Yesterday, I was walking to the city along the river, past where Circus Oz pitches their tent every year near the Federation Bells. It’s school holiday time here, and as I approaching I saw a little girl in a red-hooded jacket standing by a tree.
She was about two years old, and I could see she had been with a group of mothers and children who were heading towards the stairs to get to the circus.
She’d obviously been at the back of the group, and something must have happened to annoy or upset her and she’d decided to hang back and not go off with the group.
As I came up to where she was standing she held out her arms towards the departing group and cried weakly, “Mum”, and then flopped her arms down by her sides in exaggerated helplessness. She took a step or two forward, looked towards the group to see if they’d noticed yet, and then stopped again. Her bottom lip was stuck out, and as if she had a speech bubble above her head, I could clearly read what she was thinking.
She was trying out ways of relating to the world, trying out how she was going to attempt to make the world conform to her wishes, and she had almost decided helplessness was the way she was going to proceed.
I say almost because of how the mother responded.
There’s no right or wrong in these cases; parents are doing their best and they cannot prevent a child settling on ways of relating to the world that will not serve the child. All human beings do it: around the age of 2 to 3 years, they decide on ways of relating to the world that do not serve them which, nevertheless, they use for the rest of their lives.
So while there’s no right or wrong, in this case, the mother did the key thing: she showed her love to the child.
As she reached the foot of the stairs, which was now quite some way off, I saw her prop suddenly and realise something was wrong. She turned and saw her daughter in the distance and started running. Then I saw the moment when she could see her daughter was OK. Her body relaxed and she slowed down. She took a step or two forward, then threw her arms open wide and smiled, encouraging her daughter to come to her. The little girl took off and ran into her mother’s arms.
I don’t think the little girl settled on her mode of relating to the world yesterday. It will happen soon, though. In the meantime, there are acrobats to see.
Image: Circus Oz performers with the Federation Bells