If you give a child a cherry …

I was startled by a little voice beside me saying, “Oh, here you are. I was looking for you. Can I have more cherries?” It was Alvin our six-year-old neighbor who entered the house uninvited and looked around until he found me in my office working at my desk.

The children’s book If you Give a Moose a Muffin crossed my mind:

If a big hungry moose comes to visit, you might give him a muffin to make him feel at home. If you give him a muffin, he’ll want some jam to go with it. When he’s eaten all your muffins, he’ll want to go to the store to get some more muffin mix.

And on he goes until he has consumed everything.

We’ve been getting to know the family next door who have three children and whose parents both work. We want to know them better, and be good neighbors. We wonder how best to love them.

The day before Alden walked into my office, it had been supper time and Denis and I were sitting on the deck eating. Paige, 12 and her brother Alvin wandered over to see what we were doing. Do you know Rainer cherries? They are a pricey seasonal treat. I rarely indulge in their golden glory and am often selfish about sharing. A bowl of the shiny yellow globes were beside us and you can guess what was next. “Can I try one?” asked Alden. Certainly. Paige joined him testing a fruit they’d never tasted before. One led to two and within five minutes the dish was empty. Next, they wondered if we had anything else to eat. Alden, less inhibited than his sister said he was “bery bery hungry.” I brought them each a tangerine. Again, devoured.

Two days after Alden had wandered into my office, the doorbell rang at 7:30 in the morning.  It was Alvin again wondering if he could come in for something to eat.

This makes me a little uncomfortable because while I want to love them I’m not so great at establishing boundaries. Better to avoid the problem altogether, so I ignored the insistent doorbell until he went away. How to set limits and yet care for them?

We Americans highly prize comfort and control. I’m no exception, and the cost of being a good neighbor conflicts with my precious efficiency and work goals. And anyway, who gets an award for handing fruit to a kid?

I thought of Jesus’ words – “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me …” There are many ways to be hungry, thirsty and a stranger. We all experience these kinds of poverty. 

So, welcome, Paige and Alden, here’s a muffin. That may be all for today, but tomorrow, I promise, there’ll be more.

Photo by Dana DeVolk on Unsplash