The Giving Geezer
Well, ladies and gentlemen – it's official. I'm old. Now despite the fact that forty is the new thirty, (which puts me at a mere eighteen and a half) it has recently come to my attention that I'm a granny, a fogey, a geeze. I'm not proud to admit it, but I'll tell you anyway: on Sunday I got sick from a kiddie ride at an amusement park.
Now just so we're clear, I don't mean sick in the nauseous sense, but rather the headache sense. And in my defense, the day was hot, I hadn't been drinking enough water, and I do have a proclivity towards headaches. Nevertheless, there I was, on an old fashioned car ride (to keep my 2 1/2 year old daughter company) and although my little girl was squealing with glee as those crazy cars were whipping around at inappropriately high speeds, all I could think was "MOMMY!!"
I used to love amusement parks when I was a kid: roller coasters, free falls, anything that got us talking about centrifugal force. A few years ago, however, I returned to an amusement park after a long hiatus and was quite disturbed too see that all the rides that I used to love as a teenager were now giving me whiplash, nausea, and cause to consider legal action against the maniacs who created such a place.
But a kiddie ride that's meant for a segment of the population that has recently reached 36 inches? Give me a break. And while you're at it, get me a cup of warm milk, a blanket for my lap, and a cat to keep me company while I complain about my back pain.
Although it was a bit embarrassing to discover that my preschooler's got more gumption than her old lady these days, maybe being old isn't so bad after all. Other than my car ride from hell, I had a pretty great time at the amusement park. But it wasn't because I was being whirled and twirled and consuming large quantities of ice cream and candy – it's because I got to give my two little girls a wonderful day and enjoy the expressions on their faces and the laughter in their bellies.
While we've all heard the adage "'Tis far better to give than to receive," Judaism believes not only that giving is better than receiving, but also that transforming oneself from a receiver into a giver is an essential part of growing up. Although Judaism rejects the concept of a baby being born with "original sin" (as we believe that all souls are brought into this world completely pure) we certainly have no problem with what you might call "original selfishness." Because if you think about it, babies are the most selfish creatures on the planet.
For the first part of their lives, babies don't even know that a world beyond them exists. Then, even once they discovered we're out there, they don't really care about us. Every whimper and cry they make is to let their parents know that they have a need. (No baby has ever stopped himself in the middle of the night and thought, "ya know what, I've already woken up Mom too many times this evening, I'll just hold off my crying for now so she can get the rest she needs.") Only once a baby begins to develop into a toddler and preschooler can a parent start explaining concepts like sharing and "it hurts little Jimmy when you roll over his fingers with your Tonka truck."
Now I'm not suggesting that an adult be solely a giver. Enjoying physical pleasures in this world (as long as they're considered "kosher") is actually one of our duties here, according to the Talmud. But there is no physical pleasure (no matter how kosher it is) that doesn't start to get obnoxious and gross after indulging in it too much, whereas the act of giving never becomes tiresome, as long as a person has sufficient resources to be able to do so.
We often hear people justify putting off marriage and children until later in life because they need more "me time", but the truth is that it's only after we focus our lives on others (whether it be through a family or some sort of volunteering) that we can actually make the transition from childhood to adulthood. (That's why there are so many overgrown children in our society…)
The morning after our amusement park day, my younger daughter and I were snuggling in bed and discussing the previous day's activities. After going over all the fun we had, my daughter proudly announced to me "Mommy and Daddy love me and big sister soooooo much!" Now, is that delicious, or what? I mean, is there a limit to how many times you could hear a young whippersnapper tell you that?