There’s been a lot of talk lately after the release of the book “Bringing up Bébé” about the behavior of American children as compared to French children. I don’t know a lot about that, but I have noticed some pretty amazing American children lately (other than my own, whom I think the world of, as you know).
A little over a week ago, Sapphire and I took eclairs to Emerald’s school to celebrate Emerald’s birthday with her friends. We were there at the end of the day, as the children were finishing up their last assignment. When they were done, had finished the treat we’d brought, and had packed up to go home, the kids who wanted to were allowed to play a game they call “Quiet Ball”, in which they stand in a circle and toss a ball back and forth around the circle. The rules are simple: the kids are to remain quiet, the ball must be thrown between the shoulders and the knees of the person catching it, “zingers” are not allowed, and if you miss the ball or break one of the rules, you are out. The game continues until there is only one child left or until dismissal.
Sapphire, Emerald, and I watched for a few minutes. Then, Sapphire said that she wanted to play. Emerald’s teacher instructed the kids that if Sapphire were to play, they would have to throw the ball to her gently. Without being asked, one of the boys left the circle and went over to Sapphire to teach her how to play. He asked her to put her hands out, then he very gently tossed the ball to her. She got a little shy and backed away, so he suggested Emerald show her how to play. Emerald tossed it to her and this time she caught it. She and Emerald then joined the game. The kids (mostly boys, as many of the girls chose not to play that day) threw the ball back and forth to each other, but each time one threw it in Sapphire’s direction, the thrower made a point of lobbing it very softly to her. They even amended the rules a little for her: She was never out, even if she dropped it, threw it over someone’s shoulder, or “zinged” it.
One by one, the kids got out of the game, but Sapphire remained. Eventually, there were only two standing, Sapphire and a little boy I’ll call Peter. Peter seemed to enjoy the game with Sapphire. At the very end, just as dismissal was approaching, Sapphire threw the ball over Peter’s shoulder, a clear violation of the rules. Peter smiled real big and said, “You beat me!” He seemed like he couldn’t be happier for her. She was ecstatic to have won. Peter congratulated her, told her she played a great game, and then picked up his backpack and headed for his bus.
Watching these 10-year-old boys play with a 5-year-old little girl and be so sweet to her just warmed my heart. Emerald’s teacher explained that several of these boys either have little sisters close to Sapphire’s age or are good friends with someone who does, so they are used to playing with a little kid her age. But in my mind that doesn’t totally explain it. They may be used to having to include a little kid, but they truly seemed to enjoy it and rather than act resentful that they had to let her play, they made her feel like a star. These were great kids, behaving just as any parent would hope they would.
The next day, Emerald had her birthday party at home, a sleepover. She invited five girls, three of whom could come. At dinner (which incidentally was breakfast for dinner), Jim and I were still serving up food at the stove when the kids were all set to start eating. As one of the kids took a bite, another bent her head and said a silent blessing. I was so proud of her. She kept to her own traditions even though she wasn’t sure anyone else was going to say a blessing. She did not worry about anyone’s reaction. I have noticed this with this particular child before and I am always super impressed. This kid knows who she is and always stays true to that, no matter what others do. I’ve seen her ride through the neighborhood on a stick unicorn, happy as a lark. I’ve seen her drink water in a pizza place, while the other kids are mixing up soda concoctions. This is not a kid who is swayed by peer pressure in the least (although I have never seen any of the other kids exert pressure on her). She quietly and happily sticks to her own likes and traditions, and follows what her parents have taught her, even when she’s not with them.
There may be many parenting issues in this country and there may be many kids with attitude and behavior issues, but I have witnessed a bunch of kids in recent weeks who appear to have been raised to respect others, be polite, and stay true to themselves. I just wanted to take this opportunity to point out that while social trends in parenting may have gone in a direction that many feel is not the best approach, there are still many good kids out there. And I can’t help but smile at that.