Munchkin toddled over to the small reading area in the children's section of the library, a spot where they keep the oversized stuffed animals. He slowed down as he entered the reading room when he saw a little girl, around 3 years old, sitting proudly on top of the giant teddy bear. She leapt up, said "Hi!" to me and briefly eyed Munchkin. I said hello and entered the room, moving to the side so that Munchkin could choose how and when to enter on his own. He and I both stood there for a moment watching the little girl. She had a Ziploc baggie of popcorn in her hand and was eating it with gusto. She made exaggerated chewing motions and shifted her body in rapid, unpredictable movements.
The girl returned to sit on the giant teddy bear and Munchkin followed her, still watching her intently. Munchkin's constant gaze made the girl wary as she ate her popcorn. After each embellished bite, she jerked the baggie behind her, hiding it away from Munchkin. I thought, She's afraid he'll take it from her. Or worse, be forced to share. The girl's babysitter/older sister was too busy reading a book to bother with the girl's popcorn shenanigans. I stood by and watched silently. Munchkin didn't show any intention to grab her treat. He just sat down near the girl on the teddy bear's other leg, staring at her curiously. I have never forced him to share, nor do I require other children to share with him. The girl's behavior was curious indeed!
After a few minutes of this bite-and-hide, sit-and-stare interaction, the girl's demeanor changed. Munchkin's docile, patient and attentive manner seemed to disarm her. She became curious about him. Then the girl really surprised me. She took out a piece of popcorn and extended her arm towards Munchkin. He leaned forward slowly, opened his mouth, and accepted the morsel placed gently inside. I was overjoyed but I had to check myself. My immediate thoughts were of the healthy mom neurosis variety: I really hope that's homemade plain popcorn and not some preservative-ridden crap. Damn, Munchkin's never had popcorn before. Isn't that a choking hazard? I hope it doesn't upset his stomach.
I let those concerns pass and instead focused on the gem of the moment, that of true sharing. I quickly realized that the opportunity to share spontaneously was much more valuable than any harm that could come from trying a new food. Even junk food. I revelled in the joy of watching this strange, possessive girl willingly share her prized popcorn with my son.
The girl's mother returned to the room at that moment. Apparently, the little girl was as enchanted as I was because she rushed over to tell her mother she'd fed the baby. The mother asked if it was OK for my son to have popcorn. I said yes and received confirmation that it was indeed plain popcorn (huge internal sigh of relief!). I smiled and said thank you to the girl, hoping to let her know that by sharing she had brought joy to someone else. Munchkin must have communicated his own nonverbal form of thank you (not that I would have forced a verbal one) because the girl returned to feed him another half dozen pieces of popcorn. Sometimes she put it in his mouth directly and a few times he extended his hand for the gift. Either way, the little girl raced back and forth to share the exciting news with her mother. She radiated delight in sharing her snack.
As we left the library, I wondered how many of these encounters might happen if adults didn't intervene the moment they saw another child yearning for another's food or toy. I wondered how many children might learn the true joys of giving and receiving when they are allowed to do so of their own volition. Still, I was elated. I had witnessed the transformation of fear into giving. I had caught a glimpse of what we are all capable of doing.