Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sophie grows up; I grow a little too

The most annoying and disturbing thing happened yesterday. I tried to encourage compassion in my child and almost ended up throttling a homeless person.

Here's what happened. Sophie and I were walking out of a neighborhood bookstore we frequent and passed a homeless older woman sitting on the sidewalk collecting coins in a plastic cup. I usually give Sophie a little money to give to homeless people, especially those we see regularly around town (there are quite a few; Berkeley has good weather and a liberal temperament). I've tried to teach her that not everyone is as fortunate as we are and that it's good to share what you have. But as I fished in my purse, Sophie beat me to it and produced a few coins from her jacket pocket, which she placed in the woman's cup. The woman glared at Sophie, and I wasn't sure if she said anything. When Sophie came over to me I asked her if the woman had thanked her. The woman heard this, threw the coins from her cup and started hurling what I'm sure were obscenities in some other language at Sophie. I quickly placed myself between the two of them and hustled Sophie off.

Sophie was frightened and confused about what had happened. We then had one of those conversations where I know she is asking really important questions but I'm totally making it up as I go and mostly talking out my ass. I tried to explain that she did not do anything wrong and that some people are sort of crazy in the head and do and say things that don't always make sense [at least to us]. Maybe she wanted more money and was offended by the few coins [although Sophie didn't consider the amount meager at all]. Sophie wanted to know why people are poor. I told her that many people are born poor, that some [like this woman] come from other countries that they had to leave because there was nothing to eat or a war [probably sponsored by us]. But many homeless people start off just like us but then go to fight in a war and see and experience things so horrible that they are never the same and can't get or hold down a job. Like what things? she asked. Like people [maybe your family, your children] being killed, like being driven from your home. Too much information for a child? Maybe, but it's true and a reality for children all over the world.

I was trying to model compassion and understanding. I was happy when Sophie said that what happened wouldn't stop her from giving money to other homeless people because she said she knows not all people are the same. But she wished she could have her coins the woman threw on the ground back. And she had bad dreams last night about this woman coming to hurt us. I pointed out that the woman doesn't know where we live and that her daddy and I were there to protect her.

But while I was espousing compassion, I was boiling. I wanted to kick that woman off her grubby spot of pavement, smack her across the face, make her apologize to my daughter, say thank you. And how reasonable is that? I want a homeless beggar to be well-mannered even though she is treated with contempt and indifference, grateful for charity I can't imagine what it must be like to depend on. And I have to admit, when I'm alone, I often walk past these people as if they don't exist. It's only with my child that I feel pulled into their proximity and am asked to consider their existence.

Sophie will be eight tomorrow. She is growing by leaps and bounds, in both body and spirit. I try to teach her, but I'm continually amazed by what she teaches me. Eight years: What a long, strange [but good] trip it's been.

22 comments:

Maria said...

Happy Birthday, Sophie!

(In Japanese it's "O-tanjobi omedeto gozaimasu!")

Libby said...

I think it's quite alright to feel compassion on one hand and "I am Mama Bear and don't you dare f*ck with my little cub" on the other. In fact, I think it says a lot about you that you could have both feelings at the same time. :)


Happy, Happy, Happy 8th Birthday to Sophie!! May it be an amazing year for you and her both!

kristenspina said...

Happy birthday, Sophie!

And yes, I have often felt the same. Our kids are the window to our souls, don't you think?

tulipmom said...

"I was happy when Sophie said that what happened wouldn't stop her from giving money to other homeless people because she said she knows not all people are the same."

You, my friend, have obviously done something (or, more likely ALOT of somethings) right for her to come to this conclusion.

I hope she has a fantastic 8th birthday and a wonderful year!

Adrienne said...

Happy birthday to Sophie! She sounds like an amazing kid -- and wise beyond her years.

KK said...

What an amazing little girl you have! I, too, usually walk past the homeless without looking at them. I'm always trying to avoid them like the plague.

I hope Sophie has a great birthday!

Belle in Bloom said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I struggle with trying to teach my boys compassion and sharing with less fortunate but on the other hand, guarding them and fearing for their saftey when approached by a homeless person. I like how "libby" put it. I love that Sophie still wants to help and understands the difference in people. You are a great Mom.
Happy birthday to Sophie! Next week my boys will be 7 and 10. You're right. What a trip!

maggi said...

Happy Birthday Sophie!!!

Impoverished Preppy said...

What an amazing post - good for you teaching your daughter compassion and consideration for others. I think you handled the situation beautifully - and so did Sophie.

Happy Birthday to your adorable daughter. :-)

KatieGirlBlue said...

