So, back from my sun- and booze-fueled mini vacay in
First of all, I really am getting, in the words of Danny Glover, too old for this shit. So, thanks to my body for a solid quarter-century plus of consequences-free partying, and I’m going to go drink water and eat oat bran now until my hands stop shaking.
Secondly, there’s nothing like a trip south of the border to pound home how extraordinarily hard are the lives of Mexican children. Everywhere you look in
And if you are being charmed by one of these children in a bar or restaurant, you may, at some point, become concerned for the welfare of the child because they seem to have been left entirely on their own. It is at that moment of that the mother will inevitably appear, arms laden down with tortillas or beaded necklaces or whatever else she is selling, and will wearily herd the child and the rest of her brood on to the next bar or restaurant in their nightly rounds.
Contrast to the lives of the children I saw on the way home in the Phoenix airport, whose parents seemed interested in endowing them with 1) a precious name, and 2) a sense of entitlement, and very little else.
And I think somewhere in between the two extremes, the truth, as usual, lies.
I try to avoid romanticizing my own upbringing, because lord knows there is plenty wrong with the attitudes Midwesterners harbor regarding the rearing of children. For one thing, I wish they would get through their thick skulls that affection is not necessarily a sign of weakness. But one thing that I am grateful for is that I would never have been allowed to lie prone across three seats in a waiting area while other people were forced to stand. That definitely would have earned me an arm jostle and a sternly delivered admonition to pay attention to others and to stop being so selfish.
Curmudgeons are forever claiming that the latest generation of humans are the worst ever, and I’m not saying that, exactly, but I do think that there has been a subtle paradigm shift in the attitudes of parents over the last 50 years. Now, when faced with a crowded airport gate and insufficient seating, parents seem to think “I will provide my children with seats before they are all taken. That is what a good parent does,” whereas my own mother would’ve said, “You’re a child, you can sit on the floor.”
She also would’ve said “Go help that woman pick up those packages she dropped,” and “Go help our neighbor carry out her trash,” and “Are you blind, or can you not see that that gentleman needs help opening that door?”
Don’t get me wrong, I did not particularly enjoy being so helpful, in fact I spent the majority of my childhood asking my mother who her personal slave had been before I’d been given the job. But what I realize now is that they were teaching us, in that typically Midwestern way, that we were not the most important things in the goddamn world. They were teaching us to be, well, liberals. And not by whining about the underprivileged at dinner parties while the maid cleaned up after us. My mother didn’t need a maid – she had children. And while I frequently took pains to remind her that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, she no trouble understanding, instinctively, that all play and no work makes Jack a fucking asshole.
We called the rental company and asked them to send more maids to help the girl, which I knew might be construed by her as a complaint about her job performance, and sure enough, the maids that arrived subsequently eyed us warily. There we were, us Americans with our overpriced flip-flops, and our coolers full of beer, and our sunglasses that cost more than they make in a month, probably. There we were, with less Spanish between us than a Mexican two-year old could speak, even though we’d been vacationing in their country for 20 years or more. There we were, waiting on them to finish working so that we could play.
It occurred to me that the least I could do would be to sweep the sand off the deck, but I didn’t. No doubt it would have mortified my companions and dismayed the help even further. And so I waited until they were finished and loading up to leave, and I quietly walked after the girl who had been there since we arrived. I didn’t want her supervisor, the young man with the walkie-talkie who refused to do any work himself, or any of the other maids, to see us. “Senorita,” I said. She turned to look at me, expecting…I don’t know what, but nothing good. “Gracias,” I said, and I pressed a ten-dollar bill into her hand. She flashed a big smile and said “Gracias” to me, and then they all left us to commence our party.
Look, I know it’s her job to clean beach houses, not mine. And I know that I cannot single-handedly reform the image of asshat Americans abroad. But I also know that I could have helped her instead of given her money, or I could have even done both. It would have gotten me what I wanted - a clean condo - sooner if I had. But instead I calculated the value of my inaction. It came to ten dollars. I paid it willingly, with relief even. I wonder what my mother would’ve thought of that.