Monday, March 21, 2011

The Knowing And Not Knowing Of Things.

The girls and I went to a music class this morning. At the end of the class, we wandered amongst our friends and neighbors, mingling and meeting, smiling and laughing, crowded in the small but happy space. Toward the end of the room there was a table, spread with canned goods, boxes of pasta, and other non-perishable items.

Inara, being the sort of observant little person who takes in all the details of a space, wandered over and wanted to know why there was a big table of food in the room. Obviously.

"Soooo, Mama. There is a table over here. And it has lots of food on it. Like corn in a can. Why does this big table have all this food on it and who is it for and why is there corn in a can? Do you think I would like corn in a can?"

Honestly, it's a wonder this kid even has time to breathe some days.

There was a lot to answer in that question, as there always is when Inara thinks about...anything. So I decided to start with the big issues, and leave the canned corn to another discussion.

"Well, this is a collection, Inara. The table is a place where we can bring food and then someone will give all that food to other people who don't have enough food to eat."

"Oh. I see. And those people that don't have enough food to eat really want to eat lots and lots of corn in a can, right?"

(I love the way the world looks to a four year old.)

"Ummm...well," I replied, "they can eat that, and all the other food that people bring."

"Really? But Mama, why don't all those people that are hungry just go to the grocery store to BUY corn in a can? That's what I would do."

Aha. Now we hit the jackpot.

"Inara, honey. Some people don't have enough money to go to a store to buy corn in a can. Or anything else. And some people don't even have a car to get to the grocery store."

Inara stood there, looking at all the canned goods. I could see her brain turning those gears around and over and under, processing what I had just said. With a look on her face that was a perfect mixture of sadness and anger, she put her hands over her eyes, sat down on the cold hard floor and said,

"NO. WAY."

I felt like such a chump. My daughter had lost her innocence right there, sitting on a concrete floor, in a church basement. All because of me.

Nissa and I sat down beside her, freezing our collective bum cheeks off. We put our arms around our girl, smothered her with kisses and held her tight. Nissa didn't even try to pull her hair, and patted her big sister's head instead, leaving traces of sticky cookie crumbs behind. I pretended not to notice.

From somewhere underneath my armpit, a tiny plaintive voice spoke out. It was muffled, but I distinctly heard:

"But WHY, Mama? Why don't those people have enough food to eat?"

I buried my face in her chocolate-cookie-crumb-covered hair, and kissed her. I moved her into my lap, and Nissa sat on top of both of us. We were one big mass of coats and boots and people and crumbs, right there on the church basement floor.

I sighed as I said, "I don't know, baby. I just don't know."

Inara sighed too. Nissa blew a raspberry at us. Inara managed to extricate herself from underneath my arm and she looked back at the table. Then she frowned and said,

"Mama. You don't really know very much about very much lately, do you?"

(I admit to being surprised by this new line of questioning.)

"What do you mean, kiddo?"

"What I mean is that you don't know about why people don't have enough food to eat, and you don't know why there are big waves that wash away houses and you absolutely don't know about why people want to fight in a war. Why don't you know about any of those things?" Inara huffed all this out at me, angry and expectant.

I gathered her back up in my arms again and said, "I don't know the answer to that one either, honey. And I am really, really sorry about that."

I looked dejected enough that she didn't pursue it any further. Instead, we sat there for a little while longer, in one big heap, and hugged.

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