It was a community affair. Folks brought their card tables and saw horses and canopies and had a craft-art-get involved-political-feel-good FAIR. Every age group was represented with folks of non-color with folks of color. Folks who have no memory of life without a computer and folks who were struggling to remember faces and names.
A five-year-old presented himself at our table, with our freebies. If I had ordered correctly, we would have enough for everyone.
“Can I have this one?” He pointed at the largest toy on the table.
“Sure.” I smiled and handed him the musical toy. Immediately he said, “And that one,” he pointed to a smaller musical toy.
He picked up this toy, shifting the larger toy to be held under his arm.
He picked up the third toy and mumbled, “And this one.”
His mother, standing beside him, was talking with another neighbor, not taking note that her son was stocking up for future musical engagements.
“I want this one.” He grabbed another toy and put it under his chin.
He was now up to four toys with my growing suspicion that this little guy was not into sharing his new musical acquisitions with siblings or friends.
“How many of your new toys will you be sharing with others?” I asked.
He looked at me, stoic, body somewhat slack. Essentially giving me the sense that he could wait me out. The look in his eyes indicated that he was very disappointed in my question. A silence developed between child and adult. I got the sense that I was to retreat, allowing the child to carry off as many toys as he could manage. My entire inventory may very well disappear somewhere into his shirts and pants.
I couldn’t help it, I had to ask, “How many toys do you need?” (I know, I shouldn’t have asked this, I just wanted to know his answer.)
Ignoring my question, he nodded his head at another toy and said, “And that one.”
“You may take more than one toy if you are going to share them with others,” I said. A little late with the limit-setting–how long has it been since I went a round with a child that has not been taught manners?
No eye contact. No response that indicated that he had heard my condition. I think he knew that I wouldn’t wrestle him for his arm load of toys.
His mother turned to see her son’s arms full of plastic, musical toys. She looked up at me and smiled. She looked at the depleted basket holding the remaining toys with a sign that said “Free–Make some Joyful Noise.” She smiled at her son and again at me and said, “Isn’t that nice that someone thought to give away toys to the kids.” She smiled again, put her hands on her son’s shoulders and steered him towards the next table. He looked back at me and smiled. It was a smile of triumph.
My heart ached. I don’t think I handled that interaction very well. I had not anticipated the need for a sign to say, “Parents, please help your child to pick one free toy.” Or a sign to say, “Please take one and leave the rest for others to choose from.” Or maybe I should have said, “You may pick one toy and one toy only–no exceptions.”
Somehow I had (okay I know this is a poor defense) unconsciously assumed that most children would pick one toy or at least ask to pick more than one. That their accompanying parent would place limits on their instant gratification needs for more than one toy. I know– a lot of assumptions–basically because I wasn’t thinking of today’s issue with the “entitled” child.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that I wasn’t prepared for the five-year-old who had a bottomless pit when it came to owning/having things. Perhaps this particular five-year-old did not represent his generation. I do know children his age who are already caring about the needs of others, who think of others feelings, who want to nurture and have empathy for others. Children who are being raised by parents who are teaching and role modeling the concept of sharing. The teaching and expectation for compassion and kindness.
This five-year-old worries me. When will he learn that to be a part of a healthy community, he needs to have a role that has value. He needs to learn how to anticipate the need to help others. He needs to practice looking at the world through other’s eyes. I know he is only five, AND he is already developmentally delayed when it comes to being fully human and fully humane.
Be gentle, be compassionate, and be a good role model–young eyes are watching, young hearts are learning.