I am not always good with children. Sometimes I do not know how to act around them, and I feel very awkward. The worst part is, they know it. Typically, whenever I am around anyone under the age of 10, I completely tense up.
This tension is due in part to the fact that children are never a constant, they are always a variable. For example, if I am wearing my best new shoes, they will inevitably get them dirty. If I look ugly, they will tell me, and if I am not 100 percent relaxed around them they will sense that and they will cry.
I was at a restaurant one time and a baby started wailing so hard it made me want to jump out of my skin. I was not angry with the baby, I was just uncomfortable.
Children also have the tendency to break things and make a mess, which totally fouls up my need for everything to be clean and in order.
But then something happened. There is a three-year-old named Brad who goes to my church, and every time he sees me he yells, "Hi Katie!" He always runs up to me wanting a hug, and he always wants to show me his latest toy.
At first I did my usual "tense-up" thing, and I worried that picking him up would wrinkle my clothes or get me dirty, which is totally ridiculous, I know. But I still picked him up and gave him a hug. At first, it was awkward, of course. I gave him the usual, lazy, barely there, hug and let him go. He was still satisfied and ran off to play. After straightening out my wrinkled clothes, I would always smile, but I would still be tense.
I had to face up to the fact that part of the reason why I was always tense around children was that I felt like they didn't like me. It was a cycle of behavior. They would sense that I was uncomfortable and shy away from me, and because they were shying away from me, I would be uncomfortable.
But Brad changed that. No matter how uncomfortable I would seem, he didn't give up. He always approached me with a smile and a hug. After months of this, my wall was broken. I have now come to expect his hugs, and it is our tradition. He has taught me how to be myself around other children and that the stupid things I worry about really don't matter.
This time I hold him longer and I let him kiss me on the cheek, even if he sneezes or sometimes coughs in my general direction, which is gross, but I don't mind. Kids are kids and they aren't always clean.
Last week I went to my friend Jessica's house, and she has a two-year-old boy named Marcus. He was eating some sort of frozen yogurt bar and wanted to climb up on my lap. My first instinct was "No, don't get on me, you'll spill your yogurt!" But then I thought better. I let him climb up into my lap and we watched TV together. About a minute later he spilled his red yogurt all over my shirt and the chair, but instead of getting mad, I laughed.
Yes, kids get you dirty, break your favorite household items, or even lose things, but they also give you hugs like no one else, and they can make you feel like you are more important than anyone else in the world.
Though I haven't arrived yet, I know I am getting better with children. Brad and Marcus both tell me they love me, and I tell them I love them, and mean it-even when they're messy.
(Katie Schwendeman is a reporter for The Review, covering St. Clair and Liverpool townships, as well as Beaver Local Schools. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org)