“Mom, will you go with me?” Mitch said softly as he pointed toward a towering set of stairs leading to a waterslide.  Mitch loved his mom and always felt safe when she was near.  Natalie lifted Mitch in her arms and began to make the long upward journey.  It was unseasonably hot for that time of year – so any chance at getting in the water was welcome.

As Natalie rounded the stairs, Mitch saw me in the distance and waved with his fingers.  My heart melted as I saw a boy whose muscles were made weak from disease and a mother who was made strong through the struggle.  Those two made a beautiful symphony whose songs I still hear in my heart.

... being seen wasn’t about vanity, it was about validation
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As I look at this photo, I can’t help but think of the thousands of photos where my kids looked over to see if mom and I were watching them.  Not only do I have photos of them looking over at us, but I also captured their expressions of relief, appreciation, and fresh courage when they knew they mattered.  Growing up, I remember how often being seen by an adult mattered to me.  At least for me, being seen wasn’t about vanity, it was about validation.  And it didn’t take many moments of validation to make a profound difference in my life.  Being seen was as simple as having a parent ask me how my day went, a scout leader taking a moment to make a personal observation about me, or my high school English teacher who saw something in me I did not.  To those adults, those encounters may have seemed insignificant – but to me, they were pivotal moments … shaping moments.  I’ll never forget those good people for their positive contribution to my life.

Mitch also had great school teachers who saw him – and when they saw him, he felt empowered to be the best version of himself.  His principal, Shelly Davis, always took the time to let Mitch know she cared.  She had mastered the art of seeing the children in her school – and every single one of them felt noticed and special.  I am forever grateful for Mitchell’s Principal and teachers who made my little boy, who was unsure of his place in the universe, feel that he mattered and that he had an important role to play.  That is, in my experience, the best education of all; to learn that no matter how big or small, each of us has something to contribute.  Everybody has value.

As the school year starts, I think about my 3 remaining children.  Laura-Ashley is in college forging her way through young adulthood with plans to pursue nursing.  Ethan is a Junior and already taking college-level classes in film and cinematography.  Wyatt is now in 6th grade – showing signs of a bright and promising future.  Though I have many things on my mind and work tugging for my attention, I will not forget the lessons I learned in my youth and those same lessons I saw play out in Mitchell’s life.  Today, tomorrow, and for as long as I live, I’ll make sure I take the time to see my kids and recognize the good in them. 

Although both are vital for healthy relationships, it’s my experience giving your attention has a greater impact than giving someone your time.  With technology at our fingertips, it is so easy to spend time with someone – but never really show up.  Twenty minutes of sincere connection has more influence than 20 hours of being somewhere but nowhere.  Those pivotal moments in my youth were short conversations – but they were focused and sincere.  These good people gave me their attention – and that made all the difference.

I hope as Mitchell’s life was coming to an end, that his mind was filled with moments like this photo – where he was seen, loved and validated.  Of all the gifts we can give each other, those are chief among them.

This Essay is part of the September Seasonal Content.  Visit each month to get more.

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