Friday, April 14, 2017

Charity And Compassion

About three years ago I was at my cousin's bar mitzvah.  During the ceremony his parents got up to speak about what is was like raising him.  They told a story of when he was maybe 11 or 12 years old and the family was on vacation.  The parents had given the boy some money for souvenirs.  He decided, however, to use some of his souvenir money to buy lunch for a homeless man.  As I heard this story I was overwhelmed with emotions.  What an amazing boy -- and amazing parents -- to use money for himself on a total stranger.  You don't find too many tween boys who would do that.  I was filled with hope that my kids would one day show such selflessness and compassion.

Fast forward to today  I currently live in an area where there are a decent number of homeless people around.  We see them as we walk to the subway.  We see some beggars downtown asking for money.  We also encounter a lot of people begging as we drive.  Several people stand at intersections with signs saying things like "No job and two kids.  Trying to take care of my children."  Or we see "Displaced due to domestic violence.  Please help."  Or even "Have no home.  Sleeping on the street.  Anything helps."

My kids have obviously noticed this and we have talked about it over the last year or two.  Now that my boys can read they have started asking more specific questions about the signs and the people.  It's hard to explain to children an issue that our most educated folks in America cannot solve, but every time we talk about it I feel like I explain the issue as best I can to a child and each boy will process it on whatever level he can at that moment.

My boys started to tell me that we should give the beggars money.  I have given money once or twice before and my mother-in-law recently gave someone some money too.  I think that triggered something in my kids.  They encourage me to give money every time we see someone now.  One young girl had a sign saying that she had no home and that particularly interested Jeff.  A couple days ago we were stopped at a light and saw her again just as it started to rain.  I had some change and I asked Jeff if he wanted to give her some money.  I rolled down his window and he gave the woman some coins.  Jeff, in his typical Jeff style, needed to talk out everything that was in his head.  He told the young lady that he saw her sign and it said she had no home and he told her that maybe this money could help get her a home.  She was so grateful.

There is something so touching about the innocence and optimism of a child.  As an adult in his 40s I have become more jaded and more individualistic.  Seeing how Jeff connected with this woman, talked with her, hoped for the best for her and how touched she was talking to him for just those 30 seconds showed me the power in charity and compassion.  I'm not saying I'll change overnight, but I hope I'll be more willing to give a dollar to a person in need.  I already bought a newspaper that a homeless man was selling.  I'm not saying that should garner me any applause, I'm just saying it's a start.  Right?


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Brutal, Brutal Playground

I had heard about bullying.  We've all heard about it.  We know it's a major problem among kids today.  There is bullying in person and, just as troubling or maybe even more so, is cyber bullying.  I knew that it was going to be something I'd have to deal with sooner or later but who knew that I would be so mad about it already.

I'm not sure that what is happening is technically bullying.  I get it that my kids are hanging out with 5 and 6 year old kids.  They are barely capable of putting on their socks let alone masterminding a plot to psychologically hurt another child so I'm not trying to blow this out of proportion.  I know this is just part of life and kids learning how to socialize.  But it does suck when your child feels hurt due to someone else's actions.

Sometimes it's hard to know if there really was a problem.  One kid was "pushed" which turned out to just be a bunch of kids knocking into each other on the playground according to a teacher.  One kid was laughed at because of a face he made and the teacher said it was simply one kid laughing and others laughing at the laughing which then was misconstrued and blown out of proportion.  There are times when I believe you just have to learn to walk away, shake it off or ignore it.  

My boys are sensitive, though.  Some of it, I believe, is nature and some is nurture.  I think they happen to be sweet and Derek and I encourage that kind of behavior.  Neither Derek or I believe that they should "man up" or only play with guns and tanks because that's what boys do.  They like cartoons that are more about relationships than beating bad guys.  

I, personally, have been told that I needed to relax and stop worrying about other people when I was planning a party and I was so worried about making sure that no one would be friendless and everyone would know at least one other person at the party.  I do worry about things like that.  I have a bad temper and no patience at times but I also constantly wonder if others are OK.  I just googled empathetic people and found several memes that I identify with...
  1. If you see someone fall over you always wince rather than laugh.
  2. If someone wears inappropriate clothing you feel compelled to ask them if they're the right temperature.  
  3. You can tell when you're boring someone and it makes you feel awful.
  4. You expect other people to be as empathetic as you and you get angry when they can't tell that you're upset.  
So when my boys are excluded from playing a game or called a name it hurts and there's not much I can really do but be supportive and tell them I love them and will always be their friend.  There's one boy in particular who seems to be the leader of the "mean boys" (as my boys call them) and believe me I want to call his mother and tell her to teach her boy some manners.  My boys, with their big hearts, invited him to their birthday party anyway.  He's not coming and, to be honest, I'm a little bit grateful.  If he did come I'm not saying the cake might not "accidentally" wind up on his head.  


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Empathy

Last week I was so sick.  I caught some bug that was making its way through my kids' school.  After one of my boys got sick it hit me.  Aaron came up to me while I was laying on my "death bed" and showed me a picture he drew.  It had the names of colors and dots on it and he explained how it was a little game.  I could match the dots with the words.  (Honestly, the game didn't make much sense but I'm sure it was a thrilling game to a four year old.)  He also wrote

"Getwelson"

and

"Yuahhebestdadeevr"

For those of you who don't speak four year old handwriting (although I bet most of you got it) he told me "get well soon" and "you are the best daddy ever."

Of course that immediately made me feel better.  What touched me most was his empathy.  My little monstrous children who for years have only thought of themselves and their own interests (because that's what little children do) were getting the fact that I was hurting and needed help.  It's not the first time this has happened.  My kids have given me bites of their desserts when I didn't have one, sent stuffed animals to work with me so I won't be alone and given me kisses and hugs to cheer me up.  But I think this card/picture/creation hit me harder than before.

Why?

Because of what our world is facing.  Because of the Orange Demon and his vile team who have taken over the White House.

After Aaron gave me my present I really wondered what kind of childhood this man had to turn him into such an unfeeling, uncaring monster.  I have no idea how he -- along with hundreds if not thousands businessmen like Madoff and Diamond and Stumpf -- can do such hateful things to so many people.  I have no understanding of how someone can have such disregard for other people's lives.

I am grateful I live in my bubble in which my friends and family want to find ways to support the Syrian refugees, not ban them from entering the country.  I am happy my friends and family are willing to pay a little more in taxes to keep safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid instead of cutting taxes so the rich keep an extra million that they don't need for a third or fourth or fifth house.  I love that my friends and family are humble enough to admit that they have good lives because often (not always) their parents gave them things like a good education, warm clothes in the winter, breakfast every morning and we know that those less fortunate can be in their position through systematic failings and not just personal ineptitude or laziness.

I am by no means perfect.  I am not someone who buys a homeless man a sandwich or protests inequality at marches or even is consistent with donating money.  But I'd like to think that at the very least I'm teaching my children not to hate, understand when others are hurting, and to feel grateful for the things they have.  Hopefully when my kids grow up and their generation takes over control of this country things will be different than they are now thanks to what Derek and I (and our friends and family) are teaching them.  I'll try to find some comfort in that idea for the next few years.  I believe the world can continue to become more empathetic and kind despite this temporary setback.