Lessons from the mall, part II

Target Corporation

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I thought I was off the hook on “big talks” for the day after my daughter requested an explanation as to why women shave their bodies and men shave their faces, but no. Again, the mall, the source of many a disagreeable encounter, lived up to my low expectations. This is what happened:

My daughter and I were enjoying a special lunch – yes it was the Pizza Hut hub in the Target – but still, some nice girl time after purchasing a bright shiny pink winter coat. I noticed a bedraggled, hunched over middle-aged woman making the rounds and stopping at each table briefly. I’ve lived in urban environs long enough to recognize the cautious yet somehow aggressive approach of a panhandler followed by a hasty exit and instant re-focus on the next person in the sight-line. As she approached our table and handed me the “I’m deaf….” card that you, as the recipient of said card have to buy if you want to actually keep and read I automatically shook my head no, making no eye contact and returned to my conversation about why popcorn is not a proper lunch.

Never underestimate the powers of observation in a three-and-a-half-year-old. My snap judgment and action turned into a ten-minute conversation where I failed to hold up my end in a successful manner. It started with “Who’s that boy?” (Perhaps I spoke too soon about the powers of observation) and ended with “But why doesn’t he have any money?” The middle parts consisted of awkward explanations on my part – “We don’t give money to people, we give to organizations.” Yeah, like that stand-up UHO table with the jar I’ve been dropping my pennies and alternately ignoring for the past thirteen years. “Well, some people need hel- why don’t I help them? You see sweetheart, there’s this thing called a ‘scam’ and…Yes, we are supposed to help people who need help…Yes, she did look like she needed help.”

At this point, I’m the one who needed help. Help in marrying my own sense of well-honed New York bullshit detecting with my own bleeding heart liberalism. I mean, if your sole source of income is passing out 2” X 2” paper cards (that I’ve seen before, on the subway, at the airport….) then I’m going to take a wild guess and say that person is probably worse off than I am in the money department. My $10 I was saving for an emergency car service when the weather really sucks could buy them a couple of meals. And that’s something I’d love to teach my kids. On the other hand, I’VE SEEN THOSE CARDS – maybe not that woman (or man, if you’re to believe my daughter) and the manufactured sympathy card – literally – makes me wonder what operation is behind this money machine?

Bottom line – I have no idea what to tell my daughter about people who are in need vs. people who want to lighten your wallet under false pretenses. Help. Someone. Please tell me how I should have handled this trip to the mall. Sigh. At least it’s never boring in my neighborhood.

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2 Responses to Lessons from the mall, part II

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Three and a half is a little young to parse all the specifics, but it raises lots of conversational possibilities about trust and compassion.

  2. bonniestone says:

    I have a three and a half year old myself and I wonder the same thing. It is totally inappropriate to just open up every part of your heart and mind to said child, but it is equally inappropriate to close it completely as well.

    I hesitate to give the “we only help certain people…” line as an option because that implies that only certain people are worthy of help and others not.

    Perhaps if the question is turned around “Well honey, why do you think she needed help?/Would you have helped her?/Why is that?” would work better than trying to give sage advice because it could then be worked into a conversation which sparks active thinking which could lead to shared answers.

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