OVERNIGHT IN CHICAGO
How do you cure foot-in-mouth disease?
I have foot-in-mouth disease. I’ve had it for quite some time and I can only hope that it’s not contagious. What I want to know, is how does one learn to stop putting one’s foot in one’s mouth?
The first weekend in February my daughter, Allison, and my granddaughter, Izzy, and I went to Chicago for an overnight adventure to see The Phantom of the Opera.
The relaxing train trip, magnificent opera, delicious restaurants, and fun-filled shopping (especially at the American Girl shop) made an incredibly delightful experience on Friday. I had more fun than I’ve had in a long time. Allison and Izzy kept me laughing until my abdominal muscles screamed with pain. “Stop or I’m going to split a gut,” I cried, bracing my abdomen. Tears from laughter streamed down my cheeks.
Then came Saturday. A day I wish I could do over, like in the Drew Barrymore movie, where she has amnesia and relives one day over and over, or the Ground Hog Day movie with Bill Murray, where he relives Ground Hog Day until he gets it right. Only for me, there was no do over, and that day will be one I will always regret.
Allison, Izzy, and I left our hotel by foot to walk the bustling streets of Chicago for shopping. Swarms of people dotted the sidewalks. Our hotel, The James, was located just a couple blocks from the main shopping district. Light snow fell and the frigid cold stung our noses as we paced ourselves with the crowd. As usual, I was bundled up like a polar bear. Less than a block from our hotel, a ragged, legless man in a wheelchair, wearing a flimsy jacket unsuitable for the weather, held a sign, begging for money.
“Look at that poor man,” Izzy said. “He doesn’t have legs and he needs money for food and clothes. Can we give him some?”
What did I do? What did I say? I said something I will always regret.
After tightening my heavy jacket around my frozen neck, I said, “It’s nothing but a racket. These people are bilking money out of compassionate do-gooders.”
I had read about the panhandlers in Chicago. The article suggested that people refrain from giving them money, because many use it to purchase alcohol or drugs. Welfare and food stamps supply them with funds, and there are a multitude of churches and community organizations that offer food and necessities. Giving them money, often but not always, enables addictions.
Izzy is a child with deep compassion for the less fortunate. She grew a mortified look on her face. “Mamie,” (pronounced with a long a—it’s the term my grandchildren use instead of grandma) “You don’t even care about these poor people who don’t have any legs and don’t have any money! You need to say you’re sorry!”
Yes, I should have said I was sorry, because at Izzy’s tender age of 12, she didn’t know about con-artists. In her sweet, naive mind, she saw exactly what was before her, a person in need, and she desperately wanted to show tender compassion towards a less fortunate human being. I should have fostered that compassion and empathy. But all I did was burst her bubble and tell her, in effect, develop a hard heart because the world sometimes deceives us, and what we see isn’t always reality. OUCH!
There are times to teach about reality and there are times to teach empathy.
I had squashed the perfect opportunity to teach empathy as if it were a nasty bug. What Izzy perceived in that fleeting moment was that I had no compassion for someone who couldn’t get up and walk. I’m sure she expected me to show loving kindness and to commend her for her own. But I didn’t. I failed. And worst of all, I wouldn’t apologize for bursting her bubble. Instead, I told her the hard facts about street life and addiction. There would have been a time for that in Izzy’s young life, but this wasn’t that time.
The fact is, I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect mother or perfect grandmother. I make mistakes.
There are certain professions in life where mistakes can have terrible consequences: physicians, nurses, airplane pilots, air traffic controllers, parents, and grandparents, to name a few. What parents and grandparents do and say with our children and grandchildren will mold and shape their lives.
Did I want Izzy to have a hard, uncaring, stone-cold heart, or a kind, loving, empathetic heart for people?
If I could have a do-over, like in children’s games, I’d praise Izzy for her kindness and give her money to drop in the man’s cup. I would have slipped my arm around her shoulder and hugged her, because I’m proud to have such a sweet granddaughter. Truth is, I hope she doesn’t become jaded by harsh reality.
There are many things that we can do for our young ones, but one very important thing is to grasp opportunities to teach and foster compassion, love, kindness, good deeds, and other noble qualities before they become a lost art.
To Izzy and all children who shower the world with loving kindness—I commend you and I pray you will one day change the world.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” I Corinthians 13:1, NIV. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want my lips to be like clanging cymbals to my offspring. I want to close my lips and show my love by actions and deeds.
Deb Gardner Allard is a writer of books & stories for children. She has a B.S. degree in psychology and is a retired registered nurse. Her book, “Izzy and the Real! Truth About Moose Boy,” a book for 3rd through 5th graders, encourages children to talk about the difference between teasing and bullying while reading about the pranks of Moose Boy. The book can be purchased through Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon.com and most other venues. Deb enjoys blogging about children, as well. Visit her website at www.debgardnerallard.com.
Picture taken by Allison Cobb: Izzy and Mamie in front of the Cadillac Theater in Chicago, before watching the production of Phantom of the Opera.