Committee for Children Blog

On the Importance of Being Crazy About a Child

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“Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid, and vice versa! But what does ‘crazy’ mean? It means that the adult in question regards this particular child as somehow special—even though objectively the adult may well know that this is not the case… For the child, the adult is also special—someone to whom the child turns most readily in trouble and in joy, and whose comings and goings are central to the child’s experience and wellbeing.”

Urie Bronfenbrenner, 1917-2005, Psychologist and Founder of Head Start

I like this quote because it uses the word “crazy.” No one is in this business because they feel ambivalent about children’s well-being. We’re here because we’re crazy about kids. And it turns out that’s a pretty good thing to be.

I like hearing people’s stories about the adult(s) who were crazy about them when they were children. Some people only had one or two; some, like me, were lucky enough to have several. It doesn’t mean I was the center of the universe or in any way spoiled; it just means that the “village” that raised me had a largish population.

One member of that population was Darrel, the youth pastor at the church my family and I moved to when I was 14. He and his wife, JoAnn, were the kind of people every kid should have in his or her life: responsible grown-ups to whom I felt comfortable telling stuff I didn’t feel I could tell my parents, probably because they always spoke to me like a peer. There was no dumbing down, no condescension, no—and I use this word deliberately—preaching. They were young enough to still be “cool” and old enough to make me feel safe.

The incident that comes to mind when I think about my positive relationship with Darrel and JoAnn was, at first blush, insignificant. But it had a lasting effect on me. I was a busy kid—good grades, about a billion extracurricular activities, and lots of babysitting—and I expected a lot of myself. This was evidenced by the stress headaches I had on an almost daily basis. And on this day in particular, around the beginning of my junior year in high school, I had a bunch of errands to run, one of which was dropping something off at Darrel and JoAnn’s house—an errand I felt I didn’t have time to do.

But there I was, standing just inside the front door of their little Victorian-era house, leaning on the banister of the staircase that led to the second floor, when Darrel gave me one of those looks that made me feel like he could read what was written on my brain. “How are you?” he asked. And I’m talking a real “how are you,” not the casual “how’s it going” that so often passed for a greeting between my friends and me. He asked because he genuinely wanted to know how I was.

So I rolled it all out for him. I had a mammoth math test coming up the next day for which I didn’t feel prepared, and the dominoes were already falling in my Type-A, overachieving teenage mind: If I didn’t pass this test, I might get a bad grade in math. If I got a bad grade in math, I wouldn’t make it into my first choice of college. If I didn’t make it into my first choice of college, I wouldn’t get a good job. If I didn’t get a good job, I wouldn’t be able to support myself…

Very softly but with complete authority, Darrel cut across my histrionics with one word: “Stop.”

I blinked, surprised. “What?”

“Stop. I know this is hard for you to believe, but when you’re an adult, you won’t be able to remember how you did on that math test. But you will remember if you make yourself sick worrying about it. And I know that no matter what, you will do your best.” Somehow he managed to pull me out of my self-centered teen angst without making me feel self-conscious or stupid.

All through my college and post-grad career, Darrel’s words would float back to me—especially at times when I was particularly worried about my academic performance.

I probably don’t have to tell you how the story ends: I did get into my first choice of college; I did get a great job; I am able to support myself.

And you know what? Although I will always remember Darrel’s kindness to and care for me, I have no idea how I did on that math test.

Allison Wedell Schumacher is Committee for Children’s PR and Communications Manager, and the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard. She is still friends with Darrel and JoAnn.