Thursday, May 19, 2011


One of the perks of celebrating my birthday as a kid was having a party for me and my friends that I did not have to worry about organizing. I had a few of those and even thought most of them were fun, over time my birthday celebration memories snowballed into a general feeling of content and happiness. The one birthday that does stand out, does so for an unexpected reason. I think I was turning seven, still in the age where everyone is your friend and you're happy with everyone who shows up. My mom always went through great lenghts to make the celebration fun for everyone involved: easy contests and games that were always rewarded by little souvenirs like keychains, school supplies, etc.

No parent in the world, unless they're Supermoms or have too much time on their hands can plan so that every gift is unique. After one of the games, later in the afternoon, my friend Tony and I ended up with the same toy: a plastic mechanic turtle that paddles through the water if you twist a little key on its side. The flippers spin and the turtle moves. The toys were the same with one little difference: mine accidentally had one flipper stuck and would not float. There I was, standing in the middle of the room, trying desperately to make that flipper move. You'd think it was not a big deal, considering that it's a plastic toy that I'd probably forget in a day. After a few fruitless attempts, little me decided that she should have only the best, came up to the little boy and exchanged the turtles without explaining anything. It wasn't and still isn't anything that I do on a daily basis (or ever) and I've never been told or felt like I have a spoiled only child syndrome. Maybe that day being my birthday made me see things differently.

No little detail seems to go past my mom. After noticing that there is something "fishy" about me trading a toy for another one that looks exactly the same, she came up to me and figured everything out. Not that it's that complicated to get a confession out of a shy seven-year-old. After that I remember shamefacedly going up the boy, giving him back his toy and explaining why I exchanged it in the first place. I don't think I felt more ashamed in my life. I knew the boy was so nice that he'd never say anything even if he'd noticed. That made the feeling of guilt even worse. There was also something my mom told me that I will never forget. Knowing how much I loved animals and specifically turtles (I had a real one) she said: "Think about that poor turtle. Do you think she's not as good as all the others just because she's not the same as the other one? How do you think she feels that you don't want her?" I know it sounds a little strange that my mom referred to a piece of plastic as a breathing thing with consciousness, but I loved my toys and it was a good way to get through to me.

It was not the presents I got or who was at my birthday that I remember. That memory made me think of how the biggest life lessons you get are not the ones you think you will remember, but the ones that hide in the back of your head and pop out years later. An easy lesson I got from that unpleasant moment was to be honest, but I also started to grasp the importance of tolerance and compassion. Everything my mom said can be applied to a person, animal, living being. Maybe if my little stunt went unnoticed and I got away with a functioning plastic toy, I'd think differently about handicapped people and animals. There's a big chance I'd be less accepting of people who don't look, act or think like me. Unfortunately, I don't have that turtle anymore, but who knew that a piece of plastic can make such a difference.

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