When were you last gifted with a smile?

Not a white-washed, Colgate-bright celebrity smile that screams at you from the cover of glossy magazines and sets your teeth on edge, but a genuine smile given person to person, in real time.

Sitting behind the plexiglass window at my day-job I look out at the customers as they file past me and try to smile as much as I can. Adults usually return the smile in a blank, soul-less kind of way that means they have a million other things on their mind right now and yes, they might be speaking to you but they don’t really see you. To be honest I probably give out that smile too; on a busy day when hundreds of people walk past me, shucking their clothes in the foyer to get themselves in the pool even quicker, I frankly don’t have the time or patience to meet everyone’s eye.

Springs Reception R4.3WS(credit)

But it’s different with the kids.

My desk sits quite low and puts me on a level with the children who come along to the pool; usually with their parents, sometimes (if they’re older) alone. It is a nice place to be because, when they’re not screaming down the customer microphone and deafening me with feedback, they look at and really see me.

I know this because as they stare through the glass, their expression is often one of intense concentration; the young mind processing who or what they are seeing and whether it is interesting or funny or a threat. I always try to smile at these kids – yes, because its my job – but also because I remember how overwhelming the world of Grown Ups can be at a young age.

Some of them see my smile and turn away; that familiar gesture on a stranger’s face is just too much to bear. They seek comfort in their Mum’s arms or behind Dad’s leg. Then, as they walk away, they often look back to see if my smile is still there. It is and I like to think that that constancy gives them hope that the Big Wide World might not be such a scary place.



Others take my smile as a cue to strike up a conversation; mainly one-sided as they regale me with tales of who they are with, why they are here and what they had for lunch that day. I know I don’t have to use words to take part in this interaction, just keep smiling and maybe make the occasional nod or wide-eyes to give the kid confidence in their own voice, their own words. My smile is to tell them that they matter, that someone is hearing them speak and knows the things they simply had to say.




Then there are my favourite kids: the ones who are somewhere in between the chronically shy and the helplessly confident, the kids who smile back. They don’t speak and their eyes are usually quite intense; checking me out, checking the smile I’m offering is real. When they realise that it is their gaze opens up, their eyes shine and their mouth curves into a smile: unique, utterly theirs and so genuine, loving and heartful that for a brief second I forget I am looking at a child. They are simply human, another being, another soul travelling through this life and connecting with me for a brief, beautiful instant.


I hope that somewhere, in thoughts that they may not have fully developed yet, they recognise that moment too. That gradually they come to know the power of a smile and sharing of a moment; the need to truly be seen by another person. It happens so rarely in our super-fast, self-service society that those moments are a precious gift to be treasured.

And if we received this gift more often perhaps there’d be less need for plexiglass windows and perhaps we’d all wear a real smile more often.

Who has lifted your heart with a smile recently?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Starshine
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 17:25:47

    I know exactly what you mean. I’m not a huge child fan, I often find their noise intrusive and annoying! But the smiles are real, their interactions are real. And they can often be acutely sensitive to and aware of things that adults routinely screen out due to a list of inconveniences or judgements that they have established to wall such things out; such as the homeless person with a cardboard notice asking for change, the lost or stray dog sniffing around aimlessly needing food or shelter. Children are innately and hugely empathetic, their boundaries haven’t yet been established which makes them both vulnerable and incredibly sincere. Walking home the other day, tense and emotionally strained, I looked up briefly from the pavement and met this little girls smile, her eyes looked straight at mine, and in that moment I read in her kind expression “I can see that you’re sad, I hope you feel better soon.” It really touched me and made me smile to myself for the rest of the walk home. I don’t think I’ve ever met a smile like that on an adult.


    • kelitomlin
      Feb 13, 2014 @ 17:43:25

      You’re right, children are often free of the fears and doubts inspired by the social commentary we build up as we grow. That freedom can be inspiring and healing for us grown ups! Like the experience you had thanks to that little girl; thank you for sharing it. Sounds wonderful 🙂


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All written materials and images, unless otherwise stated, are property of Kelly Tomlin 2016.
We gather together to Walk the Wheel; to share with one another and be inspired.