Sunday, June 26, 2016

Two Families

We went to an air show, and while I enjoyed it, the people-watching very nearly eclipsed the Blue Angels. (Sorry, guys.)

In front of us was an extended family group, two parents, two small children, and two grandparents. They spoke Spanish, so I understood only a word here and there. But one didn't need to comprehend to see how they worked as a unit to make the experience good for everyone, including little children. They'd brought water and hats, snacks, chairs and a blanket spread out to play on, and toys from home including planes. They purchased souvenir toys (although why an inflatable hammer larger than the child is sold at an air show, I can't guess) and snacks the group shared. Most of all, the children had frequent adult attention keeping them happy and engaged while some of the adults went off and did their own thing, like checking out the helicopter or viewing the show from a different vantage point. The little ones played until the planes were about to fly by, then one of the four adults directed their focus to the reason they were there. The whole family seemed to enjoy the air show, and the pride in Dad and Grandpa was a pleasure to see; it was obvious they'd served.

To the left was another extended family group of two parents, five children under six, and two grandparents. While the men strolled off, bought beer, and made the experience good for themselves, no one did the same for the children listless in the heat. There were not enough chairs for everyone to sit, and when the baby slept in her carrier and a sibling dared to sit in the stroller, there was scolding and threatened swats. The family may have eaten before we arrived, but there were no snacks and no water for the kids, although the adults had beer. No one had brought toys or pastimes; the older children kept busy playing in the dirt with a bottle cap and a stick which had missed the nearby trash can. No one attempted to engage them in the air show or anything else. The boy was threatened with physical violence twice, and it was obvious that he recognized the risk of a beating as genuine.

At one point, Grandma mentioned she was 36, which suggests two generations of women having a child at 15. I'm sure that's not easy, but I didn't see anything suggesting the parents or grandparents were doing everything they could to make these children feel valued or happy to see the planes. The kids were young, but the older three had good mastery of being half-invisible, shoulders hunched, heads bowed.

We were not perfect parents--who is?--but I wanted to grab those adults and force upon them a crash course in parenting. I can't get the hopeless eyes of those kids out of my thoughts. It's way too easy to imagine all four girls seeking attention and approval from others any way they can get it, thereby repeating the cycle of early parenthood, while their abused brother eases his misery with drugs or alcohol. I'd really like to be wrong on that, but I don't think I am.

And what does this have to do with writing? I'm getting there. The bottom line is that good writing isn't going to do itself, any more than those neglected kids are going to raise themselves to be fine adults. Like those parents to my left, the writer faces many, many days when other things are more important, when writing is too damned hard, when you want to have some fun for once like everybody else, when it seems pointless to try, when you're so exhausted or despondent the energy to do your very best just isn't there.

The result won't be as tragic as those kids' futures, but the point is, you have to try, hard and consistently, to have a genuine shot at success. Be the family in front of me at the air show.

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