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Thursday, August 4, 2011

insights: a lesson from 5 1/2 year-old Maddox

For the past few weeks I have been back to my regular walks/runs around our neighborhood after healing from a stress fracture in my foot. It's beautiful here now in Seattle. As I write this at 6am, the air feels cool, crisp and the sky is an indescribable blueish pink as the sun is rising over our hilltop. It's the perfect weather for getting back out there and breaking a sweat.

I have a usual path, as we all do around our neighborhoods. Every day I pass by fresh mowed lawns, lawns thathaven't seen a mower in weeks. I smell family dinners as I walk by houses and I hear small snippets of conversations. I pass by a house where they consistently watch 70's porn and in the summer I can hear the bad boom-chucka-bow-wow of the cheesy soundtrack. There are dogs who run to their invisible fence line and halt to a point where only they are aware of. There are lost dogs signs and rabbits who tentatively stop in the middle of road (which explains why so many animals meet their demise) and then there is Maddox.

I met 5 1/2 year-old Maddox last night on my walk courtesy of his dog Bella. Bella lives in a brown house with afence around the front yard. When I started my walks she would bark at me as if I was a giant squirrel about to attack her home. "Go. Get away. See how dangerous I am? Grrrrr. That's it. Keep walking! Ah, I've once again successfully defended our home! What a good dog I am! Grrrrr." Each day I walked by I would say "Good dog. What a good dog you are! Who's a good dog? You are!" And each day she would bark bark bark at me. Grrrrr.

Last week I stopped near her fence to throw my hair back that was slipping from my ponytail. I talked with the dog. "I'm just stopping for a second. I'll be gone in just a moment. Who's a good dog?" The dog's tail was wagging, a big wag where the whole lower half of the body wags. I was listening to my iPod and took my headphones off. The dog was whining at me. I thought "Well, this is an improvement." The dog came over to the fence and I let her smell my hand. She whined and wagged. I stuck my hand through the fence a little and petted her head. She closed her eyes and whined. Her owner was outside watering the lawn and shouted over "Her name is Bella!" "Oh! Thank you! She's a good dog!" I gave Bella a final pet and continued with my walk.

Some days Bella is outside and some days she isn't. When she is outside she runs over to the fence like I'm a long lost friend she hasn't seen in years. She whines and body wags and pushes her head into the fence so I can pet her. I now look forward to walking by their home.

Last night I didn't see Bella as I stopped. Then I saw here in a floor to ceiling window as she spotted me and ran to the door. Her owner let her out and she ran bounding down the stairs to me. I crouched down "Bella!!! Who is a VERY good dog? YOU ARE! You are a very good girl!" This time her owner came out. A woman with a tiny baby strapped to her chest caught my breath for a moment. I wondered if there would ever come a time when I saw a baby that wouldn't make me think of my own babies and what their soft little heads would have felt like. As the woman was walking over to me with her baby, a little boy dashed around her and ran over to me, his little hands grasping the fence as he stood on a rock to get a little higher up.

"HI!" he said.

"Well, hello," I said. "I like your dog" as I petted Bella through the fence.

He stared at me, tilted his head and gave me a giant smile, the kind only little kids can give. "Where's your bike" he asked.

"Oh. I don't have one. Do you have one?" His mom was now standing with us, running her hands over her baby's fuzzy red head.

"Why not" he asked.

"Hmm, I don't know" I said. "I'd like a bike. I bet you have a great bike."

His mom said hi and introduced her boy as 5 1/2 year old Maddox. Funny how that 1/2 is so important. I introduced myself too. She held up her daughter for me to see and introduced her as 7 week-old Katie. Her mom tickled her cheek and said "Katie, can you smile?" and this lovely little baby girl complied.

"Hey," Maddox said to me.

"Yes, Maddox?"

"I'm going to dream about you tonight," he said to me as he jumped up and down on the rock.

I laughed and touched hand to my heart. I was sweaty and my face was flushed, yet Maddox was going to dream about the girl who was kind to his dog.

"Does your heart hurt?" Maddox asked looking at me concerned.

"No," I said still laughing at the fact that kids say whatever they feel like. "You made my heart happy."

"Will you come babysit me sometime?" he asked.

I looked at his mom and we smiled at each other. "Well, I would love to visit you sometime when I see Bella. Would that be OK?" I said.

"You can come in our house. Now. You can come in. Now," he said with complete confidence that I would.

"Well, Maddox I have to continue with my run but maybe next time I can stop a little longer and you can show me your bike, OK? I have to go Maddox but I'll see you soon, OK?" I smiled at his mom and started my run again.

As I was running the second half of my path I threw by headphones back on and thought of my new friend, Maddox. He had no qualms about making a new friend. He wasn't shy about saying hi. I thought about all the people you walk/run by every day and how people avert their eyes. It seems that making a connection was not a good thing anymore.

I wondered when we lost this. As little kids we want to make friends. Children see a dog and it's like a magnet. They see someone walk by their house and they run over and tell you something that can make your day. It seems as if when we grow up it isn't cool to share your heart anymore. I thought of yesterday when I was in Ben Franklin, a craft store. I was staring at the wall of paints when a woman who was standing next to me said "They're all so pretty aren't they?" as she waved at the colors in front of us. "Oh, yes. They are" I replied still looking at wall of color.

"What are you making?" she asked, looking at me. I looked at her for the first time.

"I'm, um, painting a little table."

"That must be nice. What color are you thinking of?" she asked me.

"I don't know. Maybe aqua. Everything I own is aqua. We have a lot of blue in our home," I said.

And so we had a conversation and at the end she gave me her phone number. She was a painter herself and she loved color. I tucked her number in my pocket and walked to the register with my new aquamarine (of course) can of paint. At the register I realized what an unusual conversation I had. People usually stay in the own worlds, afraid perhaps to interfere in someone's life or maybe it's the fear of being rejected.

Last night as I was falling asleep I thought about my new friend Maddox and how his joy, his freedom of heart was so clear. I realized that I can be shy, afraid to make new friends. I wondered what life would be like if I opened up MY heart to new people. What if I shared my joy with them? This morning I am heading out to San Diego for the BlogHer conference where I will meet 3,000 other bloggers. I think of the potential there for new friends if I just open my heart, like my new friend Maddox. That's my goal in The Happygirl Lab this week: to open my heart, to make new friends, to share the lesson I learned from a sweet and funny 5 1/2 year old boy.

Thank you, Maddox. I'll see on my run when I get home Sunday night.

In the Happygirl Lab this week: Try saying hi to everyone you pass by this week. It doesn't have to be a "Hello!" It can just be a nod with eye contact or even a wave to someone who's walking by in your neighborhood while you drive by. It may confuse them a little but they WILL smile and wave back. It's kinda cool, actually.  Connect with someone. Who's heart will you touch this week?

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