Childhood is Global

Travel

The bus trip to Alicante is brief but the visual treats are plentiful. There is the first circle of restaurants and cafes just around the corner of our stop. There is the square with the giant palm tree and workout equipment with the elder gentleman in jeans, sweater, and a cap, doing a slow peddle on the stationary bike. There are the children running along the sidewalk teasing each other and the parents pushing toddlers glowing as they grip a new toy from the market. An older brother holds his sister by the shoulder and gives her a casual kick in the butt from behind and she lunges at his arm before they settle back in their walking rhythm next to each other with ease and familiarity. 

It’s just over a mile between stops but we pass dozens of tiny communities. The older generation wanders arm in arm with their partner or adult children, holding a cane in one hand and gripping the support of their loved one in the other. The lady with the bulky coat and shopping trolly shuffles to get off the bus and the gentleman standing near the exit moves out of the way and helps her quietly, without her seeing, positioning the trolly so she can pull it off the ramp. 

We exit the bus and walk the few minutes to our destination. There is a man washing the windows two stories up who hears loud chatting of a family and looks to nod at them. The adults of the family speak in fast staccato while two young children run ahead and hide behind the statues of mushrooms and Alice In Wonderland themed street decorations. The older sibling watches out for the younger one, wrapping her arm around the toddler and guiding her to the slide. The toddler can almost make the latter’s steps but the mother calls out a warning and she climbs down the two rungs and takes off to the next mushroom behind her sister. They are laughing and calling out to each other in their own language; not Spanish, not English, but Childhood.

I recall when my young son asked if there were kids in Germany on a trip I was taking there years ago. These young children, not yet jaded to the politics of the world or the reality of some who abuse power, enjoy a world the adults can’t see. Time is not linear to them, it slows and quickens depending on context. Fun is simple and friendships are plentiful. The world is new and large and small, everything existing at once and not at all. 

There are many new and different things here in Spain for me, but the most prevailing thought I have is how familiar everything is. This is my first trip to Alicante, but there is already a comfort to the predictability of life. The ladies at the market who check out my purchases are the same as the people at my local grocery store. The old man on the corner reading the paper could be the same regular I see at Starbucks in my neighborhood, always sitting outside, regardless of the weather, reading the day’s news in print. The styles of clothing are slightly different, but not really. The food is a higher quality but still resembles something I’d make at home: eggs, bacon, sliced cucumbers and avocado. The music vacillates between Spanish top hits and American top hits, and I hum a song my children introduced me to just a few weeks ago. 

There are all sorts of travel blogs, of quotes about travel, experiences shared on old slides from vacations in the 70’s and VHS tapes from the 80’s, but still somehow we find ourselves fighting the “Them versus Us” mentality. I’m at a loss for how those who leave their own comfortable homes could ever see Them as Bad and Us as Good. We do not need a wall to keep Them out, We need to become strangers in a land where we don’t speak the language and rely on the compassion and patience of the locals. We need to visit school yards in dusty villages and see the children playing football and laughing when someone scores against their own team. We need to find ourselves lost in unfamiliar places and appreciate the directions we can barely make out to get us back and appreciate the landmarks that become familiar the longer we stay present in this newness. 

We need to broaden our Us to be more inclusive. How can I explain to my young son asking innocent questions about the people in the other countries, asking about the boys who take karate in Germany just like he did, about the schools they attend which are so much like his, that they are just alike but they are not welcomed? How can I explain that these children laugh and play with their friends and give their siblings trouble and love, just like yours, but then tell explain that we isolate those Others? I can’t. I won’t. It is darkness and it’s taking over the future only if we let it in.

The elder people I run in to here do not smile. They do not frown. They are resolute in their indifference, going about their business and minding their own lives. The children are a sharp contrast, joyfully bounding between generations in the streets, smiling to everyone, laughing at the smallest treasures. It’s not a metaphor for life, this observation, but I can’t help wonder how we create an elder generation who doesn’t have to live through so much harsh reality; war, hate, greed, power, and darkness. This generation, with their canes and deep set lines in their faces, have seen dictatorships, world wars, cold wars, poverty, wealth, gain, loss. They are not surprised anymore by what they see happening today. Time for them is not linear either, it’s circular. 

If childhood is universal, how do we stop the carousel of greed and power and hate and return to the horses and unicorns and sleds? I ask the question just in time as I enter another cafe and order my cappuccino and watch a mother enter with her daughter, probably my daughter’s age, and see the interaction between them as if I was watching myself with LB. There is no Them or Us. We are all a We. This is what I will teach my children. I hope you join me.  

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