An acquaintance once shared an uninspired meme on Facebook that said, “I want you to pay for your own food, housing and phone, not because I am mean but because I am a grown-up.” This was shared approvingly along with many such memes, praising the maturity of libertarianism and wanting less fortunate people to fend for themselves.
I thought that was a strange definition of being grown up: that maturity means forgetting what it’s like to be helpless and assuming that everyone else has the exact same ability to pay their own way as you do right at the moment– not the one you had when you were six or will have when you’re eighty, but the one you feel you have right now. If it’s true, maybe that’s one of the reasons that the Lord demands that Christians enter the Kingdom as children. Children, in my experience, are far less likely to believe in their own autonomy or shame another for having a need. Children, in my experience, are more like Christians.
Rosie taught me a thing or two about that, lately.
A family with five children moved into the rental house at the corner of the street. There was a grandmother and step-grandfather, and five half-siblings ranging in age from infancy to eight. At least, I think there were five; they never stood still long enough for me to keep count. These children reminded me of nothing so much as the children of the Pocket family in Great Expectations: Not growing up or being brought up, but tumbling up. They tumbled up around the yard from the time they got off the school bus until dusk; then they tumbled inside to supper and bed, and did it again the next day. During the summer, they tumbled around the yard from dawn until dusk. Sometimes their grandmother filled an inflatable pool with the hose, for them to tumble into; sometimes they tumbled to the local free church daycare for low-income families, and tumbled back in the evening.
In the late spring evenings, I would go over and sit on the porch with the grown-ups. We would chat about the things grown-ups in the poor part of LaBelle chat about even when they’re relative strangers: how annoying it was to miss the bus, which thrift shops have the best children’s clothing, which grocery store gives you the most for your EBT, what churches were handing out free Easter baskets or back-to-school backpacks and on what day. Meanwhile, Rosie would tumble with the children– in and out of the wading pool, up and down the yard, to the ice cream truck or back to my house for ice pops. Sometimes they would tumble violently; once Rosie got into a fight with one of the girls and was knocked down an embankment onto the sidewalk, but she was back for more the next day.
She calls them her “Corner Friends.”
Eventually, I came to trust the Corner Friends enough that Rosie could walk over to their house without my supervision. Soon after that, as the weather grew cold, she got invited inside to play.
When she came home, she had some observations. “Junior has a room all to himself, but all four of his sisters are in the other room.”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s customary to have girls in one room, boys in the other. And since Junior is the only boy, he got lucky. Grandma and Pappy work hard to rent a house big enough that everyone can fit, but it’s a tight squeeze.”
“The girls’ beds are just sofa cushions.”
“Well, maybe they can’t afford beds right now. Remember how you used to sleep on the futon mattress because we couldn’t afford any furniture? And before that we didn’t have a couch?”
“They don’t have many toys.”
“Well, they don’t have much money. We only have one child. Think how much more it would cost just to live if we had five.”
I could see the wheels in her head turning, but I thought nothing more of it.
Some days later, I found one of Rosie’s Popoid construction toys carelessly dropped on the floor. I went to put it away for her, but I couldn’t find the canvas bag she keeps her Popoids in.
I asked her about this later.
“It’s at my corner friends’ house,” Rosie said. “I gave it to them, because they don’t have new toys very often.”
“That’s generous of you,” I said. And then, because I’m a grown-up, I doubted. “but don’t you think you’ll miss it?”
“No, it’s more fun to play with it with them.”
That night, Rose found a gift bag left over from her birthday. She took one of the coveted Ultraman action figures she likes to send away for with her allowance, from Japan, off the shelf. “I’m going to give this to Junior. He doesn’t have many toys and he likes to play Ultraman with me. He said he was very interested in them.”
“But those are your favorite!” I said, because I am a grown-up.
Rose was adamant. She put the action figure in the bag; then she sorted through her coloring books and found an immaculate new book of dot-to-dot puzzles. “Gracie can use this to practice her numbers for preschool,” she said. “She’s really bad at numbers and this will help.”
“You could always just help her with her numbers yourself,” I pointed out gently.
But Rosie wanted to give her a present. She picked a toy out of her room for each of the children. The next day, when she went to her friends’ house to tumble up with them, she brought the gift.
The weekend after that was our impromptu family vacation.