My daughter is spoiled. It isn’t even my fault. She is spoiled just like the majority of American kids are; just like the majority of American adults are. We can’t help it. We live in a very wealthy society, and so it is hard to be mindful and keep an outside perspective about how lucky you really are, and what the definition of the word need is. This is true even for those of us who have seen the poverty and strife of Afghanistan, Iraq, and similar conflict zones.
Well, I just got a very good reminder about how lucky we really are.
Travelling with a 2-year-old is hard. The only other option being to not travel at all, my wife and I recently took my kid out to San Diego for a family getaway, the highlight being the San Diego Zoo. This was a blast, but by the end of a long week, the jetlag and loss of routine had really weighed on us all, and we were ready to be home.
Sitting in the San Diego airport, my daughter was losing her mind. Again, she is 2, so what do you expect. Combine a garbage night’s sleep with airport boredom and airport food, and even the best kid devolves into a tiny, psychopathic lunatic. “You know we are very close to the border, and I hear they are taking kids. Maybe we can drop her off.” My ever-cool wife was feeling it too.
Suddenly, we are approached by a young man and his daughter, who seems to be around 7. They don’t speak English, but seem to be asking if they are at the proper gate. We take a look at their tickets, and help confirm that they are. At that point, I notice the ankle bracelet. Ankle bracelets for illegal aliens have grown more common in recent years as part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) designed to keep costs of detention low, and also help ensure illegal aliens attend adjudication hearings and court dates. It was easy to infer what was going on.
My wife immediately sprung into action. One of the things I admire about her, and tease her about endlessly, is her need to drop everything and help those in need. This is the woman that would bring stray cats home, keep them hidden in her closet, and care for them until her parents noticed. They still have some of those cats.
With Google translate in hand (which we found only does a semi-passable job), she immediately set about orienting the immigrants to the airport. She figured out they were Guatemalan, and were heading to Iowa. We helped them get on the flight on time, find their seats, and settle in. I don’t know anything about their journey or character, and only hope their lives are happy and that their cases are settled justly.
Throughout the whole experience, the little Guatemalan girl was cool, composed, and patient. She had clearly gone through much more than that in her life. My daughter was not. She doesn’t like to share, unless it is with her cousin of the same age, and then only when he won’t as to embarrass him in front of his parents. While my daughter was crying about which video to watch, and the fact that her banana “broke” (she took a bite), the other girl tried to make conversation, and was just happy to have the chance to watch anything.
At one point, desperate to appease our little tyrant, my wife took her on a walk and returned with two little owl trinkets. She had my daughter give one to the little girl, and keep one for herself. My daughter resisted this, of course, but the gift was ultimately given. I felt self-conscious, having no idea what the culture of gift-giving is like in Guatemala, and not wanting to offend or embarrass. But it was such a little thing for us, and hopefully it made the little girl’s day — so I’m sure it was harmless. I think that’s how my wife felt.
But the most eye-opening part of the whole moment was when we stood up to board the plane. The little girl tried to give back the trinket. Because of course we’d buy our crabby kid two identical toys to appease her. We are Americans, and we are rich (my wife and I are solidly in the middle of the middle class, for which we are lucky). I’ll never forget the little girl’s eyes when her father told her it was hers to keep.
Much, if not most, of this is attributable to my daughter’s age. My wife and I are trying hard to raise our daughter to be kind and value the immaterial more than simple things. I still felt self-conscious about my possessions, the way I often take for granted all that I am lucky enough to have, and for my daughter presenting us in a bad light.
I will try to keep that moment in my mind in the years ahead, and teach my daughter as best as I can about how lucky she is, and what truly matters in this life.