Although Belle is 13 now, and has moments where she looks at me like I am possibly the most embarrassing parent ever to have walked the earth, she has always had a strong streak of concern for others.
If I’m upset about something, she knows. If I’ve been crying, she sees it, and does what she can to make me feel better. Basically, she cares about other people. She may be super bossy with her friends, and genuinely believe that she shouldn’t ever have to do washing up, but essentially she’s a thoughtful child.
I will always remember picking her up from nursery one day, when she must have been about two and a half years old. To help you picture the scene, I looked up this picture, which was one of those standard portraits they make everyone sit for at school and nursery. When I saw it then, for the first time in a while, I felt my chest constrict and my heart rush up into my throat. Where have my babies gone?!
Imagine a chubby-cheeked Belle then, in her Monsters Inc t-shirt, at nursery.
It’s the end of the day, and I’ve arrived to pick her up. Her keyworker takes me to one side. At first I’m worried, in case Belle has done something awful, like bash one of the other children over the head with a toy tractor, but I needn’t have worried.
“I just wanted to let you know how kind Belle has been today,” she said. “We had a new girl start this morning, and she was a little bit upset, missing her mum. Belle noticed that she was crying, so she went and got her a tissue without being asked.”
Look back at the picture again, and imagine her noticing the little girl crying, and worrying about her, and toddling off to fetch her a tissue to make her feel better.
Doesn’t that just melt your heart?
What I’m wondering though, is when we lose that simple urge to help others, and what we can do to get it back. If you saw someone crying, a stranger, would you feel brave enough to whip out your Kleenex? If you came across someone at work or in the street who looked like they needed help, would you offer it? And if not, what would hold you back? Embarrassment? Shame? General awkward Britishness?
Wouldn’t it be better if we just cared with no strings attached, without worrying about what other people thought of us?
What’s especially lovely about Belle is that even though she’s at that age now where you aren’t meant to care, where caring is distinctly uncool in fact, she’s still that podgy toddler inside, and she’s not afraid to show it. She buys presents for her teachers if she thinks they have done a good job*, she makes cards for people and she gives her friends random gifts.
Once we were done, we watched the horses for a few minutes longer, before sadly turning away to head back. It was at this point that Belle produced one last piece of apple for fiancé – she had seen how much he was enjoying it, and held one piece back, knowing what a lovely surprise it would make.
Isn’t that just the sweetest thing?
I feel like we could all learn something from Belle. Maybe we all just need to keep an apple, or at the very least a Kleenex, in our pockets just in case.
It never hurts to care.
*It works the other way too mind – she once made me make a complaint about a science teacher because she didn’t think he did enough practical work with them.
In association with Kleenex