Growing A Heart
I know this is going to sound implausible. I know you will question it. I know you will ask-is she crazy?
But, there are three positive attributes that come with my aged craziness. They are insight, perception and wisdom.
So, no matter what you may think as a new parent (and I thought the same) I am here 24 years later, to tell you that
in the beginning,
absolutely nothing else matters but warming a newborn heart.
When we think Heart, what automatically comes to mind? Love right? Love of our children, our families, our
pets, our home, our friends, our work. Love is whatever we pour our hearts into. There would be no use going any further
in discussing a newborn’s development If we did not first proclaim LOVE as absolutely paramount in growing a new heart.
And for a newborn, Love is thoroughly and totally physical. Somewhat like putting a battery in a charger, a newborn’s
heart must physically attach to another’s heart in order to survive and to warm. That is why we hold a baby close, we
kiss, we cuddle, we carry, we caress. We cannot love a newborn from across a room! Babies who go untouched do not develop
emotionally. Their hearts cannot warm. They will grow weak and cold and shut down. In short, a newborn’s heart
is completely dependent upon bonding with another heart in order to live, and to love.
So, in the very beginning...
Put all concerns about mental development on the back burner. Put all worries about sleep and feeding schedules in the
bottom drawer. Pull out only your heart, turn it up as high as it will go, and keep it on 24/7. Let it rest upon your newborn,
and allow its deep warmth to wrap your infant in love, and energy and light. Do not worry about anything other than growing
Outside of food, clothing and shelter, Heart will be your baby's most essential need—its lifeline from
which a soul will grow.
Long before a mind develops, Heart, more fragile than the thinnest glass waits to be held.
Long before a body
takes shape, Heart beats loud and fast for our protection.
Long before words are heard, Heart has spoken-I will survive
only if you wrap me in warmth, and give me much time to grow steady and strong.
Until Heart can grow
steady and strong, it remains vulnerable. It is a muscle that has yet to develop. It has no padding and will therefore,
be at risk of being damaged and torn. And in this strange new world, there are three characteristics of a newborn heart
in special need of nurturing and protection.
Shyness towards the people who inhabit it.
to the lights and sounds, words and deeds that accompany it .
Spirituality still carried from before and beyond
in search of a new home within it.
1. Honoring Shyness
the most fragile of Heart's qualities, and
the most in need of our protection, for as long as it takes.
And it will come to pass, when Shyness sheds its shadow
and no longer looms,
that Shyness will leave behind a deep glow of Sensitivity in a heart ready to shine.
be known, they really wanted my son to leave Gymboree because it was held in a school gym, and every time we went, he'd run
for one of the basketballs in the corner, and throw it–not good, because the ball was as big as the kids and hitting
one of the kids with the ball wasn't exactly the kind of game they had in mind. So, off we trotted (at their suggestion) to
the next level-Marvatots. Wonderful, so I thought! A trampoline and much more physical play–perfect for my son's size
and strength! But what his tall and big for a three year old body needed, had no relation whatsoever with what his tiny, three
year old heart wanted which was to have absolutely nothing to do with other, unknown three year olds, in a strange place,
where Mommy could not go!
After trying all sorts of ways of getting him to participate, and three times,
watching him from behind a glass window, practically howling, a mother finally came up to me with total disgust in her eyes
and shouted! Why are you doing this to your child??!! I started to cry!
He simply wasn't ready. He still wasn't ready
when later, in kindergarten, I ended up the only Mom walking her son to his classroom, much to the consternation of the vice-principal
who had looked him straight in the eye and asked wouldn't he like to go to class with her?
I don't think so, was his
clear reply right back at her. It would be a long year, for her and for me. He wasn't ready when it came to birthday parties,
and I ended up staying at every single one until he turned ten! It would be a very fattening 10 years! He wasn't ready for
when sleepovers would often become half-sleep-overs, which meant half a movie seen, and sleep-away camp,
some far off fantasy for another lifetime. He wasn't ready for sports when joining a team meant sitting on the bench and just
watching–a hard concept for a coach.
At some point I stopped thinking I was doing it all wrong. Others warned
me of becoming too protective because he was an only child.
But I knew instinctively, that this issue had nothing
to do with his being an only child. And I fought off doubts that other parents planted in me.I waited him out and that fragile
heart grew self-assured enough to attend, knowing no one, a sports camp halfway across the country;
to fly to baseball showcases; confident enough to give speeches: emotionally mature enough to become a leader; secure enough
to decide on a college on the opposite coast. His shyness receded as his self-confidence grew. And all it took was time.
But one of the hardest things for a parent to do is wait out a child. We want so much to move development along.
