Several years ago, I remember a colleague bringing her young baby to the office where we shared a day job. I was busy at the time…you know, the young professional trying to make himself valuable (this was prior to the onset of my more curmudgeonly nature), and popped into the office of the other co-worker to whom she was showing her baby to ask that person a quick question about routing some paperwork or something like that. They joked with me that every female in the room had instantly zeroed in on the new baby, but that I had hardly noticed.
Fast forward several years. I was sitting in a green room backstage a few weekends ago and talking to a couple who were waiting for one of the musicians that had been onstage to finish packing up his equipment to leave. I ended up in a conversation in which we compared reasons and stories for our favorite brands of cloth diapers. Yet, I felt no need to surrender my man-card.
Its amazing, isn’t it, how children so easily break down cultural barriers? Last night at an Epiphany service and Twelfth Night concert, our daughter became a bit fussy. Yet no one minded. We received smiles from across the congregation, and comments on how well-behaved a child she is. All sorts of people from all different ages approached us conversationally. I ended up making some unexpected connections in the local arts and academic communities because of discussion about children sleeping through the night.
When we read about situations in which children are in danger, adults almost invariably rush into dangerous situations to save children…situations in which there may be hesitation to save other adults, or a motivation to wait for professional rescuers to arrive. Even the most tax-averse of conservative politicians have difficulty justifying reducing funds that help children in the community. And, even among the most hardened of criminals who are incarcerated for unspeakable acts, child abuse is viewed as a most heinous of crimes, and child abusers introduced into their populations…well, we’ve all heard about how that goes.
Children seem to have this universal way of breaching these false barriers that we put up around ourselves, these invisible but inviolable walls by which we isolate ourselves from others according to cultural status, income level, or (God help us) ethnicity. The innocence of a child is an instant conversation starter with those whom we may not have otherwise had conversation. They are instant motivators to justice and protection among those who might not otherwise be as motivated.
In a crowded airport shuttle in November, a seat was immediately surrendered for my wife to have a place to sit with our daughter.
I also wonder why we don’t see other adults this way? Do we see ourselves as now tainted, somehow? As being part of the rest of the cynical world? Do we mourn this, and want to postpone that perspective reaching an innocent child for as long as possible? Or is it as simple as the fact that we become overwhelmed by the “cute factor?”
I’m amazed at how children bring us so easily together, in any case.