A friend of mine recently told me about her plan to run the Abbott World Marathon Majors. These are six of the biggest, most prestigious marathons in the world. They include the Boston, New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo, and Chicago marathons. She has already done four of the six races. She needs to do London and Tokyo to complete her quest. This amazing woman has already completed a marathon in each of the 50 states, and is now looking for a new challenge. One of the (many) benefits of having such a motivated friend is that I get to travel with her to the races that I want to do.
I remember when we traveled to the Chicago marathon together. We left early in the morning and flew out of Philadelphia. When I travel with this friend, we never check a bag. We want to save time in the airport and we don’t want to take a chance with our race gear getting lost. We boarded the airplane, stowed our bags, and settled into our seats. An airplane is a relatively small container, filled with complete strangers. This makes for some interesting observations if you are a dedicated people-watcher as I am. This plane was completely full. Most of the travelers were business people. The seats directly in front of us, however, were filled by a young mother traveling with a toddler and a baby. The baby was asleep; the toddler was wide awake and sassy!
Once the airplane took off, the mom definitely had her hands full. The baby woke up hungry, so Mom had to feed him. The toddler, tired of looking at a book by herself, and probably hungry and tired too began bouncing around, standing on her seat and making noise, as most toddlers would do. No screaming fits, just typical 2-year-old stuff. The people on the plane seated near the family showed their impatience and annoyance with the disturbance, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads and putting headphones on. No one offered to help the family. As the flight progressed, the toddler became more and more upset, finally wailing in her seat while the mother tried to shush her and feed the baby at the same time. The signs of exasperation from the other passengers increased.
Finally, my friend could stand no more. She dug around in her bag and pulled out a sealed box of raisins. She asked the mother in front of us if she could give them to the toddler. The mother gratefully acceded. The toddler came back and sat with my friend and me for the rest of the short flight. We had a great time! We are both grandmas, and we enjoyed playing peek-a-boo, reading, eating raisins and animal crackers and singing songs. My friend gave me a great lesson about generosity, compassion, and kindness that day. She took the initiative to reach out to the struggling young mother.
As a society we Americans don’t like children all that much. Oh, we love our own children. Some parents worship their own children, seemingly believing that they can do no wrong. We just don’t like children in general. They take up a lot of time and resources. They are noisy and demanding, rambunctious and sometimes obstinate. They require a lot of care and patient nurturing, which sometimes is not a lot of fun. We like them in the abstract – they are cute – but when confronted with real children right in front of us, we are less enthusiastic. It is as if children are seen as interfering with life, rather than contributing to it. I don’t know how many times people have told me that they could never do what I did (teach).
Evidence abounds of our disdain for children. The under-five mortality rate in the US is thirty second in the world. Countries such as Estonia, Slovenia, South Korea and Hungary all have lower infant mortality rates than we do. We are one of the very few developed countries that do not guarantee even minimal health care to mothers and children.
One-fifth of all children live below the poverty line in our country and almost half of them live below the level deemed “minimum but adequate” by the government. The younger a child is, the more likely it is that he will be living in poverty. Even in my school district, which enjoys strong community support, is suburban, fairly affluent, and overwhelmingly white, approximately one quarter of the children qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Social programs aimed at children are funded grudgingly and with some suspicion. Citizens resent paying school taxes, especially if they don’t personally have children who attend schools. How do these citizens think future doctors, scientists and engineers will get their education? Educating our children benefits everyone! For every person who writes a letter to the editor of the local paper questioning the wisdom of funding our schools, I want to say “What goes around comes around”. Who will take care of these people when they reach old age? I know that we have a long tradition of celebrating the individual in America, but that is a false narrative that we need to change. No one succeeds solely on their own merits. We must invest in our children.
Not every society is like this. Some nationalities treasure children. I am thinking specifically of Mediterranean cultures. Two of my daughters-in-law have Hispanic roots. In both extended families, the common phrase when my grandchildren walk into the room or even when a picture of them is posted on social media is “Que lindo!” (How beautiful!) I think they are extremely handsome, but I am definitely biased! Children are actually talked to – not at – and people go out of their way to let a child know how precious they are.
So. How can we make our culture more child-friendly? It will take some attitude adjustment.
When I take my grandsons to a park and another child lands at my feet, crying, my first instinct is to look for that child’s parents. I should be willing to pick that child up, dust him off, and give him some comfort. Happy, safe children are in everyone’s best interest.
We need to be able to see our children as individuals, not extensions of ourselves. When we see children as smaller versions of us, they cannot make a mistake. That would be the same as us making a mistake. We take it too personally. Kids should be allowed to make some missteps without terrible consequences.
We must invest in our children, and mean it. We are constantly bombarded with information about how financially strapped our local, state and federal budgets are. The federal deficit is seen as bankrupting our children and grandchildren. There is no money for anything, and politicians are rewarded for money-saving measures. So where does the saved money come from? Programs that benefit children now. Ironically, the (future) children are the reason given to save the economy, but it is the (current) children who suffer.
Mostly, we need to be the adults. We need to be wise, brave, kind and generous models for our children. We must remember that they need our protection, guidance and time. We must be the givers so that they can be the receivers. Whatever we give our children is what we will get back. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Galatians 6:7