Photo by Jean Chamberlain Froese

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, June 8, 2019)

It was a gift from Oma and Opa, an outfit for the little bambino, the newborn, and this is what it said: “Property of Mommy and Daddy.” The photo landed in this space. Sixteen years ago.

It’s like clothing announcing that you’re “Property of the Toronto Raptors.” Everyone knows you’re not, just like everyone knows that parents don’t own their children. Not really. I mean, we do know this, right?

In either case, the bambino is Child #1. That’s my daughter, Liz. Hundreds of family photos rotate on a countertop in our home, but this one, taken by the children’s mother, remains a favourite. It marks our family’s start on Liz’s birthday, on June 6, D-Day, a day remembered for its great risk. Just like family life.

But what about this so-called property? And really, who raises whom?

Consider the young man who went off to war. A little more experienced with what life can dish up, he returned home to discover how much his father had changed and grown. Yes, the Old Man always has so much to learn. “It must be hard to raise your parents,” is how my own father would put it to me.

If nothing else, our children hold a good-sized mirror in front of us. (“Dards, you have something in your teeth.”) And we are changed. How can we not be? We’d have to be dead and cold as stone.

On a recent morning, that’s where I was, among the tombstones in a cemetery. And there he is, this gentleman with a round face and relaxed way and small dog. We stopped. Talked. He spoke easily about his daughter. She’s in China. Double degree. Dean’s list. All that. But no work here, so she’s teaching students in China who hope to attend university in Canada.

She’s enjoying it, her father said, and we agreed that she’s learning that there’s life, sometimes remarkable life, outside Canada. I shared about my own family’s experiences in Africa and the Middle East, how those years are likely still changing us in ways we don’t even realize.

We talked about it, about letting go: letting your child go into the world, and letting go, also, of those funny ideas.

Further to this point, shortly after this, I was at the banquet hall, Carmen’s. Liz and Child #3, Hannah, our Ugandan-Canadian daughter, joined me. There we are, among 500 at the annual gala auction of Joy and Hope for Haiti. The Hamilton-based charity has been building schools in Haiti for 30 years. An estimated 25,000 Haitian children have been helped. Educated.

Now imagine that you, yourself, have just arrived in Haiti. And this little Haitian girl reaches for you. You know exactly what she wants. She wants your wallet. Maybe your hotel key too. You know because you see how desperate these people are.

But you’re wrong. This girl doesn’t want to take. She wants to give, touch you, give you a smile. This is what was shared from the podium to get that fundraising evening started: one man’s funny ideas. You think you see something. You think you know something. You certainly know that you weren’t born yesterday. Then your eyes are opened.

Then, for this well-heeled gala crowd, the food was blessed by whom? The children of Haiti. “Thank you, Lord,” they said in Creole-like English. “Thank you for all the donors who send help so we can be in school. We ask blessings on the meal.” This, through a video from Haiti’s Morne Rouge School. So we were blessed and nourished by the poor children of the world.

And isn’t this the nature of it? You think you’re giving, but you’re receiving. You think you’re teaching, but you’re learning. You think you’re giving to the poor, then you see your own poverty. You think you’re raising your children, but they’re shaping your very soul.

No, in this there’s no ownership. Just stewardship. And not for long.

Now the bambino is no longer a bambino. She’s a rather creative and conscientious Sweet 16. Soon come the car keys. And everything else. God knows where she might eventually go. Maybe the other side of the world. Maybe the other side of town.  No, really, God knows. And that’s enough.