Monday, July 18, 2016

Observations from Madrid: The Love of Niños

People here love children. Like, they L.O.V.E. children. You cannot believe how much they are loving your children, especially because your children are very likely hot, sticky, cranky, tired of the museum, tired of the walking, fighting with each other, fighting with you. You go to a grocery store and they give your son little "regalos" (presents). It's not just the fact that the checkout person has gifts for them, it's the fact that everyone in line is excitedly participating in the giving of the gifts, encouraging your confused 8 year old to get out of line and walk over to the gift-giving grocer. "No, don't leave your bag, bring it so he can fill it!" "Go on, cariño, go get your gifts!" And all the señoras are talking and pointing at where your son should go - complicit in the universal adoration of children and the joy that spoiling them brings. And then they're all smiling with satisfaction ("Asi, this is how things should go, this is how the world should work.") as the grocer throws not one or two, but handfuls of little gifts into your son's bag. You're in the train and someone gives your boys lollipops because they are being so nice. You're buying toilet paper and shampoo at a pharmacy and the checkout lady pulls out an inflatable beach ball as a gift for your six year old. You're waiting on the platform for the metro and a señora notices your boys sitting there reading. She goes up to them and starts talking to them about their books. When she turns to leave she blows them kisses  and says "That's for being such good boys." Perfect strangers pat your children on the head. You cannot believe how many people pat your children on the head. The waiter, the security guard, the store clerk, the police officer. You go to your friend's family's house in the country and your children meet the 89 year old father and his sister. They kiss your children when they meet them. They hold your children's faces in their hands and marvel aloud about their beauty, their goodness, their sweet smiles. They do this every time they see your two boys. Your two boys react with warm eyes, deep smiles, reflexive hugs and kisses; your boys know they are being loved.

It reminds you of a moving scene from the film, Children of Men, when a baby - the first baby born in 18 years - is walked through an urban battlefield, the mother and her caretakers ushering the newborn to safety. And though the men are fully engaged in battle, they fall dumbstruck as they notice the baby. They lay down their arms and kneel and weep and stare. It's not as dramatic as all that, of course, but there is something unique happening here in Spain. It's as if all these Spanish adults know childhood is sacred and fleeting. They want your children to eat candy and watch television (your aunt says it's good for them!) They want to caress and love on all the children they encounter. And even though you and your husband laugh and talk about Children of Men, you also marvel at the constant sweetness, the joyful spoiling, the reflexive nature of it all.

And though you are spending the summer in a foreign country and you are living in a very small flat, and your children are still hot, sticky, cranky, tired of the museum, tired of the walking, fighting with each other, fighting with you -  you see them for a moment next to each other on the couch reading together and notice that their little socked feet are resting against each other; you notice them both rush to help the woman at the store who drops all her boxes; you notice them put their arms around each other when they're walking; you listen to them singing when they think you can't hear them; you watch them interact with your friend's new baby girl, making faces, playing games, telling her she is smart, telling her she is beautiful, telling her she is sweet. You take stock of all these moments (and their power to stop time for a couple seconds and erase the day's frustrations and throw you into a state of awe of your offspring) and you recognize what's at the heart of the Spanish habit to love children so hard, so frequently, and with such abandon.

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