Five-year-olds are a challenge.
Visiting with my niece, I remember the days when she was little. She was an absolute delight, the very first baby that I wasn’t terrified of holding, worried that I would somehow break the baby in half just by picking her up wrong.
Then at some point she went ahead and started walking and talking. Now if you can get her to hold still long enough to spend time with her, a challenge that even the strongest men would shudder at, she is likely to just shout “I TOOTED IN MY PANTS!” before tearing off to go crop dust another innocent bystander.
Sometimes, though, a real conversation will come up.
My wife and I were riding in a car with her today when we came across a gentleman standing at the intersection, holding a sign. His clothing was worn very thin, possibly only held together by the thick layers of dirt it had accumulated. On his sign was scrawled a description of just how much he needed money, filling every last inch of the cardboard.
I watched as she looked out the window. Her face scrunched up at the sight. I was dreading the question I knew was coming.
“What is that man doing?” she asked us, her brow furrowed. I have never dreamed of having to explain the plight of homelessness to a child, yet somehow I had found myself thrust into such a situation.
“He is asking for money,” my wife jumped in, apparently not word about introducing poverty to her niece. “He is probably homeless.”
Her brow furrowed more. “Homeless?”
“Yes,” I said. “He doesn’t have a home.”
“But where does he live?” she asked, concern coloring her voice.
“Probably on the street,” my wife said.
This alarmed her. “Everyone should give him money then,” she exclaimed. “Why don’t they give him money?”
“Some people don’t really want money for food. They want it for bad things,” my wife said. I immediately added “bad things” to my list of acceptable drug terms for children.
She seemed even more confused, so I jumped in. “Since some homeless people lie about what they want money for, many people think they’re all lying. No one knows if they are lying or not.”
“Oh. I get it.” She set silently. My wife and I began to explain our procedure of purchasing a meal for homeless people instead of just giving them money. We had long ago decided to provide food to the needy after a homeless man acted angry and disgusted by a hot dog my wife handed him, saying he just wanted money. Apparently he had not heard about beggars not being choosers.
“This just seems weird to me,” she said. “What people should do is let these people live in their house and eat their food. Then they wouldn’t have to stand outside.”
I was immediately struck by her optimism in mankind. I know that someday this will likely be beaten out of her by the harsh realities of the world. Sure, her thoughts did not reflect any knowledge of the real world, but that makes them even better. Her first natural gut reaction is to give up her own things to help another unknown yet struggling person. She is, at this point, not jaded or cynical about everything. In her mind, the most obvious thing in the world is for one person to help another without question.
We spent the next few minutes explaining shelters and food banks to her, hopefully giving her hope for that man. Then I changed the subject. I thought we had learned enough about the world for one day.
I might talk to her about it more someday. If she can stop talking about toots long enough that is.