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Today I saw a poster for some sort of speaker/author who started out with three friends and now has 10,000 friends. It initially piqued my interest as a horizontal racetrack for
Ezra and me on our Hotwheel adventure. We were clearly not among the author’s
friends as we drove across his 10,000 friend face collage. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be the friend correctly shaded to make up his nose holes, eyebrows or teeth for that matter. Give me some dignity. A cheek at least, an eye.

To me, the idea of having 10,000 friends, even in a superficial, Facebook sort of way, is
appalling. I mean, why? It’s hard enough getting quality time in with the wonderful friends I have.

And let’s just say that if I’d viewed that poster as something more than a racetrack, and had read a little further, I might have discovered that it had to do with social
networking. But once again. Why would you want 10,000 friends? To boost business? To boost ego? To ensure that if you ever needed to get away from “the man”, that you’d have absolutely nowhere to go, since even your remotest connections were all public knowledge? I’m just waiting for a contemporary version of The Net to come out to prove just how difficult it would be for a FB, LinkedIn, live online sort of person like myself to intentionally disappear without a trace.

But where I’m going with this is, I do see the value of having a reasonably sized network of
friends, colleagues and acquaintances who help each other out. I had such a network in Santa Barbara and we were there for one another. A church community is also a good example; they often help out people in their community by running soup kitchens, doing clothing drives and other charitable work. If you are a fellow church member, they may even drive to your house to bring you a meal, loan you a car, provide you with both material and spiritual support.

Your social network can also help you with more trivial pursuits. Mine recently helped me discover I am not alone in honoring my inner child.

For the last three months the grocery chain Albert Hein has been handing out small packages of cards with every purchase. They are similar to baseball cards that people
collect, but in this case, the superstars are animals. The cards are not only visually exciting with quality Getty Images, but educational, as they stateinteresting facts about each animal. And if you want to get adult about it, the whole project is in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund.

But they are, in principle, extremely effective marketing geared toward children. My son loves ripping open the ocher yellow packages and pulling out the cards. He looks at
them with excitement for a few seconds before tossing them in a bowl and promptly forgetting about them. I was excited to get the cards as well, and looked forward to seeing what each little package held. I could even see getting one of the albums that could be had for just a few euros to organize your collection.

One night, a family came over for dinner and the eldest son Lars just happened to have his album with him. Now I could see how the whole thing worked; There were sheets arranged by different skills: extremely strong animals, animals that can hear extremely well, animals that can weather cold climates, etc, etc. I need to get myself, I mean, Ezra an album, I thought.

This particular family has three sons and when they saw the bowl of dierenkaarten on the shelf, they stared at them with the eagerness of caffeine junkies inhaling the scent of
freshly brewed coffee. I suddenly related to their enthusiasm. I too was a dierenkaarten junkie. And then Arie Jan did the unspeakable.

“Take what you like. Ezra doesn’t really care about them.” I saw the boys faces light up, as if some fool had just said, “he doesn’t really use the gold coins. They’re just lying there. Go ahead and take what you like.” As they rifled through the large stack of collectible “dierenkarten”, oohing and aahing about rare ones they didn’t have in their collections, I felt a pang of remorse, a gnawing annoyance.

A few days later, Arie Jan bought the album for Ezra. He suddenly had a renewed interest in the cards, excited about stuffing them in the little plastic slots. But, he didn’t care about the designated groupings.

As I tried to explain the concept of putting the cards in order, my husband chimed in; “He’s only four and a half. He doesn’t have to put them in order. Just let him have his
fun.” I looked at the album longingly, but his words seemed to ring true. They’re for my son, afterall, not me.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I found myself alone, that I finally gave in. I picked up my son’s album and removed all of the cards that had been placed in suprisingly
logical groupings. Over the next few days, I correctly ordered the cards, discovering where the holes lay in the collection. I thought of our recent dinner guests and wondered what bounty they had made off with. Did they have the Alpenkauw? (A black bird that lives in the Alps.) Had they made off with my, I mean, with Ezra’s Boomschubdier? (a scaly
reptilian that hangs in trees.)

By the time I had the album in order, I found out that the dierenkaarten marketing wonder was coming to an end. At playdates I mentioned that Ezra was collecting the cards, and mothers casually suggested that the boys could get together sometime and trade, as everyone had a thick stack of extras, just as those people in the head office of marketing intended.

Was I the only parent out there obsessing over animal cards? Ah, Kristin, just have faith! I
mentioned the cards at church and suddenly Ezra’s collection was on the super highway to completion.

We had some friends over for dinner on a Friday night. They had heard about our need and brought their box of extra dierenkaarten with them. A grown woman like myself
eagerly flipped through Ezra’s album, sorting through her well organized stack and filled in what she could. Now our album was 75% complete. She asked for paper and pen and wrote down our remaining missing numbers. We had a lovely evening. They stayed until after 10pm, well after I had put Ezra to bed.

Sunday morning, Koby, a highly active woman in the church, handed me a small package in white and pink wrapping paper with a post it note with Ezra’s name on it. “I heard what
numbers you were missing in your album and I had some of them,” she said in
Dutch. I couldn’t help wonder if the feminine wrapping paper was an acknowledgment of who in our family was actually collecting the cards.

The next day, we received an email from someone else in the network, announcing she had a few more of the cards we were missing. Koby had beat her to the punch on half of
the cards, but still. We are now only missing six!

I opened a purse I hadn’t used for a while, and I found a stack of dierenkaarten. I eagerly flipped through them and we had them all, but there in the stack was number 54, the spookdiertje. This furry little creature looks like a cross between a koala bear and a bat. He is pictured in a hunched position, his long hands and feet clinging to a tree trunk while he peers into the forest with yellow beady eyes. He falls into the category of “Dieren met supergoed oren” (Animals that can hear extremely well) and the category of sought after cards. Soon, I too will make someone in my network happy as they receive number 54, the coveted spookdiertje.

People love helping other people, and the easiest way to help others is with the little things. And who brought about all these fleeting moments of happiness? A well organized marketing and promotion team in a chain of grocery stores that seems to have a monopoly in this nation, matched with a population that sees the value of sharing.

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