Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I wanted to be a figure skater. I’d watch the ice dancing nationals faithfully each winter, even if that meant putting life and limb at risk by hiding the remote control from my brother who wanted to watch hockey on the other channel. (The “other channel” literally. We could get exactly 2 channels in our rural northern community… Sometimes 3 if the weather was really really good.)
The fact that I was the most clumsy and least graceful child of any of my friends, family, community, and mild acquaintances didn’t deter me one bit from going to bed with happy visions of gliding and twirling in my head. What can I say? I was a dreamer.
My youngest son is a dreamer too. At age five, he has his whole life planned out. His aspirations, in chronological order, are to: run the Ice Cream Truck, become an Astronaut, become a Doctor, and then finally settle down and be an Engineer like Daddy. He will buy the house next door to us for $100 dollars (he has already started saving), so he can be the Daddy and I can be the Grandma. This kid is going places.
And my oldest son? Well, my oldest is eight years old, and on the Autism Spectrum. He has never once expressed a goal, an aspiration, or any indication that he dreams of the future. That is, until very recently.
My youngest was reviewing his master plan with me, when I turned to my oldest and asked him what he wanted to do when he got bigger. I am forever asking him questions and holding space for him to speak. Meaning that I need to hush everyone for a few moments, and perhaps just gently rub his back while giving him time to process and time to think. Just because he is slow to speak doesn’t mean he has nothing to say.
So I asked, and used the few moments of silence to wait breathlessly, hoping that this moment will be one of the few precious moments that he lets me into his world just a tiny bit more.
We sat for nearly a minute when he whispered, “Be a teacher.”
“You want to be a teacher? That’s wonderful! You would like to be a teacher like Mr. C?”
I paused. I held space.
“Be a teacher… who sits with kids.” He clarified slowly.
A teacher who sits with kids. Just like the one-on-one Teacher’s Aides who have sat by his side his entire school experience. A teacher who makes him feel safe, and understood. A teacher who truly gets to know him, so they can anticipate his needs, fill in the gaps, and inspire him to achieve new things. He wants to be that teacher for other children some day.
“You’d like to sit with kids like Mrs. W and Mrs. C?”
“Yes. I will sit with the kids.”
And just like that, he let me in, and I got to learn more about this boy I call son. He looks up to his Aides. He thinks of others. He wants to pay forward the kindness and help he himself has received. He is an incredible, thoughtful person.
Holding space. Perhaps it’s a term you have heard but didn’t quite understand. I’m sure there are many ways to hold space for another person, but this is how I do it for my son. I wait for him. I listen. I invite him into conversations, and be a buffer against the other voices trying to fill the silence and steal his spot. I make room for him to express his opinions. He doesn’t always speak, but I will never stop inviting him into the conversation, and never stop hoping. He belongs in my conversations. He belongs in my world. He belongs in this world.
I am 100% convinced that you also know someone who could use some space. The quiet person. The wallflower. The one who surprises you with what they say when they do speak. Try holding a space for them this week, and see what you learn about them. You will probably find another incredible person beneath the silence that is worth knowing.
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