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It's not a question of what we want

"Hey ladee, yawannabuysomecanny?"

I had successfully avoided them on my walk to The Pageant. They were fairly well-dressed and polite, and on my way by the first time, their shabby grey van had been surrounded by a crowd of men in their late 20s, all reaching for their wallets.

Apparently this is the reaction you get when your mother puts you, age three, out on the street in the Delmar Loop with your six-year-old sister and a box of Skittles from Sam's.

They had been too busy on my way by the first time, and I was pretty intent upon getting to The Pageant and getting my Indigo Girls ticket before the concertgoers who had taken every available parking spot in a six-block radius streamed back into the streets and into a line for Flogging Molly. But on my way back to my car, there were no customers. Which meant I was greeted with a hearty, "Hey ladee, yawannabuysomecanny?"

I tried to walk by, but walking by a child who's talking to me is like walking by a friendly dog who wants to sniff my jeans and lick my palm: I physically can't do it.

"Do I want to what?" I asked.


"I can't." I spread my hands out in front of my purse. "I don't have any cash. Do you take Visa?"

At this, Mom started to laugh from her post in the passenger seat. I noticed half-eaten wonder bread sandwiches abandoned on styrofoam plates and stifled my questions as I smiled at the little boy.

But he didn't think I was nearly as funny as Mom did. He ran back to his sister and grabbed her box. "Yes! Canny!!!"

"You don't take Visa, buddy."

"Yes! CANNY!"

I smiled at the mom and started to walk away.

"'Scuse! SCUSE!" He shook a lime green bag of Skittles in the air with a fierceness a three-year-old shouldn't know.

"Sorry, buddy, I don't have any money." And I walked away with the sound of "Scuse? Hey ladee!" drowned out by honking car horns and Flogging Molly fans chatting in sidewalk bistros.

There's no fancy way to say I felt awful. For one, my job demands that I just don't walk away from a kid who wants something of me, and I was walking away. Second, I lied to a kid. Not only did I have a twenty in my purse, I'd just spent $30 on something I didn't need.

And third and probably most importantly, I was nagged all the way back to my car, all the way to my house, by the idea that these kids probably think it's normal to sell candy on the street. I don't know their story, I don't know their situation, but the dollar I could have given them wouldn't have changed a single thing. Even the twenty in my purse wouldn't have made their world into what is normal for me. Should I have given it to them anyway? What would change their world? Do they think it needs to be changed?

I don't have any answers, but I do know that it feels rotten to say no to a child, especially one in baby kicks and a little red polo shirt. No, make that especially to one who you could easily say yes to but all you can do is hope and pray that someone else whose yes wields more power comes along.

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( 1 melody — strike a chord )
Mar. 12th, 2010 01:25 pm (UTC)
It's so hard wondering what kids in that situation are going home to. And it's such a vicious cycle, too. Subbing in a lot of daycares (where I was mainly put in the high school daycares for teen moms and the low-income/head-start type places) for a few years, then working in an inner-city charter school, it was so hard to watch kids for whom this type of thing would be a way of life.

Right now, the kids probably don't think it needs to be changed, as long as they feel loved from their mom and have enough to eat. But when they get older, they'll know. unfortunately, the problem is more systemic than just selling enough candy for tomorrow's supper will solve.

Sorry I don't have anything more cheerful to say...
( 1 melody — strike a chord )

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