“Why is he standing by the road? What does the sign say?” one of our 5 year old asks sweetly from the back while we’re at the stoplight. “Homeless and hungry. ANYTHING HELPS,” the sign reads. I wait a beat and weigh my words.
“It says he doesn’t have a house,” I say.
The peanut gallery, our 3 year old and his 5 year old twin brothers in the back, begins to debate. He has a camper. He has an RV. He must have a condo. Or an apartment.
“Why did you say that?” my husband hisses through his teeth.
“What was I supposed to say?”
“Nothing. Just leave it and they’ll move on.”
“Yes, he must have a camper instead. He lives in a camper, but he doesn’t have a house,” one of the 5 year old concludes and luckily the light changes. We turn.
Another day I saw a young woman with a toddler by the road holding a similar sign. I was driving to pick up the kids from preschool and I was grateful that I was alone in the car. I didn’t make eye contact with her and drove on. What should I have done? Pulled over and taken the woman and her kid in? Given her money?
Or simply driven on and assuaged my guilt thinking that surely there are some social services available to her and her child, there must be, right?
And what do I want to teach my children? Be kind to others… except those most desperate among us, the ones who are on the side of the road begging for help? For them, just develop a rationalization as to why their misfortune must be their own fault, why it could never happen to you? Just learn to ignore them, like the rest of us? What do you say to your children?