What kids don’t know is, us parents, we’re learning and evolving right along side them. We make mistakes, don’t have the answers, and learn something new everyday too.
I had a big lesson a few weeks ago. It keeps popping into my head and I figure by acknowledging it here, I can accept that I have learned from it and move on.
We were walking downtown Vancouver during the Olympics. Exhilaration and energy filled the air. Kaya pointed in wonder at all things new: zip lines, buses, inukshuks, bald guys, traffic lights, and so on. We were waiting for the walk signal when she points at something else. “Look at that!” said in confusion and curiosity. Glancing towards her gaze, I see a homeless man nestled in the corner of a 7-11 with a cardboards sign and upside down hat. My heart clenches, my mind races, and the walk sign appears. “Oh ya, look at that.” I hurry while pulling her to cross the street.
To be honest, at the time, we are carried forward to more Olympic excitement and I forget about the exchange. I forget that I acknowledge that person in that situation as I would have a puppy dog or a fire blower. I forget that my daughter, 3 years old or not, was looking to me for guidance and I modeled ignorance. I forget about all that. For a time.
It is only later, when things are quiet at home, that I have a chance to reflect on the day and that moment floods back to me. I recall the look on Kaya’s face, the concern, the confusion. I recall my blatant denial of the whole situation while I rush her to cross the street in time. With time to process the situation, I am still not sure what was the right course of action. She is 3 years old and a very sensitive 3-year-old at that. I don’t really want her to know about the world’s hardships yet but she shouldn’t grow up in a protective bubble either. What is an appropriate talk about the homeless to a preschooler. I still can not come up with an answer. What I do know is that I should have acknowledged her curiosity. I should have smiled at the man, gave him some money or at the very least wished him a good day. I should have modeled for my daughter empathy and compassion. Not avoidance or my jaded belief that the money would go towards drugs and alcohol.
The beautiful thing about kids is, they are not jaded. They have no preconceived notion of a situation and want only to help. Maybe my money would go to booze. Or maybe, just maybe, it would go towards food or socks or bus fare. This man is a son and probably a husband, father, sibling and friend too. This is where my daughter can be my teacher. (How many times are my daughters my teacher? Amazing. If they only knew!) Strip away all the labels and stereotypes and there is just a guy. A guy who needs a hand. That is what I should have taught. That is what I will teach from now on. Empathy and compassion can never hurt.
In true serendipitous form, I am browsing through books at a bookstore a few days later and come across a book called The World Needs Your Kid. The first page I flip to, I read:
One icy winter day, 5-year-old Hannah was driving down a back lane with her mom when she noticed a shivering man, eating out of a garbage can. “What is that man doing?” she screamed. Her mom struggled to explain in simple but honest language that some people are poor, hungry, down on their luck. “Until that moment, Hannah believed everyone had what she had,” her mom recalls. “A home, a bed, love and care.” Hannah says she’ll forever remember the sight of that homeless man. “I actually think I felt my heart crack.”
The look on Kaya’s face, I now realize, told me her heart was cracking. Then it hits me. Protecting my daughter from reality hurts not only her, but the world around. Because kids are the best of us and the best of us can help. She can help. I buy the book immediately. There are no coincidences.