Welcome To This Broken World, Sweetheart (2013)

photo by Jenna Starr

Amid the commotion of our family’s ordinary daily lives, I do pay some attention to the news. The violence in Egypt this week is particularly heartbreaking to observe. The rows of bodies — mostly young men — waiting and waiting in the Cairo heat for a proper burial…that image, along with the one of an elderly woman trying to stop a bulldozer from plowing over an injured young man…those images have lingered in my mind all day today. Meanwhile, there are a thousand tasks to attend to, toys and crumbs and, who-am-I-kidding, whole meals to pick up off the floor as we scurry about just trying to keep up with laundry and dishes and stay thirty seconds ahead of our energetic, feisty toddler.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to think carefully, at length and without interruption, about the whole big decision to bring a child into this broken world, but I do still think about it now-and-then. What is this place where there are simultaneously so many countless joys and delights and equally countless ways to be hurt and to hurt each other? Someday before too too long, she will start noticing things, she will start asking questions. There is so much pain in this world, so many ways that people are brutal to each other, often right in front of our eyes.

At one of our regular museum play areas this week, I spent some time observing the way the kids a few years older than our Little Bean interacted with her. I noticed that most of them, regardless of race or age, seemed threatened by her, this baby who they assumed was going to “knock down [their] tower,” “get in [my] way,” or “play with [my(!)] toy.” One little girl, probably 4 years old or so, kept moving to sit in the little chair that our Bean was clearly interested in sitting in, and then occupying it for as long as Bean was in the vicinity. I could only surmise that something about power was going on here. Here was a baby that either reminded some of these kids of a younger sibling who’d bothered them in the past, or who was clearly a less powerful being that they could exert their power over (or both). It was disconcerting to watch. Is this how we instinctively are with each other? I’ve noticed that older kids — 9, 10, 11 years old and older — seem to “get over” this competition-with-the-baby thing and are interested in playing with her at her level, so I’m relieved to see that. But I continue to mull on what it means to be a Little Person in this world, and what we are letting our children experience when we don’t pay attention.

There was a piece back in July on The Kojo Nnamdi Show that I happened to hear most of while I was in the car running errands, and it has stayed with me; it’s worth a reading of the transcript, particularly if you have more than one young child at home. One of the insights expressed on the show by Dr. Joseph Wright was that “There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that risk for depression, suicidal ideation are linked to the unattended impact of behavioral aggression in young children.” Watching the kids at the museum this week reminded me of this radio discussion so much I wanted to share it with some of the other parents who were there…but all the parents that afternoon looked so dazed and exhausted, spacing out on their smartphones while their kids romped and sometimes screamed at each other…well, it’s hard to exactly know when to make an issue of something. I am learning to observe, to gently explain to our Little Bean what I see going on if she seems confused, and otherwise, to let her play, while she enjoys just playing. She doesn’t seem to take it at all personally yet when a kid runs in the other direction rather than playing with her, or doesn’t play particularly nicely; she still has so, so much to learn and experience about how all people, of all ages, are. She gravitates towards the ones who smile at her, usually adults who look like her Grandma R. And for right now, that’s just fine. That’s all she needs to focus on for now — who is kind to her, who will help her get what she needs and wants, who will listen to her and help her as she struggles and strives to communicate. Some people do, and some people don’t. For now, I’m standing by, watching, learning from the kids a few years older about what our Bean will someday be experiencing and expressing herself, and pondering how to guide our beloved child into this world where so much more love, healing, attention and understanding are needed.

How Do We Interact on the Cyber-Commons?
Building Better Primates
Selma: Death of a Meta-narrative
Greenery Without People: The Future of Post-Religious Community
  • Train_Ryder – barbara

    yes, the world of children is complicated. and it is a good thing for them to figure a lot of it out by themselves. But, I suggest a bit of reading on child development for the parents (in lieu of a wise elder).
    For example, I love to inform young parents, those terrible two’s are critical in the development of a separate self. Hence “mine” and “No” become staples of the vocabulary. Unfortunately I didn’t learn that until my sons were grown.

  • Diggitt

    This reminded me of my own “Little Bean”-hood. When I was 3 or 4 a cousin–three years older–moved next door. Other visiting cousins, from a year to three years older, would torment me, exclude me, etc. But a couple of cousins FIVE years older were my champions. They insisted on including me, for instance in hide-and-seek. I can still recall my cousin Doug, one of the 5+ cousins, who suggested that I could count from 1 to 20 when everyone else counted to 100 by 5′s. In many families, someone would try to fool the youngest member by suggesting, e.g., that she count to 30 instead of 100 by 5′s. Dougie was a sweetheart then and he still is today!