A small child (maybe three years old) sits in her car seat in the back of the car. She's crying. The mom, who happens to be recording the tears, asks her what's wrong.
"I'm just so sad," she wails. "There are so many kids who don't have anything. I want to give them all my toys to help them."
This isn't a real scenario because I don't want to point out any specific video online since I'm not taking issue with the existence of such footage. It's incredibly sweet and endearing and heartbreaking when a child is so empathetic. There are numerous videos of children saying truly lovely, heart-warming, and altruistic things. I watch these videos and shed tears not just for their cuteness, but for the fact that my kids are not saying cute, kind shit like that.
Here's what happens in my car. After listening to an NPR segment on homelessness, Darla asked some questions.
"Why can't the people stay in their homes?" she asked.
"Because they don't have enough money to stay," I said.
"Why don't they have money?" She asked.
"There are countless reasons," I answered. "They can't find a job. They're sick. The job they have doesn't pay enough. It's so sad. That's why people who have enough should give back to them."
Darla looked thoughtful for a minute. I waited for her to offer to give all her unopened Christmas gifts away.
"No," She said. "I think I need all my money. I don't think I'll be giving them any."
I looked at her in the rearview mirror. I, apparently, had a long road ahead of me before I had a model of true altruism in the backseat. I tried to explain the idea to her that people with give to people without; that the only way we can thrive in this world is to lift each other up. I looked to see whether any of my words were sinking in. There was no indication that they had. This might be a more difficult lesson than can be learned in a five minute car ride to Trader Joe's.
Sometimes, the words out of her mouth are truly morbid. She recently even foretold my untimely death.
"When you die when I'm a teenager, do I have to take care of Jude?" she asked.
I wondered if she knew something that I didn't know. And when she said teenager, did she mean late teens or early teens? I wanted to know if I have seven years or thirteen years left. Time was of the essence since the the clock was already ticking. I made a mental note to get all those logistics worked out before then.
"Oh man," I said uncertainly. "If something happens to me when you're a teenager, I'll make sure that you're taken care of."
I don't think kids come out as little angels as much as we'd all like to believe that they do. Or, rather, they aren't born with the language to express their humanity as well as adults can. They are also at their core small, self-interested creatures intent on survival; they are the center of their universe. Just look at kids first interactions with one another. The majority of the time, all they do is steal each other toys and hoard everything. Parents interject themselves, flustered and embarrassed that they brought such little monsters to the park. The Parents try to coax their kids to apologize to one another all the while they give breathless apologies themselves.
The first time this happened with Darla, it felt like I'd failed the world. I wanted to hole up and never go on another playdate, again. After a lot of energy and lesson teaching, the sharing of toys eventually began. Now, she shares her toys all the time. She's incredibly kind to everyone. She always makes sure people feel included. She actually does give her stuff away. If she has money when she passes a homeless person, she gives it to them.
This is how I know that what she said in the backseat, when she declared she needs everything for herself, were just words. Those words didn't match what I know about her. Darla, like all kids, just needs our help in figuring out how to direct this wonderful energy. It, also, doesn't hurt when they cute, video-worthy shit about it along the way, but that will come in time. Something tells me, though, that a 20 year old isn't quite as cute saying it as a six year old, so I hope they start sometime soon and I'm able to catch it on film.