We walk into the dining room, and heads turn. Diners stop eating and point. Faces light up. The wait staff, recognizing our arrival, scurries to the kitchen for the appropriate supplies. Ben, my two-and-a-half-year-old celebrity, leads me to an open table, stopping every so often to slap someone five or accept a small gift, usually a bag of oyster crackers. The scenario replays every week, sometimes twice a week, each time we visit my grandmothers at their respective independent living facilities.
Once we are settled at the table, the visitors trickle over to ruffle Ben’s hair, ask him how old he is, and compliment his excellent behavior. They shake his hand, ask him if his food is good, and sneak him cookies when they think I’m not looking. Always eager to please, Ben explains to his fans that he is two, that he is always a good boy, and that there are eggs and fruit on his plate. Sometimes he even grants hugs and kisses, if he’s in a particularly good mood.
After each person says goodbye, Ben will ask, “Why was he in a chair?” or “What was in her nose?” and I try to explain the inevitable deterioration of the human body in a way that a toddler can understand. I also breathe a sigh of relief that he somehow knows to hold his questions until after they are out of earshot.
Ben’s biggest fan is Wanda. Several months ago, much like the other admirers, Wanda began appearing at our table with presents. But Wanda, unlike the other admirers, gifted Matchbox cars and toy planes. She would pick up a trinket during the week and carry it around with her all day, every day, until she was able to give it to Ben.
My grandma told me that Wanda has great-grandchildren of her own but doesn’t see them often, and that she gets such pleasure just seeing Ben around. As a thank you for all of her generous gifts, Ben drew a Happy Holidays picture for her, which she told me she framed and hung on her wall.
I marvel at the amount of joy this child brings to Wanda and the rest of the residents, and am grateful that we have the opportunity to do a mitzvah simply by visiting my grandmothers. Ben happily doles out hugs, with no understanding that his is the only hug some of these people will get for awhile. The thought makes me want to hug him extra tight, and try to impress upon him the importance of these small acts of human kindness.
After one recent lunch, as we were walking out of the dining room, one of the ladies grabbed my arm and said, “I watched your son the whole time I was here, and I want you to know he made my day.”
Even if Ben is too young now to understand the power he has to do good, I will make sure to tell him about this lady, and about Wanda and all his other fans, in the hope that he makes the conscious choice throughout his life to continue performing these small acts of kindness.