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The Miracle Smile-Maker

, , , , , , , | Learning | March 4, 2022

When I was still a teen, I helped at the nursery of our church and then “graduated” to an assistant for the new daycare program they started for kids three to six years old.

One little girl that I remember fondly was an extrovert who truly loved being in our class and getting to spend time with the other little kids. Unfortunately, she also suffered from a severe case of separation anxiety. Back when I had her in the nursery, she could cry through the entire sermon until her mother came back to get her. This led to an odd dichotomy: a child that loved to be in our classroom and yet cried as if she was being tortured whenever she was first dropped off.

I had one game I liked playing with a few of the kids during snack time where I would go up to the child and dare them not to smile, then just stay in their face reminding them not to smile and commenting if they were starting to smile, etc. The absurdity of trying not to smile always makes one smile, and most kids would end up smiling within a few minutes. Since the aforementioned girl happened to have the most beautiful smile, capable of lighting up a room, she was almost always one of the kids I’d do this game with just to see that smile.

Eventually, like some sort of Pavlovian response, she got to the point that just telling her not to smile would lead to a giant smile. Not wanting to lose, she would cover her face with her hands, so now the game was to see if I could “find” the smile she was hiding.

This was so reliable that I started to use the trick on her whenever she was dropped off. She would always be handed to me bawling her eyes out. I’d find some way to distract her for a split second so she would listen to me — I’d even pretend to bump her or trip just to get her attention if I had to — then, once she was listening, I would tell her not to smile. Her hands would immediately go to cover up a big smile, and after a brief game of “hunting” for the smile, she would give up, beam at me with her smile for a second, and then get put down to happily run off to find some kids to play with, having forgotten all about her crying and separation anxiety.

Then, one day, my family was out for a vacation and I wasn’t there to help with the class on Sunday. The girl’s mother came down to drop her off as usual, but when she learned I wasn’t there to take the girl from her mother, she asked if she should just keep her daughter with her in church so her daughter wouldn’t distract the rest of the class. Apparently, she had decided I was a miracle worker and the only one capable of stopping her daughter from crying and was worried the girl would cry through the entire class, like she used to do in the nursery without me.

Of course, as much as I’d like to claim I was a miracle worker, mostly the girl had simply been growing up over the year between when I first saw her in the nursery and then, and she had better control of her separation anxiety. So, while I’m told she did have a harder time adjusting to the classroom without me to comfort her, she managed to calm herself on her own enough to enjoy the class within ten minutes or so. Still, I did feel touched that her mother had such faith in me.

I still have fond memories of that sweet little girl, her beautiful smiles, and her convincing her mother I was a miracle worker.

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