Change is so hard. We butt up against it constantly and yet we fight it. Just this morning, a bright cool Fall one covered by an impossible, endless blue, I encountered so many people grappling with this.
First, there were the two engaging barristas at Red Horse who willingly entered into conversation with me about the ills of America's capitalist system and the necessity for change. I had paid, excitedly, with a new Red Horse card the owner had loaded up with a few dollars he owed me. What a great idea to inspire loyalty, I thought, and, of course, to get people to spend more than they normally would.
"It's so much easier to spend on a credit card than with cash," I said as I handed it over, paying happily even though it was still money. "My son, at nearly 6, is totally on to that idea, isn't taking it. He said to me the other day, in answer to how much he thought would be fair for a weekly allowance, '100 million dollars...And NO CREDIT CARDS!!'"
The barrista laughed. "He's no dummy. He wants cash only. Well, maybe that's good, maybe it'll change things, make things better if kids are more aware of how dangerous
credit cards are."
I just shook my head. "I'm afraid not. I'm afraid that we will get back on track economically in a year or two, then quickly forget how we got into this predicament in the first place. Then, we'll go back to our bad old ways. If history tells us one thing, it's that. We didn't learn much from the stories our grandparents told, it seems. Basically, we don't do things unless we have to."
I then launched into my usual rant about switching to a barter system. I have this idea of creating a directory of the many talented musicians, artists, writers and creative entrepreneurs in Park Slope and connecting them to one another, to share skills and services without monetary exchange. My lawyer and financial services friends warn me against this, about heading up what virtually amounts to tax evasion. Our government is no friend, they feel, to skirting the whole "money" thing.
"I used to do that all the time, when I was a pastry chef," the other barrista piped up. "I had a friend who was a woodworker and we often traded services," she said.
Aaaah. It was a utopian ideal, can you imagine? 'Hey, I'll bake you a cake, and you can make me a table.' How perfect would that be? Nirvana. I guess it would probably be a little more complicated than that, unfortunately, but maybe it could work...The conversation went on a bit, we were all in agreement that things needed to change, to really change, and they probably wouldn't. A little heavy for first thing Sunday morning, but there it is. That's why they got their gold stars. Finally, they had more coffee to brew and I had to hit the gym.
Arriving at the Y, I was asked by the young guy behind the counter to step inside and around the desk to sign in manually.
"The computer is broken, again, still," he said. "They should really get a new one."
"Yes and no," I said. "They'd get a new one, and then that one would break too. We have three computers now, and now we have three constantly-breaking computers. Change for change sake isn't always good."
"I guess you're right," he said, rubbing his eyes, yawning. "I just want to go home."
"When did your shift start? Have you been here all night?"
He nodded. "Yep, all night."
"Do you have to keep your eyes open the whole time?" I asked, hoping, naively, that he'd been able to get some shut-eye during the night shift.
He just laughed and nodded.
"Well, you deserve this then," I said, digging out a gold star. He took it, as most people do, without question, with an appreciative "thanks!" His tired colleague behind him got one too, got up gratefully and came over to accept it. I'm always amazed that people seem to want the stars, to put them on happily, as if they mean something important. I now believe they do.
Back in my building's lobby, I ran into a neighbor I always enjoy chatting with. "What's new?" I asked.
"High school!" she said, referring, I knew, to her smiling daughter's beginning of the 9th grade. Wow. I remembered her as a little confident, chatty kid, before braces, pulling my toddlers around on a sled in the courtyard. Her braces had come and gone now, and I barely recognized her as she breezed by me with a dazzling smile, nearly my height, on her way into the city, alone.
"Wow, how's it going?" I asked.
"She loves it," she said, relief in her voice. Bullet dodged, for now.
I shook my head, thinking of so many kids in our building who had such a hard time adapting to the changes in their bodies and brains, to growing up, to getting along on their own. I found the last gold star in my little bag and proffered it up.
"It's so hard, isn't it?" I said.
She nodded and we discussed the sadness of seeing little happy kids turn into sullen, even deeply sad teenagers. Some come out of it, some don't. It's hard, as a parent, to help kids deal with the changes in their lives, to pay attention in the few tired hours in the evening enough to help, to stay connected. I knew she was trying, this mom, doing the best she could do, really trying to communicate with her daughter despite the challenges to doing so.
I thought on the way upstairs of how my gold star giveaways help me deal with change, how they help me appreciate new people who enter my life, new experiences, to look around with wonder rather than with worry. Sometimes, though, like with any job, they also take time away from me noticing the people in my own home, little people who are changing into big people before my very eyes, that I need to pay close attention to.
As I spoke of my project the other night, sat in front of the computer writing or trying to spread the word, Eli approached me.
"I haven't even gotten a star..." he said, somewhat sadly as he stood behind me, his newly long legs shooting out from his Paul Frank underwear.
I turned around fully to face him, shocked. "Really?!" I said. I know he probably took some at the beginning, know they're always floating around. But I realized that I probably hadn't placed one on him as I had on others whose efforts I'd paid close attention to and rewarded. I guess I figured they wouldn't be meaningful to my kids because they knew the shtick. I guess I thought he'd be skeptical and think it silly, like my belief in dragonflies. I guess I was wrong.
"I'm glad you told me that, glad you asked for it," I said. I grabbed a package next to me, and peeled off the biggest gold star on the page. But as I started to place it on him, he backed away. "I need a shirt..." he said. Apparently, that's how he'd pictured it. But he quickly adapted, looking down. His bare chest would do. He beamed as he placed the big glittery star front and center in between his nipples, puffed up like a big, strong man, like the one he'll be far too soon.