Lessons from a Six-Year-Old?

Sand Flea

“This sand in my pants is annoying,” said our grandson.

How is it that the sand that’s been in a six-year-old boy’s pants since he first rolled in surf hours earlier doesn’t become annoying until it’s time to walk back to the house?

That is one of life’s answerable questions. In the midst of all the things we can’t answer, some things are certain. And one of them is that children are able to ignore distractions as long as they’re having fun.

But when we began the quarter-mile walk up the hill to our condo, the whining began.

“Okay,” I rolled my eyes. “Hold out your pants leg and dump it out.”

He made his way to the side of the path and did what I asked as my husband stopped pushing the cart with a sigh. About a cup of grainy, golden sand cascaded down our grandson’s thigh and onto the earth.

“Wow,” I said, “that’s a lot of sand! How is it that you didn’t dump that out while you were on the beach?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but it’s still really itchy!” He squirmed and hopped from foot to foot.

“Okay, come here. Let’s see if we can get a little more of it out.”

I pulled out the waistline of his pants. A mound of sand at the lowest point of his swimsuit liner still hampered his movement. I pulled down the front of his swimsuit, dumping the clump of sand onto the ground. At the top of the clump, a sand flea scrambled over the mound, scampering to get away from the boy who had unknowingly held him captive.

“Omigosh! Look at that! You had a sand flea in your pants. No wonder it was itchy!”

He leaned over just in time to see the sand flea scurry into the mound of sand. “Nana, that’s just creepy!”

Two years ago, when our grandson was four, he spent hours digging in the sand, delighted when his hand brought up a sand flea. He had even named them: “Sandfleo 1, Sandfleo 2, Sandfleo 3.” This year, now able to swim, he spent all his time in the surf, the sand fleas forgotten.

Now he danced his way up the hill, saying over and over again, “That’s just creepy, Nana and Granddad!”

We completely agreed. But we were especially happy that on this day, he was anxious to stand in the stream of the hose until every grain of sand dripped from his pants. He watched carefully to be sure no other offending critters had taken up residence in his clothing.

That evening, as he sat in front of a children’s movie, munching on “cake-flavored” popcorn, I sat in a chair nearby, reading the paper online. Two headlines caught my eye immediately, one about the children flooding across the border into the Rio Grande Valley and another about the women and children dying in the Israeli shelling of a school in the Gaza Strip.

Clicking on each story, I tried to hold back the tears as I looked at the photographs on the screen in front of me. In one, taken from behind, teenagers held the hands of children younger than my grandson as they made their way into a barracks used as a temporary holding center for children coming across the border illegally. I wondered how bad life must be if parents who surely loved their little ones  as much as I love my children and grandchildren risked never seeing them again to send them away to a place they hoped would be safe. In the other, a little boy half our grandson’s age stood open-mouthed and sobbing in the ruins of the rubble that had once been a school.

These problems defy easy solutions. The violence in Central America is often fueled by a drug trade that brings murder and addiction into our country—where we already have difficulty protecting our own citizens from the evils of drug trafficking. And the Israelis, in dealing with rebels who deliberately use their women and children as human shields and hide themselves in schools and churches, are faced with the untenable choice of letting the attacks go unchecked or shelling a school in the full knowledge that innocents will be among the victims.

What can we, whose children sit safe and content at our feet, do to help in a world filled with violence and hatred? I don’t know. And I don’t think any of us know.

But like the certainty of sand in the pants of a child, it is also certain that we can ignore these problems only for so long. At the end of the day, we must pull ourselves out of our safe world where our children are faced only with minor irritations and find a way to do something. Our politicians point fingers and argue at a time when it has never been more crucial to work together. And this is particularly frightening when we consider that in every area of the world where violence has overtaken reason, the downward spiral began when extremists gained a foothold.

We must demand that our leaders leave the extremes behind and meet in the middle to find a way out of the morass. We must find a way to lift them up and support them when they’re courageous enough to sacrifice their base for the common good. I truly believe that most of them are good people who went into public service because they believed they could make a difference. More than one of them has said recently that it’s hard to get up and go into work in a place that is so dysfunctional.

I volunteer to help when I can. I write. It seems so little. And so I pray—even for those who advocate laws that are opposed to everything I believe. In my own life I have often found unexpected answers in the wake of a helpless prayer. Perhaps that’s what it means to move mountains—a grain of sand at a time.

May it be so for us and for all of our children.