As the family and I were exiting the restaurant, I had to hand the Styrofoam container full of leftovers to my mother. It was heavy and I had to retrieve something from my bag. I grabbed them from her before we started our way to the car. Just as we rounded the corner of the building, a man approached us. I have the habit of taking corners widely, as in I’m on the curb, to avoid run-ins such as this. My mother, however, is not as aware, and blindly walks into a lot of situations. To this day it astonishes me that her and I are products of the same world, let alone city, but we are.
I quickly put myself between this person and my mother and son. Instinct kicks in and it’s totally natural for me to become assertive and calm. The gentleman was asking for change because he was hungry. I had nearly lost my balance as I moved to get closer to the man because of the hefty load of leftovers I held. It pains me to say I had to weigh the decision for more than a second, but I did. I informed him I did not have any cash handy, but I did have leftovers that he was more than welcome to have.
I handed him the container and he quickly walked away. As he did, my son looked up at me and was very upset that I had given away his chicken and waffles. So upset in fact that he began to cry. I briefly explained to him why I had given away his food and then realized this was what they refer to as a ‘teaching opportunity’ and it was time for me to pony-up and instill a true moral value into my child. Once we were securely in the car, I asked my son to take a look around the neighborhood. I pointed out subtleties that most people will fail to notice when they’re in a truly ‘urban’ area to visit a trendy restaurant. Explaining to a suburban child what ‘homeless’ means is about as easy as explaining what ‘hungry’ is. He’s never wanted for anything in his life, and as it should be for a child. I had my mother drive around and I pointed out the Salvation Army shelter that is directly across the street from the restaurant. I believe that he understood that we had more than enough food at home and mommy believes that we should be kind and helpful to others. It’s a fine line between my nihilistic tendencies and my generally pleasant nature, and I like to ensure my child is getting more of the positive than the negative. So we discussed how we do indeed have everything that we need, and he then asked me how it was possible for someone to not have a home or a family.
I then told him the story of my uncle, whose last known whereabouts were Los Angeles California’s infamous Skid Row. This was known only because he had been featured on a national news programs undercover investigative report on con artists posing as clergy at LAX and other public areas. This was pre-Internet days, so I no longer have a copy of the episode, nor do I recall the name of it, but I remember the ripple effect it had on the families. I too wondered how someone could go without a family and a home. And he was my uncle, the one I had heard a lot of stories about, the one who was always the troublemaker, the one who disappeared into the mean streets of my homeland, not his. This troubled my son because his family is very important to him. I stressed to him that this is the reason why I am nice to almost everyone, and will help those who are truly in need because hopefully someone was kind to my uncle. I explained that some will only want money and will decline the offer, and some will be rude and aggressive, and some will humble, but they will always be there. It is up to us on how we choose to treat such situations.
I do not want to teach my son to turn away from the inner-city blight. I want him to critically think for himself and form his own opinions of the world, which will always include a lot of ugly stuff society likes to pretend they don’t see. Unless there’s a ribbon they can buy and wear for it. Then they will put it on their cars and their dogs and their shirts, and their Facebook pages. That’s another discussion the wee one and I have a lot. We talk about how zombies do exist In Real Life (IRL). People become zombies when they spend too much time watching television and then they want to buy whatever their corporate overlords put in front of them. And then I take him to the mall to see a herd of them because as I said, I like to seize every teaching opportunity that I can.