You’re wrong if you think that the kids aren’t paying attention, because they are. It’s something I’ve realized for a long time and last week was another example as Youngest related what he’d heard standing in line at a used gaming store. His older siblings have periodically surprised me with what they’ve heard and realized through the years and yesterday was Youngest’s turn. He was standing in line to purchase a game while I browsed some feet away, and there was a young father and mother with a toddler in a stroller ahead of him. The parents were purchasing a Destiny PS4 system expansion pack and immediately after he turned from the counter with his box in a bag, the father immediately returned to the cashier and asked if he could get a second bag – preferably gray or dark colored – into which he could put the bagged expansion pack. The father commented that they were returning home downtown – approximately five miles away – and didn’t want to run the risk of being mugged in their neighborhood. Youngest watched as the clerk obliged and double-bagged the purchase, then watched further as the young family exited out the door and through the parking lot to the highway, upon which he then moved up for his own purchase.
It was as we were walking to our own vehicle that Youngest mentioned the overheard conversation with the opening statement man, I feel terrible… followed by his description of what he’d witnessed. From that point onwards for the next ten minutes or so, the conversation ranged over a variety of topics that emanated from his observations. First, the notion that the family might have actually walked about five miles, carrying a bag and pushing a toddler in a stroller and that if you didn’t have some form of reliable transportation in American society, your options were limited at best. He’s already witnessed friends of his elder siblings who were occasionally jammed because of this vehicle situation and this instance just served to reinforce that it not only affected individuals but could also affect families with children as well. Second was the comment about spending priorities; if you couldn’t afford a reliable vehicle, should you really be spending what little disposable income you have on a game expansion pack and especially if it’s obviously for yourself instead of for your toddler? The third was the simple comment I’d hate to find myself in that situation with my agreement that both Mom and I were working hard to assure both that he wasn’t in that predicament at present and that he had the skills and judgment to assure that he wouldn’t find himself there in the future.
This morning’s conversation in the car to school was another situation that he witnessed and after offering my input, I noted to him that part and parcel of my job as a father was to help him take all of these experiences and knit them together into a recognizable form that provided context for his life. It is our job as parents to do precisely that and especially if we’re making a purposeful effort to not shield them from the world as some parents do; we must listen to what they say and use that as a departure point for as many permutations as time and attention will allow. It is this constant effort at conversation and context that will help them establish a sense of not just right and wrong, but also a context of what is appropriate versus simply acceptable versus the worst case, aberrant. This is not a one-off event but instead a constant, persistent process that will take years and if we handle it properly, will come back to us as we ourselves age and the adult children can help provide context for us in a changing society.