can pet the dog and I get a smile from the adult when I say, sure, but she might lick your face. I’ve enjoyed coaxing shy children to overcome their fears when they clearly want to touch her fur. And kids love to help me give Angel a drink at the water fountain, holding down the button while I cup my hands to catch the water.
If, by being a Pied Piper, I can get a sad child to laugh, or a scared child to relax, I like to think I’m making my contribution to the happiness quotient overall. I know it makes me feel better. They say that we should listen to our inner child, and maybe we need to listen to children in general in order to hear that child inside. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to be silly or to see the world from a different perspective. That’s an important quality for creativity and, if you want to dredge up a tired metaphor, thinking outside the box.
What do you do to increase your happiness quotient? How do you explore open-ended creativity? I walk.