Monday, June 23, 2008

Angela is a lucky girl.

It’s a two minute drive to the grocery store from the house, just down the hill from here. The weather was lovely and as I coasted down the hill the waters of the bay were stretched out before me. The hills on the side were a perfect backdrop for a sail boat gliding past.

Before I picked up groceries I stopped in for a quick bit to eat at the local fast food outlet. As I walked in I didn’t pay much attention to the other customers. But when I had my meal I sat in my usual spot and could see across the seating area.

A woman ate in one booth by herself. In the corner was family, two adults, a teen and three children. And a few feet from me was black man with his daughter. While eating I observe, not in some voyeuristic way where I stare but I listen to what is being said and, out of the corner of my eye, I watch.

And I’m so glad that I did. Often the world is a ugly place. We seem plagued with two major problems: meanness and dumbth. Meanness is just people who nasty in one way or another. Perhaps they boss others around, try to hurt them, or in some way make life unpleasant for others. Dumbth is stupidity taken to a higher level. Sometimes dumbth is mean but usually not intentionally -- those are people who do mean things in the mistaken believe that they are doing good. Politics is almost entirely meanness and dumbth or some combination of the two.

But what I saw in the restaurant actually gave me reason to smile, something to celebrate. It was simple goodness, decency and kindness in action.

The object of my interest was the father and his daughter. In only a few minutes I learned a great deal about this man and about his daughter. Dad continued to talk to the small girl, he engaged her in conversation on a constant basis. She was never bored and she clearly felt safe, loved, and important.

I never learned Dad’s name but his daughter was named Angela. I know because he used her name when talking to her. And everything she did was attentive teaching on his part. Not in a didactic way but in a supportive, nurturing way.

She was playing with a plastic animal. He showed how the tail on the animal allowed it to stand up on the table. It was gorilla like creature which stood on two legs. But with just two legs it was unstable. The tail allowed Angela to stand it up. Dad showed her how the leg gave the toy “stability.” “See, it’s stable now,” he explained.

The figure had two fingers held up in some way that I couldn’t really see from where I was. Dad asked Angela how many fingers the animal was holding up. She didn’t answer. He just explained that it had two fingers up. “Two is a number,” he said. “What is your number?” Angela said “four”. Dad said: “Four is how old you are. What is your number?” She again said “four”. No worries, Dad was patient. He repeated and Angela said something I couldn’t hear. I think she repeated her phone number. He smiled and told her that she was right.

On the food box there were pictures of numerous animals. Dad took the time to show Angela all the animals and ask her if she knew what they were. He patiently told her the names. When they looked a picture of a praying mantis she asked what it was. He told her it was an insect.

Throughout this Angela cuddled up next to her father. Not once did he ignore her. Not once did he ask her to stop talking. It was total and complete attention.

I looked at the other family. The kids sat in the middle. They too played with toys but the adults with them paid them no mind. There was no conversation, no interaction, no touching. They were just people in the same room.

When Angela finished eating her Dad told her how to throw away her empty packages. The small girl boldly approached the large garbage can with her cup. Dad told her to push on the flap. “Push it all the way in so the cup goes in the garbage,” he instructed. She pushed but it resisted her almost infantile strength. Dad didn’t jump up. He just encouraged her to keep pushing. She used her other hand to push and succeeded. She dropped the cup into the garbage. Dad told her she was “great” and smiled at her. She must have felt like she had conquered Mount Everest.

She came back to the table as Dad packed some things into a bag. And then he told her it was time to wash her hands. She didn’t want to but he explained: “You don’t want to be dirty, do you?” She didn’t seem to mind anymore and happily went with him to wash her hands.

I finished my meal and went to my car. By coincidence I was parked next to them. As I backed up them came out of the restaurant, Dad holding her hand. Just as I was leaving her was putting her in her car seat.

What I thought was how lucky Angela is. So many children today have parents who have not learned to be parents. Many still act like children themselves. To them children are not a blessing but a burden, an obligation. They want as little to do with them as possible -- they get in the way. They send them off to government prison camps for children, know as schools, where kids are warehoused more than educated. After school they pay as little attention as possible. They often have no idea where the kids are or what they are doing. And they don’t want to know.

There are parents who think that cash will be a good substitute for love, that a cell phone is a replacement for parental concern, the state schools can replace parental teaching. They think the television is ample “adult” supervision.

They don’t teach. They rarely love. They don’t talk to their children and when their children talk they don’t listen. They don’t ask questions as much as bark orders. Of course so many of these parents eventually ask themselves why their children are so messed up. The reality is that many kinds have a biological father and mother present but they don’t have parents.

Angela is different. She is a very lucky four-year-old. I find it hard to even list all the messages that she got from her father in the few minutes I witnessed them together.

She learned that she is important and loved. She learned things about stability and numbers and names of animals. She learned that she can accomplish things if she keeps trying. She learned that cleanliness is good. She got respect and thus learned respect. She got love and thus learned to love. Another thing she got, is something she won’t use for many years yet. She learned how to be parent herself.

Yes, Angela was a very lucky girl. And I feel I was lucky too for having seen a glimpse of her life. I smile knowing that Angela has an incredible, caring father to guide her through life.