The innocent and intuition of the young in being able to understand and respond to the needs of their fellow humans has always amazed me. The young have not yet had their acts of compassion, kindness, and empathy socialized out of their repertoire of how to be human. They see, they feel, they react, they express. It is only the world around them that with time teaches them to develop restraint, to numb, to detach, and to become blind to those around them. Learning to control and restrain our interactions is often described in terms of our emotional development, a process of maturation, cognitive development, or learning to become adults. I question if we have developed an effective world in socializing out this innate human aspect of a child…the ability to feel and react to another a human being.
I found myself this evening precariously sitting on a small shelf at the check –outs of Hyper Panda Supermarket waiting for the last and longest prayer of the day to end in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, in which all stores close during the five prayer times of the day. It is not uncommon for me to often find myself unsuccessfully trying to organize my shopping expeditions timed in such a way to “miss the prayers”, which I typically fail miserably at timing appropriately.
As I sat on my make-shift chair, trying to focus my attention away from the fact that my back and feet were aching from walking through the grocery store, that had only been exasperated by the fact that I am 43 years old and 7 months pregnant. I silently cursed myself for not opting for my hated tennis shoes, instead of trying still to maintain some sense of femininity by wearing my black ballet flats that apparently are devoid of any arch support. That train of thought led me to thinking of my beautiful high heels at home, that just 7 months ago without little thought I would slip on for my outings without giving a second thought. Somehow, this train of thought led me down the path of questioning my very existence and what I was going to do with myself personally, professionally, and thinking how pathetic I must be sitting in a grocery store lacking any direction or purpose.
My three children kept interrupting my own internal stream of thoughts related to my personal mid-life crisis, which has only been exasperated by pregnancy hormones that had manifested into a full-blown pity party dancing in my head. “Mommy, can I get a new Pez dispenser? Mommy, I want gum! Mommy, Jasmine is getting two candy…it is not fair”. I found myself saying “No”, “No”, “No”, and finally reverting to “Whatever”. My last response sent me into initiating an internal dialogue of berating myself on my parenting abilities. I pulled out my phone in my attempts to drown out their whining, engage in a mindless game of Candy Crush, and escape reality.
Crouching on the little shelf, that was more suitable for a small child than a 43-year-old pregnant woman, I found a small smiling boy running towards me that I thought must be directed towards all the colorful packages of candy that I partially had blocked. I panicked and thought to myself “How am I going to gracefully stand up from my crouched sitting position, in which I am elevated less than 6 inches above the ground?”
Just as I began my struggle in my fumbling attempts at maintaining some level of grace while standing to let the child reach the candy which I had blocked, I felt his little arms go around my neck and wet little kisses being planted on my cheeks. The little boy , of about three or four years old, and who was speaking to me excitedly continued to chatter and hug me, while his mother tried to pull him back. When I looked closely at his little face, I realized that he was a child with special needs, most likely a child that had mosaic Down syndrome. He continued to hug me and jabbered away in broken Arabic that I struggled to understand, not only because of my own poor Arabic skills, but also because of the effects of his disability. I looked into his eyes and told him “Shukrin habibi”, which in English roughly translates into “Thank you dear one”. He grabbed my face and then planted a big kiss on my forehead, which is a sign of respect and love in the Arabic culture.
His mother looked embarrassed and smiled while telling me “Malash” which translated into English is a way of expressing sorry. I looked at her and in my broken Arabic told her “No need to say sorry, he has a beautiful white heart.” As she led him away to take their turn in another checkout lane in the growing sea of inpatient customers waiting for the prayer to end, I smiled and the boy and I both waved to each other. I felt a genuine smile spread across my face, and no not the fake smile that I have meticulously perfected in my years of socialization. This authentic smile was a spontaneous reaction of being the receiver of an expression of human caring that was not planned, not manipulated, and had no ulterior motive.
My own little girls walked over to me and asked me “Mommy who was that little boy? Why did he hug you and kiss you?”
Still smiling, I told them “I don’t know, maybe he knew mommy just needed a hug.”
Lulu, my 11-year old, and the most introspective and observant of my 4 daughters, quietly replied with a gentle smile “Maybe so mommy, he picked you of all of the people here.”