Before my daughter went to bed on the eve of her sixth birthday, she had one wish: to have a good thunderstorm; complete with plenty of lightning and ground-shaking thunder. To her, that would mean an exciting sign of spring and affirmation of the season in which she was born. At eleven O’clock that night, for 56 minutes straight, I sat alone on the couch in our living room. I had just returned from a book club meeting to a sleeping house, and reveled in the chance to witness the exact storm my daughter had wished for—except she was fast asleep and would have to trust my retelling of the night’s events over her birthday breakfast the following morning.
We went to the Zoo a little over two weeks ago and came upon a young boy who was “losing his breakfast” while crouching over a bush by the hyena exhibit. I too tend to have this reaction to hyenas, but it was clear to me that this little guy was suffering from a common malady we see more than once a season here in Colorado: the stomach flu. I was surprised when we crossed paths with the same little boy checking out the gorillas over an hour later, and not so surprised when three days later, my son and I came down with a mysterious stomach virus similar to the exhibit we had witnessed near those mocking, laughing non-dogs.
None of this is bothersome or that off base for a family with three little ones who, especially when in public places, like to put their mouths all over things. While at Disney World a couple of years ago (waiting to ride the Flying Dumbos), I turned my back for a split second only to return my eyes to a two-and-a-half year old boy licking the chain that divided the mile-long line ahead of and behind us. That boy was my son, and his tongue was roaming over the world of hands before him like it was a strawberry slurpee soothing his rabid thirst in the triple digit temperatures we were blessed to have timed so nicely with our visit. I have witnessed similar acts of poor judgment in my youngest son, who seems to like the taste of shopping cart handles chased only by sips from the stagnant, stale water of random puddles (very hyena-esque, if you ask me).
Sickness is something you get used to and expect when you are a mother of school-age kids—except for when your pregnant sister, her toddler son and her husband come to visit for Easter weekend.
As one might have foreseen, when my sister and her family visited they spent the majority of Easter day benefiting from the gift of a little boy at the Zoo whose generosity in paying it forward knew no bounds. But what can anyone do? As I am human and make many bad judgment calls in my own life, my first reaction was to think about how the parents of that little boy should have brought him home. Then our Easter Sunday wouldn’t have been ruined. As I am inclined to do with many things over which I have no control, I looked for someone to blame.
But as I sat there on the couch, on the eve of my daughter’s sixth birthday—the lightning illuminating my solace in our living room and the crisp crack of thunder overhead, I considered the things I would want her to learn and practice this year’s birthday and beyond. The very first thing I want her to see is that we are all connected. As much as I want to find someone to blame for my own misfortune (most of the time for things on a much larger scale than a simple spring stomach bug), that little boy and his family are no more to blame for passing along germs that someone gave them, than my family is for passing along the Easter illness to my sister’s family. The choices we make in life have the power to continuously and eternally affect those around us. Not to mention that–the way one handles circumstances over which he or she has no control, is the true measure of a person.
Secondly, what good could possibly come from my judgment? I would like my daughter to learn what Atticus Finch so eloquently suggested his children take into account: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it…Being given the gift of reason doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act like zoo animals when it comes to judgment. How often, each and every day, do we rush to assumptions about and judgment of those around us? Parenting techniques, color of skin, cars, clothing, someone else’s choices, behavior? Hi, my name is Karen, and I can be very judgmental. The best gift I can give to my daughter as she starts the next year of life is the gift of a home without judgment. I would like my daughter to steer away from joining this inclusive club that divides not only families, but groups of people everywhere.
I would like my daughter to continue to be a person who can sleep well at night (no matter the volume of storm) because she is okay with the choices she has made throughout the day. I would like to see this new place of non-judgment in our little bubble spread faster than any stomach virus, and I would like to know that my daughter has learned about her role in receiving, carrying, and passing along misfortune.
I would like to live in a world where her birthday wishes continue to be so simple.
I thank the boy at the Zoo for allowing this message of Springtime to be so clear.