Sometimes it’s a command, sometimes it’s a question. It’s always insistent.
I hear it countless times each day from my 2-year-old, less often now from my 4-year-old.
Despite the willfully independent natures of both my children, they don’t hesitate to ask me to help them ‘up’ when they feel in need. They might cry ‘Up!’ for a cuddle, because they fell over, because they’re scared, because the back steps are too hot for their soft bare feet in the midday sun or…just because they crave closeness in a moment for no particular reason at all.
The response to those two little hands reaching up is instinctive and universal.
I see it at the park when Dad reaches down, mid-analysis of last night’s rugby game, without pausing or breaking eye contact, to scoop up the toddler tugging on his leg.
I see it in the shopping center when a preschooler loses sight of Mum for more seconds than he’s comfortable with and the panic starts to rise. They lock eyes, arms reach up and are met in reassurance.
We recognize instantly when a child needs lifting up, often without the need for words at all. We stop what we’re doing. We respond. We lift them up – physically and metaphorically – and suddenly everything feels better.
So why do we stop?
Why do so many of us learn to stop asking for help ‘up’ in such a clear and unselfconcious way ourselves? Why do we stop watching and listening so intently for the request in others? And why do we learn to measure our responses to requests for help up as we grow, instead of reacting instinctively, like we do with our small children?
I’ve been reflecting on these questions a lot this year. Not only in the context of being confronted with the need to ask for help up in the career transition I am embarking on – from professional writer to published author – but also in a wider framework.
I wonder if our society’s result-oriented focus teaches our children to be independent, self-directed success stories (all potentially wonderful attributes) at the expense of valuing and nurturing their inherent empathy, kindness and vulnerability.
It seems to me that asking for a hand up is something we un-learn as we emerge from childhood, only to then have to re-learn later in life. Because sooner or later the realization dawns: if we stop asking for a helping hand up when we need it, it’s awfully limiting. No man is an island…no truer words were ever writ.
I learn (or re-learn) so many valuable lessons when I transition my world view to that of a child, in order to write stories for children. Today the lesson I value (as I write a picture book story on a similar theme) is that asking for help up is more than just ok…it’s absolutely essential and the only way we grow in life.
It’s a lesson I’m glad I spent the past few years re-learning. And I’m especially grateful that I learnt it before embarking on my publishing journey. I’m going to need help on my way up by the bucket load, and a good measure of resilience too.
A typical type-A personality and first-born child, my life mantra has been “I can do it myself!” since I was about 2 years old. I found I could puzzle through most things more or less under my own steam; navigating a career path, living abroad, etc. It was motherhood that made me really pause and admit that I couldn’t “do it all” alone, nor did I have to. I had to ask for help. And that’s when everything changed. Because here’s the rub: people love helping other people. It feels great. But as adults we don’t often offer unsolicited help up to other adults. We wait to be asked, assuming our grown up friends, family or colleagues will ask if they need it. They won’t always. Not in so many words, anyway.
Helping each other up can be a beautiful cycle. The more you ask for and are helped up in life, the better positioned you are to reach out and help lift the person next to you up to where they need to be. Imagine if we could all ask, recognize and act on ‘up’ instinctively, the way we do with our children.
For today, I want to thank the people I have in my life who continue to lift me up when I need it. I’m grateful on a daily basis to my incredible family and friends, but I want to shout out specific thanks a few of the folks that have helped me begin to navigate the children’s publishing world these past months. I have called on dear friend and incredibly talented writer Marianne de Pierres for advice. I have found a new friend and like-minded collaborator in author/illustrator Sharon Clark. I have been inspired by and received encouragement from award-winning children’s author Michelle Worthington and the Share Your Story tribe. I have referenced the valuable resources (online and human!) at the Queensland Writer’s Centre. I’m grateful to all and I look forward to taking my turn in the author ‘up’ cycle, when I may be able to help the next aspiring author out.
So here’s to the continued practice of lifting each other ‘up’ in life and suddenly feeling better because of it, whether we are the ones doing the reaching or the lifting.