My daughter is a full-on, hard-core, no-holds-barred greeter. She, quite literally, says hi to everyone. But then, she only turned 1 a few months ago.
The first time she looked at me with her happy blue eyes and offered up "Hi!" in her soft voice, my heart melted. In the months since it became the word of the day, I've witnessed her share it with just about anyone she meets.
Our grocery shopping has stretched from a quick in-and-out experience to a prolonged journey, slowed at every turn by Katie taking the time to call out "Hi!" to anyone who crosses our path. Customers. Cashiers. Butchers. Bakers. Aisle after aisle, we stop to chat with those who return her hellos.
It's the same thing at restaurants, doctors' offices and the community pool. I've even heard her greet cars driving past our house, oblivious to the fact they can't hear her, and undeterred by their refusal to slow down.
At first, I thought it was incredible - my clever girl, and all that. Then I thought it was adorable. She's mine, I'm biased, but it's pretty darn cute. Then, as is typical with new mothers, I started to worry. What about when people don't say hi back? How would my daughter feel? Would she stop trying? Give up? Feel terribly hurt? Drop out of high school? Become a recluse?
Remarkably, though, several months into her cheerful but relentless saying "Hi," she's still at it. She doesn't care if you don't answer, she simply tries again. If that doesn't work, she repeats and waves at the same time. Once, she even clapped her hands.
What's more impressive than her determined spirit is the reaction she elicits from other people. Almost no one can resist returning her hello, from the sweetest little ladies in the village shop to the toughest-looking crew of bikers to roll through town. There is something about her pureness of heart that moves others to say hi.
I've noticed that most people laugh as they answer, as if tickled by the rarity of a total stranger stopping to connect with them. It's funny how that works.
I became accustomed to returning Katie's greeting throughout the day. I'm the first to admit I jump in to say hello whenever her intended listener doesn't hear her. If that's helicopter parenting in the name of preserving self-esteem, so be it. The word has simply become part of the fabric of our days as we make our way through the world.
I was accustomed, that is, until one day when the word took on a life of its own.
Awaiting an appointment, I spent a recent morning chasing Katie up and down the hallways of the children's hospital. As usual, she took the time to cheerfully greet every radiologist, resident, custodian and patient to walk by.
Then a little boy came around the corner. His mother was pushing his wheelchair and his father was following close behind. Most people shuffled out of the way to clear space.
Clearly challenged in a number of ways, the child strained against his own body as the chair moved forward.
Almost unconsciously, the adults lining the hall looked away in that awkward gesture of not wanting to stare, pry or draw attention. Not Katie, though.
She followed that wheelchair down the hall in the flip-flop-flip-flop gait of the baby still learning to toddle. She marched right up to the boy, looked him in the eye and offered up her trademark word: "Hi!"
I'm not sure if he heard her, or could hear. I can't tell you that he replied, or smiled, even. He couldn't. He was quiet for a minute, though, and somehow, on some level, I feel certain he knew she was speaking to him.
His parents looked at Katie, smiled and offered their own hello before turning their thoughts back to their son. Katie and I sat listening as they hummed gently to him while they waited their turn, stroking his hair and arms with a calming touch.
That's when I realized that Katie isn't just greeting people. She's doing something so many of us let go of as we grow older and harder. She's offering to care - even if she doesn't know you - and she's making a difference one teeny, tiny hello at a time.
There are many, many things I've dreamed of teaching my daughter. About life and love and fun and laughter. About good food and great movies and even better music. About finding your passion and giving of yourself and working hard.
We're just one year in, though, and she's already taught me more than I could ever hope to offer. She's accomplished this simply by being herself.
On the drive home, I wondered to myself just how often people actually stop to chat with that little boy in his chair, incapable of answering, but there. There. And I felt glad to know someone like Katie.
Amanda Olliver lives in Hudson, Que.