The little girl’s expression is intent, nearly rapt in her undivided attention towards the book whose pages her father is turning in front of her eyes. It doesn’t last long but it’s clear this child, who is only four, will never be diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder. I am in awe of her intensity and cannot stop staring. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know, or I never stopped to look, how much can be read into a child’s expression. The promise of a willingness to learn in her eyes, the utter and complete trust in her little hands who touch her father’s face, demanding attention and cuddles and kisses but also betraying her love and confidence that this man will always cherish her more than anything and anyone.
She is beautiful, with blonde, tousled locks that any grown woman would kill for – the really effortless “just woke up look”. Her smile of little teeth lights up her face and her expressions veer from sheer happiness to coquettish to pouting, all in the space of a few minutes. I can’t remember the last time I observed a child so closely – all her emotions are obviously less guarded and more spontaneous and I find myself envying, for a moment, her emotional freedom.
When do we stop being who we really want to be? Is it school that helps put up the barriers around our freedom of expression? When does the first betrayal happen? How old when we realize a gesture, a word are inappropriate and we start stifling our next utterance? One of the children my mom takes care of looks at her and asks “Why are you old?” He is three and she thinks it’s funny – instead of being mildly offended she tells him how much she has lived. What if she had answered that he shouldn’t go around telling people they are old, in a society where old age is a capital offense? Someone, at some point, no doubt will.
The little girl hugs her Pooh Bear, kisses it with a huge grin on her pretty face. How much of the love she pours on a toy is already an expression of some pain she might have suffered and how much is just excitement at having a new, Pooh friend? As I walk away, I mentally wish for her bear to still be sitting in her bedroom 40 years from now, as a celebration of the happy, healthy and carefree childhood she deserves.