We need to feel we're helping. We want to see some progress or we feel we've failed in some way. But children
have their own unique timetable that cannot be pushed along or rushed. When we go against their natural emotional rhythm they
will react and often negatively.So, the first step in protecting a growing heart? We can honor and respect Shyness. We can
try never to push it out into the open, or force it into retreat. Whenever possible, we can try to be there when our very
young child needs us, even if no other parent is present. We can be conscious not to say to a friend or acquaintance, in front
of our child buried behind our leg—
Oh, my child is very shy! And we can remember never make light of that shyness.
To a very young child, shyness is very deep and intense and that child has no more control over shyness than he/she
does over height, or gender. Some children will need to hold on to us longer than others. They feel the world more intently
but that also means they possess keener instincts. Some children will wear their hearts on their sleeves longer than others.
They are more sensitive to their environments than others. That means they also have deeper insights, and sharper perceptions.
They see too much, and they feel too much and they have no place yet (e.g. a creative outlet) to put all that sensory
perception. But if we allow them, and give them all the time they need, they will let go of our hand, they will put their
hearts in their pockets, and they will be ready to soar high, and travel far and find amazing ways to share their vision and
There are so many other qualities we can advance in our very young children such as empathy.
And as they grow older, I will talk a great deal about Perspective, and growing self-confidence.
But for right
now, when our children are so very young, simply let Shyness be, and it will fade with time. I have seen it disappear before
my very eyes. Promise!
2. Nurturing Sensitivity
My definition of a sensitive person?
Someone who refuses to read Bambi but who could also sense danger way before the hunters arrived!
unafraid to go to anyone's rescue, cannot see any movie in which children are in peril. But, I am a great animation fan, and
so, I finally convinced him, one night, to see "Finding Nemo". I reassured him that nothing horrible would
happen and it had a happy ending. We settled down to watch and he was not at all relaxed. By the opening scene, he had
already asked three times if Nemo was going to be all right?
Then, Nemo's mother died!! That did not endear this movie
to my husband! He looked downright disturbed! I offered to turn the movie off. No, no, he scoffed, he could deal with
it! My son came home three quarters of the way through and jokingly offered to sit with his arm around my husband's shoulder–that
did it! My husband huffed that he was perfectly capable of watching until the bitter end! Nemo survived. Nemo's father survived.
My husband needed a tranquilizer!
But who am I to talk! I cry at everything. When my son was in Middle School, I made a habit of reading the books
he had to read so we could discuss them. Needless to say, I was a basket case for three years with the likes of "Where
the Red Fern Grows" and "Call of the Wild. "
We owned two dogs at the time, which made "Where the
Red Fern Grows" even worse,
and the last several chapters of that book completely unnerved me! For weeks, I lamented
why all lower and middle school books had to be about animals! I felt so grateful, so relieved, so liberated when Salinger,
Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Fitzgerald arrived on the scene. Neurotic, doomed, manipulative and evil characters were so much
easier to handle than animals at the mercy of nature!
So, what's wrong with being sensitive? . Absolutely nothing! A wonderful quality! Necessary for emotional development!
An attribute in adulthood, and in a mate! But, when young, not at all easy. The world becomes more reactive, relationships
more intense, emotions more vulnerable, and a heart, much more at risk.
And yet, The Oxford American College Dictionary
defines sensitive as,
One who is QUICK to DETECT or respond to SLIGHT changes, SIGNALS, or influences
who displays a quick and DELICATE APPRECIATION of others' FEELINGS
"Quick to detect" means possessing strong instincts.
changes, signals, influences"- means having keen perception "
"Delicate appreciation of others'
feelings" --means feeling great empathy.
Tis a double- edged sword, then, this quality called Sensitivity, both the most wondrous and most perilous quality our
Too little, and their hearts
grow cold, and unfeeling. Too much, and the world becomes unbearable for them.
however, can offer our children two invaluable toolsPerception and Instincts. That same child, who is deeply wounded by a
look, or a word, is the same child who will also sense when someone is slightly 'off' and If allowed to develop, that perception
will also differentiate honesty from deceit. When older, that student will be able to analyze motives, characters and conflicts;
find hidden meanings and double entendres; and write insightful papers. As young adults, those perceptions will help hone
people skills and add to critical thinking.
Instinct serves as a natural guard-the little button that
can go off inside when something isn't quite right; that little button which can warn of impending danger- a warning of the
need to wait or to run. If allowed to develop, those instincts will also broaden to include making wise choices and taking
necessary actions. And as our children grow to trust their instincts, those instincts will guide and protect them.
