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  • Writer's pictureHelen Cottee

What a five year old taught me last week

On a Wednesday I teach five-year-olds.

They are funny and unfiltered and delightful in so many ways. Last week we were in a Maths lesson and I was teaching them the principle that if

2+4=6 then

22+4=26 and


42+4=46 and so on...

One kid got so excited when she realised this must also mean that 102+4=106 that we all cheered and clapped with her as she gave the answer. Her joy was infectious.

When that kid is 15, she will know more Maths (I hope!). And something that won't happen is that she looks back at the five-year-old version of herself and thinks she was stupid for not understanding the kind of Maths that 15-year-olds know. She probably won't remember it at all, but if she does then I hope she remembers her teacher and her classmates celebrating with her.

And yet, I look back at myself ten years ago and err on the side of shame. I feel ridiculous that I made the decisions I did about where to put my time and energies, about the lack of boundaries I had, that I let people influence what I thought I had to believe about myself, God, and the world so strongly.

I find it so hard to celebrate the fact that I was doing the best that I could with what I had, just like the five-year-old was doing the best she could with the Maths knowledge she had. I didn't expect her to do something she couldn't do - that would be crazy and also cruel.

And so I am starting to look back at myself through different eyes - kinder eyes. I look back and see that wherever I could, I did the best with what I had. Then I remind myself that this kindness will also go forward to the future 'me'. She will know more still and will likely look back at the person I am today and think about how she would make different decisions, but hopefully, she will still see that 2021-Helen was doing the best she could with what she had.

In many ways, I hope you look back at things you thought, what you did, what you believed ten years ago, and eye-roll a little. Because that will mean you have grown and developed. I hope you have learned to change your mind about important things like who is deserving of your love, and the nature of God, and why you give your talents where you do, and what you call work, and what it means to be 'you'. Take a moment to think about how far you've come and then celebrate all you did with what you had.

Then keep moving. Keep changing your mind. Keep evolving forward. The 'you' who will exist in ten years' time will thank you for it.

As you look back, where can you see that you have grown out of an old belief? What boundaries do you have that you didn't have ten years ago? What is new about the way you see and understand yourself? and the world?

And where do you sense you may be on the precipice of needing to change your mind again?

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