Monday, April 23, 2012


I find myself suddenly seized by the desire to take a long trip, the kind that requires a great big suitcase.  What few travels I have done recently—oh, over at least the past two decades, truth be told—have merited at best a small suitcase, the kind one takes through security and to the jetway in hopes that there will be enough overhead space to cram it onto the plane and thus avoid the wait at the baggage carousel.  I want to take a trip that unambiguously calls for an enormous suitcase.  Such a trip would include multiple cities, perhaps even variations in climate, and at least one train ride.  I would need running shoes to lace up for early morning explorations of strange towns and some strappy sandals for dinners in out-of-the-way restaurants, where I would try heretofore unknown dishes.   I would bring a bathing suit for lounging poolside or at the beach, but also a sweater for hikes into the woods. I want to carry a dog-eared tour book in my bag with temples, historic districts and local markets tagged by post-it notes, and also a book listing common phrases in a language I do not speak, although I know that ultimately I’d fall back on hand motions and the kindness of strangers to get me through stumbling conversations. I want my suitcase to have a lot of little pockets, into which I would stuff the unfamiliar coins of other currencies and maybe a shiny pebble or a seashell or two.  In the end, even this suitcase will prove insufficient and I will buy another bag to carry back treasures and gifts, causing a logistical challenge at the airport on the way home.  I want pack a very large suitcase and take a long trip.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

I don't often have a lot of children in my life (unless you count my husband, ba-dum-DUM). But lately I've been spending what is for me an extraordinary amount of time with the 10-and-under set, and to my surprise I've found the experience quite educational. I expected boundless energy, spontaneous demonstrations of affection, and not a small amount of bodily fluids. None of these presumptions have been proven unfounded yet.

But children, I am learning, are also remarkably generous little creatures. When my girls' running team got headbands for every lap completed, and Alliyah ended up with two glittery ones and Shoyanna had none, Alliyah simply handed one of hers over. This required no conversation or cajoling; she just assumed that the bounty should be evenly distributed if everyone is to have a good time. When Paul toddled by a platter filled with cherry tomatoes, he gleefully handed some to anyone within reach not already eating. (Ok, they were covered with drool because he's two and so, ultimately, maybe not super appealing, but it's the thought that counts.) Max used his skills at hockey to raise $1800 to help the homeless, and while I'm not sure how much of the story of struggle, loss, incarceration, and ultimately redemption Max was able to absorb, I suspect that someday he'll remember the parallels in his life and that of Marque and will retain the empathy and compassion that he demonstrated raising money for this charity. Keira reminded me how to count in French and gleefully shared that most precious of possessions: knowledge that can makes one's world seem boundless. Even the littlest one, Sophie, never stinted on the smiles.

For weeks I have seen one impulsive expression of altruism after another from these children; small little humans who are of many races, sexes, ages, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. While I'll concede that eleven children do not a scientific sample make, I will nevertheless conclude that those under ten maintain an embrace of concepts like "fairness," and "kindness," and "munificence," even in the absence of their being able to understand those actual words.

So what happens? How do we end up with so many selfish, uncaring adults? Are our teenaged years really so terrible that we lose these instincts? Do we lose our moral bearings in the same way that we do that incredible physical flexibility that allows kids to hunker and put their feet in their mouths? (I can't even touch my toes, what the hell happened over the last 34 years?)

All of these children are growing up in the shadow of a Congress that seeks to hoard so much of the nation's wealth for so very few people. Worse still, it seeks to punish the least powerful among us, denying children food and withholding from their parents affordable homes or wages high enough to care for them. I think that were these children and I to have a conversation about politics--which quite frankly none of us are inclined to do when there are so many more interesting things to talk about, but if we did--these kids would find these policies baffling, too. If there are dozens of tomatoes, why shouldn't everyone have one? If I know how to do something special, why not use that skill to help others or teach them how to do it too? If an ex-felon can become a mentor with just a little help, why deny him that aid? I suspect that, as is typically the case, these children would have so many questions (so, so many questions...always). I wish I could invite Eric Cantor to running practice so that the girls and I could ask him at least this one: just how many hairbands do you and your friends really need?