Delicate appreciation for the feelings of others ensures a caring for the world, a profound need to believe in
the goodness and kindness of mankind.
delicate appreciation comes the ability to love and to cherish. It develops empathy and the seeds of a soul.
let us appreciate and nurture the sensitivity our children so naturally possess. Let us support their feelings and
reactions. May we help them understand that what they see all too clearly, and feel so intensely, will develop into sharp
instincts and keen perceptions, great empathy and serve them so very well, in every area of their lives- as a person, a family
and part of the community and in the larger society.
3. Safekeeping Spirituality
little girl was drawing pictures with her crayons. Her mother asked whose picture she was drawing? "
'But, darling,' her mother said, 'Nobody knows how God looks.'
The daughter replied,
'They will when I'm finished.'
My husband will certainly remember that night. I came home so angry, it was enough not to throw my coat across
the room, and level everything on my dresser. My husband who can sleep through anything did not slumber through that ranting.
I stormed into our bedroom, at 10:30 pm on a Thursday night, way back when my son was in preschool, (22 years ago!) shouting-
cannot believe she said that! She told me I shouldn't confuse our son! My husband, now propping himself up since it
became obvious that he was not getting back to sleep any time soon, ventured-Ok, what happened?
When my son was
in pre-school, I volunteered to head a peer group committee. Therefore, it was my job to bring in speakers to talk on issues
relating to parents of pre-schoolers. We had a wonderful group of early childhood experts who spoke on development, and language
and play. Then, a grandparent of one of my son's friends died. Another's dog died. So, I thought I'd invite someone to speak
on how to handle death with a very young child. Little did I know, what a Pandora's box I was about to open.
I proposed this idea, it became immediately apparent how many parents were ambivalent, confused, uncomfortable, and simply
unprepared to handle a discussion with their pre-schooler about death. All the more reason, so I thought, to bring someone
in who could facilitate an open and honest discussion. So, an invitation went out to Dr. X on recommendations from other educators.
There were 20 parents that night, seated in a circle. I introduced Dr. X and then let her take over.
around the circle asking each parent what he or she tells his or her young child when a pet or family member dies? One parent
said that she told her son that grandma was very sick and in pain, but now, because she was no longer alive, she didn't have
to feel pain anymore. So, her son asked if the next time he got a shot, could he not be alive until it was over? She did not
know how to respond. Another parent told how horrified her daughter was at the thought of cremating her dog. Ashes in a box?
But where would Taffy be? How could she fit in a box? So, they had to hire workmen to come and dig a grave deep enough to
bury the dog in their yard. They put a little stone there with her name, but their daughter then became very concerned about
the weather, and so she insisted on covering the grave with everyone's raincoat, every time it rained. She wanted her parents
to build a little doghouse over the grave, so Taffy could stay warm and dry. They had not started the building, as yet. Her
mother was hoping for some advice from Dr. X.
Then, Dr. X came to me. Well, I said, my son believes in heaven.
When his step-grandfather died, we wrote a little note that took forever to squeeze into a balloon we then filled up with
helium and sent up into the sky. This was enormously comforting to my son. He watched it go off. He absolutely believed that
his grandfather would receive and read it. And, when he was very old and ready to go to heaven, he would see his grandfather
again, along with a list of other people he wanted to meet-Babe Ruth, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and other relatives
about whom he had heard so much. So, for him, I said to Dr. X, Heaven was this cozy place-and, in fact when we flew on an
airplane we would look out the window and start picking out clouds that looked particularly appealing and wonder if anyone
we knew lived on them, and if not, maybe we could ask God to reserve one-that's what I told him.
Dr. X looked very concerned.
what did you tell him about what death is?
I told him that Grandpa Ray had died which meant that it was now his time
to live with God up in heaven.
And what did your son say?
Can I go visit? And I said no. And he asked, why not?
Because, heaven is very special, and you can only go to live, not visit,
and only after you have lived your life here
And then he asked,
Will I go to heaven? And I replied, Absolutely!
Will you go to heaven?
even if you die, Mommy, I will see you again?
And Daddy, too?
That was all
my four-year-old son needed to hear-that he would see his Mommy and Daddy again, even if he had to wait until he was very
Now, she looked at me with complete disapproval.
You don't really want to confuse him about death.
not quite sure what you mean by confusion, I replied.
What you want to convey to him is the truth-and I so remember
these words she uttered-
What you want to say is that the heart stops ticking, and when the heart stops ticking that
is the end of life, that is death.
I stared back, speechless! My own heart began to beat very fast. I realized that
I was sitting in a room with other parents;
that I had organized this night; that I had invited Dr. X to speak, but.
