“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”—Dr. Seuss
“To deal with individual human needs at the everyday level can be noble sometimes.”—Jimmy Carter
“Mamaw, Can I have one of those books?” asked the ingenuous boy of about four or five years.
He was wearing YMCA soccer clothes, and by the look of them, he had already played in his morning youth league game. The boy and his grandmother were in line in front of me at the Starbuck kiosk inside of a grocery store. There was a kid’s book section directly across from the coffee area, and it was filled with colorful, inviting books.
As a current middle school Language Arts teacher and former kindergarten teacher, I was impressed that the young fellow was interested in books as so many kids are far more interested in screen time. Oh, how I would have enjoyed walking him over to the bookshelf and allowing him to read, or at the very least, look through, a few of those books as I would have done years ago with my own daughter when she was his age.
“Mamaw, please. Can I just go look at the books?” the young lad implored this time carefully patting his grandmother’s arm. She ignored this request in the same manner in which she had ignored his first by incessantly talking to the lady behind the Starbucks counter.
From my vantage point, I perceived the slightest flicker of irritation cross the Starbucks’ employee’s face due to the grandmother’s persistent barrage of questions, but then, quickly fade. Despite the fact the employee was politely answering the questions based upon Starbucks’ policies/products, the grandmother kept debating with her. Nevertheless, I will hand it to this employee; she remained patient even as the grandmother continued her demands.
“Mamaw, can I please look at the books?” The boy tenderly tapped his grandmother’s arm once more.
“No! Now, stop bugging me!”
The boy hung his head, and his face turned bright red.
“I was just kidding, Mamaw,” stated the boy after a few moments in such a way to show contrition, and he returned to patting his grandmother’s arm once more as she ignored him again.
You can bet Champ, my mom’s oldest great-grandchild is not ignored by his grandmother, my sister, Rachel, or his great-grandmother.
Her questions and demands to the meek employee continued, and I felt my own frustration grow in this situation. I wanted to take the boy over to the book area, tell the grandmother to give the kid and the Starbucks’ employee a break, and just place her order while I read to her sweet grandchild. Instead, I remained quiet.
“Mamaw, I was just kidding,” implored the boy once more as his eyes looked up at his grandmother seemingly with the hope of her to noticing his remorse, but she remained focused on her questions.
It was then I saw a tear trickle down the little boy’s face, and my mom-heart broke. It was a silent tear that I recognized as his soundless hurt, and I sensed this was not his first time to be ignored and/or treated badly by an adult. I was so absorbed in watching the boy; I had not realized the grandmother had finally placed her order until she jerked the kid by his arm.
“Get over here with Mamaw, now! Can’t you see we need to move over here so I can get my iced tea?”
The little fellow said, “Sorry, Mamaw,” hung his head, and obediently began walking.
Stunned, I stood there for a moment, and before I could say anything, I noticed the Starbucks’ employee reach into the bakery counter, pull out a pink cake-pop, gently place it in a crisp white bakery bag, and hand it over the counter to the grandmother.
“Can he have this?” the Starbucks’ employee sweetly asked.
The grandmother snapped it out of the employee’s hand, impatiently passed it to the boy, and said, “Here you go,” with no hint of gratitude or consideration in her voice, and she resumed her nonstop complaint session with the employee.
“Can I eat it now?” the little boy asked with a bit of hope as he once again gently patted his grandmother’s arm and longingly looked up at her. He was never answered—at least not in my presence. I watched as he clutched the bag tightly in one hand, looked down at it, glanced up at his grandmother, and then looked down again as his shoulders sagged.
As I contemplated the scene driving home, I was reminded of an article I had read earlier that same morning entitled, “The 6 Human Needs for Fulfillment,” by Cloe Madanes. The reading was part of my yoga teacher training. My teacher, Katrina Mailloux, had encouraged us this month to spend time reflecting upon these needs and noticing how we can share these needs with others. These six needs include: certainty/comfort, uncertainty/variety, significance, love/connection, growth, and contribution.
Clearly, the little boy longed to feel certain in his relationship with his grandmother. He seemed to yearn for the variety, and perhaps growth, that a book might offer him. Additionally, he displayed his desire to feel significant and important in his grandmother’s eyes as he did not look at any one else but her. He plainly desired love and connection—a hug, a smile, or a tender pat on his head—yet, he received none of those.
John and I have both had the privilege of working with special students as pictured her left to right, Kaity Brumfield with John and Brenna Chapman. Teaching is reciprocal experience in that we meet many needs of fulfillment with our students, and likewise, they meet many of our needs.
Sadly, this child’s emotional growth has the potential to be stunted if the grandmother’s behavior is a reflection of how he is frequently treated. And, while the young boy would not be able to articulate this, I do sense he was trying to contribute to his grandmother’s needs by remaining compliant and obedient. Furthermore, instead of the grandmother going beyond her own personal needs, it was the Starbucks’ employee who attempted to contribute a bit of positivity into the youngster’s day. It struck me as both sad, but somewhat refreshing—at least with regards to the employee’s behavior
It is worth remembering that every person we encounter has the same needs as we do—even that grandmother. The Starbucks employee exemplified this to me in her every action. She remained calm, kind, and considerate to the grandmother’s demands. Additionally, her behavior reflected her recognition of the grandmother’s need to feel significant. At the same time, she noticed the boy’s need for comfort, significance, connection, variety, and growth. While she could not give him a book, she gave what she could. And, that, in the words of Jimmy Carter, was indeed a noble event. One from which we could all benefit if we would interject more of that understanding and behavior into our daily interactions and practices.