Kids are always watching us grown-ups. Constantly, covertly, and especially when we are opening packets of barbeque sauce using our teeth, or the front two, anyways.
Last night at Yellow Cab Pizza Company here in Baguio, I demonstrated (unknowingly) to my twelve-year old companion the most efficient and effective way of ensuring that your barbeque sauce (or ketchup) ends up adequately arrayed across your friend chicken (or french fries), and not concentrated in scattered enormous blobs, as is so often the tragic case.
Step One: Fold the packet of sauce or ketchup in two. This will create a sizable bulge in between the two parts.
Step Two: Using your front teeth, gently, delicately rip a teensy-weensy itsy bitsy hole across the bulge, no more than a mosquite-bite in diameter.
That's it. That's all.
Now you can hold the hot sauce (or ketchup) packet between your fingers, and gently squeeze, and what will emerge is an incredibly fine spray that you can then use to seranade your food in equal proportions.
My best friend Mariano Manti taught me that little trick at the age of ten or eleven while we were munching away at McDonald's, and I've never forgotten it, and I use it, unconsciously, all the time.
Last night, though, I happened to notice my twelve-year old friend watching me carefully. He'd never seen anybody do that before. He'd never learned that trick. Everything was new.
Living in a house with assorted infants and toddlers and (almost) adolescents, I've become sensitized to how much kids watch us. The adults, that is. Especially babies, who are wondering who we are and who they are and what the hell it is they're supposed to say or do. They mimic the words, the facial expressions, the gestures. They try to figure out for themselves how the world works, using our body language as informal guide. We're doing our thing, living our lives, not usually realizing we are all, communally and individually, acting as THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO LIFE to some little kid watching our ways.
Makes you feel almost, well, responsible. Not for everybody, no, but for some people. The small people. That little kid across from you in the restaurant, the one with puke on his bib and a smile on his face -- he's watching you. Wondering why it is that blow bubbles in your chocolate milk through a blue curly straw, and whether or not he should, too, should the chance arise. The little girl still wearing her leotards from gymnastic practice at the Dairy Queen is watching you argue with your sister, and wondering why you use your hands when you talk.
It could be almost, well, intimidating, I suppose, this non-stop scrutiny by our height-challenged brethren. But it's also somehow, I don't know, cool. It means that even the least among us can be the noblest of examples. It allows everybody, regardless of status or prestige, position or confidence, a chance to be a tiny, essential part of another's growth.
And, at the very least, it gives us a reason for ripping apart ketchup packets with our teeth in public like a well-trained animal.
I mean, hey -- kids have to learn these important life lessons somehow, right?