I learned a very beautiful lesson today at the most unlikely of places — Chuck E Cheese. That’s right, the louder than a rock concert, more hypnotic than pendulum, and more chaotic than a rogue donut at a Weight Watchers meeting, place of childhood nirvana. Not only did I learn it at Chuck E Cheese, but I was taught it by a 9-year old.

Let me first say how much I detest places like Chuck E Cheese. Not for their pizza. Not for their 25 cent games. Not for their wall of cotton candy. Oh no, no, no. Those are the best parts of Chuck E Cheese. What I dread the most is the free-for-all kid frenzy in which parents have absolutely no control — and no interest in controlling nor monitoring — over their childrens’ behaviors. “Oh, let ’em run free! It’s safe!” seems to be the motto of many parents. I, on the other hand, hover within feet of my children with a quick flick of a “don’t-you-dare-do-that” look and a “time-out-for-you” declaration should they misbehave. Thankfully, my kids don’t misbehave, so I never have to pull out the big guns.

But, there have been at least a million — no, a zillion — times when I’ve wanted to give those same glares and time-outs to parents who feed their kids bags of blue and pink cotton candy and then let them run loose. Inevitably, those same kids are the ones who trample all over my kids. Today, on my younger daughter’s 4th birthday, I found myself on the quest to find the little girl who “kicked J in the back and pushed her down the slide, yelling MOVE NOW! to her”, as the story was told to me. Naturally, this was told to me in between crying and sobbing and rubbing of J’s back. “WHICH GIRL DID THIS TO YOU?” I said with my Mama Bear spy goggles on. “WHERE IS SHE??” Which girl, and where she was, lost importance as J composed her self and became quickly distracted by the Whack-A-Mole that was beckoning her with its flashing lights and prospects of winning lots of grey, cardboard tickets.

My kids were having fun, so we stayed, all the while I’m wondering which little twerp bullied my birthday baby girl. Just as I finished scanning the room coming up with options for confronting each little pony tailed Kidzilla, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A beautiful little girl, about 9-years old, dark brown skin, with long black  pony tails down to her waist, was smiling at me.

“Hi, I’m leaving now. Would you and your girls like to have the rest of my tokens?” she asked me. I looked at her, wondering if I was supposed to know her somehow given the familiarity with which she spoke.

“What, honey?” I asked in my confused, but trying to be nice in case she was lost or something, voice.

“I’m all done here and my family is leaving. I don’t need these tokens anymore, you can have them,” she said again.

“Oh, thanks, but you should ask your mom first in case she wants you to take them home.”

“No, that’s okay. Here, you take them,” and she placed them into my hand. “Have a good day!”

And the little girl went up to the gift counter with her receipt, chose a bracelet, and disappeared into a crowd of people. I tried to follow her with my eyes and a half-smile, wondering if I was going to make eye contact with a mom from across the room. I wanted to be ready to acknowledge her with a “thank you” nod or wave. But, the little girl was gone.

I walked over to my girls and asked them to describe the girl who kicked J on the slide. “Ponytails, about 9-years old,” they responded. I wondered if the tokens in my hand were some sort of peace offering. “Blond hair. Peach skin.”

Are you sure she didn’t have black hair and brown skin?” I asked my children, realizing that I was pretty sure my kids knew the difference between black hair and blond hair; brown skin and peach skin. And, sure enough, their “we’re not stupid” expressions told me that they were sure. I placed the tokens from the little girl into their hands and watched them carefully insert them into flashing games.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this little girl. She was more composed than I ever could have been at age 9. She exuded more confidence, self-awareness, and genuine kindness than I could muster as an adult. I couldn’t help but think what kind of world we would all be living in if more kids like her — more people like her — were in our society and in our communities. She seemed so sure of herself, so filled with confidence, that I found myself hopeful for her future and the impact she will make on this world. It was a very strange, yet peaceful, feeling, that I can’t say I’ve ever acknowledged before in my life.

Confidence has been on my mind lately. This past week, I found out that I was accepted to a doctoral program that I have been wanting to apply to since 2006. Each year, I put it off, saying that I just wasn’t ready. I actually have applications and essays that I’ve filled out for the past 3 years for this doctoral program, and I just never sent them. Though the deadline for the program was February 1, 2010, I had already completed my application by November 1, 2009. And, I just kept the sealed envelope on my desk until it seemed appropriate to actually send it in.

Sending it in this year was no coincidence. Once I decided to go ahead with my mastectomy (my December 2009 revelation), I sent in my application. I had every intention of attending the program this year until some stressors at work presented. Having to delay my mastectomy meant that I would also have to delay my doctoral work. So, I’ve deferred admission until next year, when my surgery is complete and when I can feel more confident that my work situation is in a better place.

It’s funny, the day I received notice that I was accepted, I actually felt smarter. I felt wiser. I felt more knowledgeable. It was  a very familiar sensation, actually. The day I decided to go ahead with my mastectomy, I felt at peace. I felt empowered. I felt stronger. And, while there are days that I’m scared out of my mind, I know that the steps I am taking to reduce my risk of hereditary cancer give me more confidence to pursue life.

Reminders come in very mysterious ways. They come in our dreams, in chance meetings with people, in Church or religious places of worship, and, heck, I’ll give that they can happen at Chuck E Cheese (did I really just write that??). Confidence in one area, without a doubt, leads to confidence in other areas of our lives. It feels good to have both confidence in ourselves and confidence in others. Kindness. Humility. Respect. In 25-seconds, this young girl reminded me of all of these pieces of our souls, and she reminded me of the ways in which we can both give confidence to others and inspire others to have confidence in themselves.

Peace, love, and good things in strange places,


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