Friday, September 7, 2012

Lucky Grape

Sometimes the Grape says adorable things that even I, the most anti-scrapbook, non-crafty, non-gluestick owning mom, must memorialize.

Last night, while contemplating Goodnight Moon, a story he's heard roughly 867,452 times, the Grape looked up, wide-eyed and asked, "How does the moon sleep without a bed and a pillow?"

Cue soft, cooing aw noises from me. The Grape, annoyed at my delay in responding, asked again with more urgency. When I told him the moon doesn't require bedding, he accepted my explanation with a yawn. I was too tired to go into the whole moon-doesn't-really-sleep-because-it's-a-giant-hunk-of-space-rock thing.

I was also way too sleepy to hold forth on the concept that millions of people, let alone moons, have to sleep without beds or pillows. I told myself that the concept of such privation might make the Grape, whose dog snoozes on an orthopedically correct memory foam mattress, too anxious to sleep through the night without bad dreams. (We've been enduring another multi-week bout of nightmares, and the whole family looks bleary eyed as a result. I'm loathe to add the world's problems to his list of worries.)

And maybe I like the idea of prolonging those precious years of innocence.

This morning, the Grape woke up recharged and ready for day two of his school year. On the way through the park, we saw a homeless man rifling through trash, looking for discarded food, having a full on argument with himself about some topic that seemed hazy even to him.

The Grape has seen homeless people many times; we live in the city and homelessness is a fact of life. But when this guy pulled a half eaten slice of pizza from the bin, the Grape turned to me and announced loudly, "Mamma! We don't ever, ever eat out of the trash."

Before I could respond, the homeless man unleashed a torrent of obscenities and wishes for a slow, painful death in our direction. I picked up the pace and explained to the Grape that the man was "very sick and confused," because I lacked the intestinal fortitude to preach to my kid about the horrors of mental illness.

Because that would beg the question, why doesn't he see the doctor? Since that's what Mamma, the Grape, Lila the Dog and even Curious George do when something is amiss. Fielding that question would open the floodgates on an endless list of inequalities in the world. I'm not sure I'm ready to shatter the Grape's blissful childish worldview at the tender age of three.

But if not now, when?

Shouldn't he be starting to grasp that he's lucky? That plenty of kids would kill for the shiny pair of new shoes he rejects because he doesn't want to part with his favorite, blown out sandals - the ones so shabby they make him look like a street urchin from a Dickens story? That when something breaks, or we run out of provisions, we're fortunate that we can pop to the store to procure replacements?

Should I start telling him that other kids are starving in Africa, and indeed right down the road, when he pushes away a balanced meal made with fresh ingredients?  Probably not - he'd just give me the tired kid retort that I can box up his broccoli and send it to the poor Africans if I'm so inclined.

These questions weigh heavier as time marches on, and we need to plan for life beyond preschool. I like the concept of public school. I went to public school. Our town was pretty much lily white, but it was economically diverse. Some of my peers' parents worked in the big factory on the local Navy base; others belonged to the yacht club and spent the summers on their beach blankets. I distinctly remember my schoolyard realization, right after the Christmas break in first grade, that I was luckier than average. As were many of my close friends.

I don't want my child locked away with other kids who all look just like him and who all live very similar, privileged lives, oblivious to their good fortune. Nor do I want him in an underperforming school where the teachers spend more time on discipline that academics.

If I had to whip up a dream school, it would feature rigorous academics, time outside (because it's good for mind and body), and a socio-economically diverse student body. Many private schools offer the first, some the first two, and almost none (on my radar at least), the last. For all their galas (aside: the words preschool and gala should never occur contiguously, in my humble opinion) and auctions, many elite elementary schools fail to deliver much in the way of scholarships to a critical mass of needy kids - kids whose families would regard a top flight education as an awesome privilege, instead of an entitlement.

Boston's public schools vary wildly in resources and quality, and because of a well-intentioned but messy and inconvenient lottery system (designed in the sixties to ensure racial integration), there's no way of knowing whether he'd get a good placement. And then there's this: If the Grape wins the public school lottery and secures a spot in a sought-after kindergarten, is it wrong to send him when we have other options? Aren't we taking the seat away from a kid with no choices? But if I keep him safe in an upscale, private school bubble through the elementary years, what then? Have I made functioning in the real world harder by hiding certain brutal truths?

I know I'm beyond lucky to have such high class problems to ponder. What concerns me most is this: I want to raise a kid who understands that it's alright to have resources, and that it's great to be successful.

But it's not acceptable to forget, ever, ever, how very lucky he is.


  1. I think there are many ways to gradually introduce the concept of fortunate vs. unfortunate. Even by periodically verbally acknowledging your own good fortune. "Wow, I am so glad I have this new coat to keep me warm this winter" or whatever. I understand your dilemma regarding schools and I think you can get diversity by making sure the Grape (love that) is involved with activities outside school with kids who don't go to that school. As time goes on you can also broaden his experience by doing helpful, volunteering type things that make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate . This is kind of "show don't tell" but for life, not writing. Both my kids came from orphanages so we have talked a lot about kids who never do get adopted and what their lives are like (not always as bad as you might think, but for some horrific).

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I agree that volunteering is essential.
      How fascinating that you can follow their old friends from the orphanage. Your kids have world perspective my sheltered little guy lacks.