And so, I left it at-well, I respect your opinion, Dr. X,
but I don't see the benefit in that. In my own opinion, a
child has his or her whole growing up to understand the world and how it works. I would like these early years to be about
forming a foundation of love, and hope, and optimism, so that there is more than just the immediate and concrete to focus
on. And, if telling my son that heaven exists, and it's a loving place where he and people he loves will go, then I see no
wrong in that. I am not advocating that anyone else do the same. Religion and spirituality are very personal to each person.
But that belief system works for our family.
My son is now twenty-three. He believes in heaven, (as do I) and
it doesn't interfere with his understanding of heart attacks, or cancer, science or technology nor does it change the mourning
process, or sense of loss. When our beloved first dog died of cancer (and he was old enough at eleven to know that was a serious
illness) we all had this vision of our first dog romping free in cold snow (which he adored and never got to play enough in
when he was alive) with lots of other dogs and family members who would gladly welcome him. And we laughed about habits he
had that they would have to get used to up there.
I realized that for Dr. X, a psychologist, the idea of Heaven
and God was simply incompatible with scientific theory, which holds that Truth needs to be something one can prove. And, a
spiritual concept such as a soul going off to heaven flies in the face
of explaining and analyzing human behavior and
physiology. I do not believe, however, that spirituality confuses children. They come into the world already spiritual.
faith in the unknown, their sense of magic, wonder, fantasy, and belief are all there from before day one, to be developed
or discouraged. I believe in God, but that is not to say that one has to believe in God to be spiritual. One has only to believe
in something larger than one's self and his/her physical world.
What you are proposing, Dr. X is that pre-school
children should understand the science of death, and that is all?
Yes, because anything else is really make-believe.
I remember wondering silently at the time, how this woman grew up? What did she do at Christmas time? Was she one of the little
girls I once wrote of in "Please Save Santa" who, all so knowingly, walked into school to proclaim that there was
no such thing as Santa! Did the Tooth Fairy ever come to visit her? Would she have read Harry Potter, or The Care Bears? Let's
not even suggest E.T.!
But, Dr. X how do we know what really happens after someone dies, or, as you say, after the heart
We don't, and that's why we do not want to pretend we do.
I looked around. No one was venturing
a word. I needed to let go of this. Dr. X and I were at a great divide. I wanted to "phone home"; I wanted one of
my family members on high to send her a sign; I needed to get on with this session!
She continued her talk about
Death and basically proposed that whatever anyone chose to tell his or her young child, it should be planted in physical fact.
Perhaps then, everyone went home and woke up their husbands and said, I feel so relieved.
I now know what to tell little
Johnny about his dog! Its heart stopped ticking! And when a dog's heart stops ticking, it dies!
Writing this now,
so many years later, perhaps, I think that's ok. Perhaps, I would not get as upset now as I did back then. But, I still need
to wonder. If children only believe in themselves, and what they can see before them, and what can be scientifically explained,
where do they put their dreams? Where do they put their imagination? Where do they put their creativity-all of which comes
so naturally, and they so need?
If growing a heart means honoring Shyness, and nurturing Sensitivity, it also means
safekeeping Spirituality, protecting faith and belief in the greater universe and what it holds.
As for my own
son- knowing he can talk to God anytime he wants; that God has a sense of humor; that God is a great listener; and that when
his heart stops ticking, that's not all. He's off to heaven to see everyone, talk baseball with Babe Ruth, history with Lincoln,
and Jefferson, meet all his ancestors, see his dog again, as well as his parents.
Who's to say otherwise? Isn't that
the point of spirituality-that it can keep children's hearts forever open, and their beliefs forever strong, so they can dream
and imagine, create and discover endless possibilities simply because they believe it can be so?
so believe that children are naturally spiritual and that they need that spirituality to grow healthy Hearts.
I said in my preface, it will not matter how educated or successful our children become. If they are not emotionally healthy,
it will impact negatively every aspect of their lives-family, friends and work. A warm heart can ensure love and empathy,
a strong heart, ethics and principles; an open heart, sensitivity and spirituality; a secure heart, trust and optimism.
Heart is very powerful. It is responsible for growing an empathetic, ethical ad principled human being. Heart
will also be our children's protector. It serves as a strong anti-oxidant for the realities they will face. It is Love
and Hope. Heart offers sanctuary and an immunity from having to carry the burden of full responsibility for the fate
of the world. If a child feels as if there is nothing larger than self, then when life happens, where does that child put
his or her faith in humanity and tomorrow? And lastly, in generating hope, Heart generates Optimism and that optimism
fuels motivation and keeps our children moving forward.
Therefore, if we first grow a heart, allow it to
flourish, honor and protect it, we will grow a full child, and everything else will follow. Promise!