What a hard lesson for the little one. You're an amazing mom, though, teaching compassion, awareness, gratitude. I live in a conservative place where the two prevailing approaches toward the homeless population are disdain and avoidance. Neither approach seems to be helping.

I'm sorry about the bad experience, the bad dream. I hope you and Sophie feel better today and that you're all able to enjoy the big birthday!

Jen Yu said...

What Sophie is learning from you is that the world is complex and not black and white. It makes me sad that she had a nightmare - clearly it was on her mind. But consider that you are there for her to guide her through these learning processes and for her to come to for comfort, to touch base, as she grows into what I am sure will be a remarkable woman. From your love and instruction, she'll be able to step into the world with confidence and a good noggin on her shoulders - tools that are priceless.

A very happy 8th bday to Sophie. I hope you pluck the whole damn yard and place it on her cake. xxoo

The Mrs. said...

That is a tough one. I think you did the best you could. The truth is we all do a lot more for people and never get a thank you. Maybe teaching her that to be thankful is the key no matter what's going on in your life?

Jordan said...

Ah, this is a struggle for us, too, as big city dwellers. I've taught my older son to smile and greet homeless people, always showing kindness and compassion to them, but we don't usually give them money in person. I've stressed with the kids that we give money every month to our UU church, which donates it in large amounts to organizations that feed, clothe, and support homeless people, and that we don't always have enough money in our pockets for every individual - and so far I've left out the fact that it ensures that our money goes where we'd like it to go. He also takes part in social justice activities through church and recently spent a fairly boring two hours stacking food pantry shelves. ;-) But after all that, I still feel guilty that I walk by someone on the street and don't give them the coins in my wallet, especially - yes! - when I'm with my kids.

Happy birthday to the fantastic Sophie!

jilly said...

Oh Happy Birthday Sophie! I hope all of your wishes come true!

Cindy, I totally feel your pain on this one. I don't have that motherly instinct, but I can understand it and I think that you are such a wonderful mom, not holding back and sharing with Sophie what real life is really like and all about while at the same time showing her that paying it forward can be a good thing, but some people have never experienced it.

I hope you guys have a wonderful weekend!

MixinMike said...

I'm not sure I get it. Maybe we could try putting ourselves in the homeless woman's shoes. Upon hearing your words "did she say thank you" may have made her feel ashamed. For you, your world is perfect compared to hers. This woman is down and out. She's angry, lonely, scared, frustrated and sad. She's homeless. Our rosy world of thank you's and your welcome are not part of her daily attempts to simply survive. Did you really feel compassion?

Rachel@fairycakeheaven said...

Happy belated birthday to Sophie, I'm not a mother but I think you answered everything as best as you could given the circumstances. I have a pregnanct friend whose due soon and is already fretting about conversations like this when her baby grows up!!

I would have been raging aswell with the woman

Angelina said...

I am very fortunate to have been spared this kind of situation because McMinnville has only two homeless people that wander the streets and they don't actually panhandle.

This reminds me so much of living in California, especially in the city. I would expect a homeless person to be polite if I didn't know that most of them are truly mentally unhinged. So I tend to ignore obscenities or any lack of gratitude. But I think it's a natural desire to want that more polite exchange.

Happy birthday to Sophie!

Monica said...

Wow...I don't blame you for being pissed. I had a similar experience a few years ago with a man on a sidewalk who started yelling at me. Then there was the time I offered someone food that I'd just spent $7-$8 on and he refused it. Hrmph. Sometimes you just can't help everyone.

Sabina said...

what a challenge it is to navigate in this complicated world of having more than some and WAAAY less than others...

i heard a really interesting podcast about this topic of giving to individuals versus homeless support agencies--specifically in santa monica, fondly nicknamed the "home of the homeless"
there was great rationale that giving money with an individual act of kindness doesn't really solve the problem but exacerbates it. if you want me to point you to it, email me. it was on KCRW a few months ago.

i've been hardened by my experiences in what i believed was benevolence, and after i quit handing out coins, i would offer food, and have literally had it thrown back in my face, so then i chose soup kitchens or food banks for my giving. that said, sasha is always buying food for the people outside of picante, and they never throw it in his face.

sorry about the innocence lost. thankfully sophie is a grounded being.

The Mrs. said...

PS honeybaked ham all the way!

E said...

(sorry i'm late) but I hope Sophie had a great birthday! :)

dmmlandcruiser said...

That must have been a scary moment for Sophie. Everything you felt was completely natural.

Please wish Sophie a very Happy 8th Birthday from Madigan and I! What a milestone!