I think 2 might be my favorite age. Not for my own kids, but for other people's kids.
When my children were 2, I was caught up in diapers and crushed Goldfish crackers and constant laundry duty. Now, as a mom of school-age kids, I can sit back and see how adorable other people's toddlers are because I don't have to take care of them.
I was sitting with my family at church the other day when a woman and her 2-year-old granddaughter sat down in front of us.
The little girl was like a well-behaved Tinkerbell. She had wispy blond hair and a bagful of treasures that she began pulling out one at a time. First the coloring book, then the fruit snacks, then an array of spectacular seashells.
My kids watched as the little girl held the shells up to her ear one by one to see if she could hear the ocean. All of a sudden, the little girl realized my kids were watching her. She used all of her effort to pull herself up onto the bench. Then she got on her feet, leaned over the back of the seat and extended her arm.
She was offering my 8-year-old son, Ben, a shell. Ben looked at her, then looked at me. "She wants you to take it," I prompted.
Ben shook his head and whispered, "No, thank you." Arm still extended, the little girl continued to offer her gift. She clearly had her mind set on sharing her shells with my son.
"Ben, just take it. She's trying to be kind."
As I said the words, my mind flashed forward to all the times someone has offered me a gift that I've rejected: offers to pick up the kids, prepare meals, walk the dog or grab a gallon of milk from the grocery store. Why does it feel like the right answer is, "No, thank you?"
Somewhere along the way, we've been taught to believe it's not polite to take someone up on their offer of kindness. We don't want to inconvenience them, so we decline. What we don't always remember is that when we dismiss them, we break off the opportunity for community and interaction and connection.
The little girl wasn't sharing her shells because she wanted one less shell. She was sharing because she wanted to connect with Ben. She wanted to bring him into the fold of her fun.
We do that as adults, too. We want to form strong bonds with people and the way we do that is through a give and take called kindness.
Sometimes people are offering to help because they just want to help, but sometimes they do it because they need to get their mind off themselves. They want an escape from the thoughts running through their head or the mundane of their regular routine.
I challenge you to retrain your brain. Instead of saying 'no,' try saying 'yes.' You'll be clearing the way for a beautiful exchange of kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.