We moved this past spring, so we spent the summer exploring the parks our new neighborhood had to offer. The closest one to us has two beautiful ponds, home to some turtles and fish, visiting place to many birds, and with enough squirrels to delight my little naturalist. We have spent some quality time at this park.
Incidentally, the park also has a great playground. Multilevel play structures, swings, a digger, a spinner, a tire swing. Heaven, right? See, I sometimes still don’t anticipate my own kid.
We spent the summer bringing plastic grocery bags to the park. Why? Why, so L could clean up garbage, of course. The first time, I thought it was cute. Really, really cute.
I thought it was charming that she spent her own time retrieving garbage. She got as close to the ponds as she could. She scoured the grass. She used a long stick to retrieve stuff from the middle of the pond. She decided after cleaning up for an hour and a half, she was ready to go home. After all, cleaning up garbage was fun. Wow. What an empathetic child I’m raising. I self-righteously thought. I must be a great mom.
Well, I am a great mom. But that’s not what was happening here.
L has a deep sense of concern about the planet. She worries about pollution and habitat destruction and extinction. She wonders aloud about the best way to get to the museum – to drive more slowly and thus use less fuel per minute but more fuel overall, or to drive more quickly and thus decrease the number of minutes on the road while increasingly the amount of fuel per minute.
She wonders aloud about why more people don’t recycle. Why people throw so many things away. Why more people don’t compost. Why more people don’t drive an electric car. And let’s be clear: I am not a shining star here. I recycle and compost. I drive a Chevy Volt. But I am definitely also a member of the consumeristic, thing-driven culture!
And more worrisome to me that her myriad of questions, none of which have real answers (Um, because they’re too busy worrying about paying their bills? Because compost can be stinky??) is the sentiment underlying them: judgment.
After that first day of garbage pick-up, she refused to play at the playground. Instead, she brought a plastic grocery bag or two with her and picked up garbage. And stared at the kids on the playground, asking me accusingly, “Why are they just over there playing? Don’t they see there’s pollution over here? Don’t they care about planet Earth?”
It’s great that she cares so deeply. I love that she wants to devote herself to helping. But she can’t decide that everyone who DOESN’T make the same choices is somehow negligent!
I stumbled through that conversation, mumbling something about most 5 year olds doing some to help but also enjoying just being 5. She clearly didn’t buy it. And the questions continued.
One day, it dawned on me.
A sensitive plant.
I asked L if she remembered what a sensitive plant was. She said she did. I asked her if she remembered what happened when something bumped up against it. She said she did; that it reacted strongly to whatever bumped up against it. I asked her if other plants reacted the same way. She said they did not.
That’s the analogy!
The next time she asked me about “other people,” I reminded her of the sensitive plant.
“L. Your brain is like a sensitive plant. When an idea bumps up against it, it reacts very strongly. That’s just the way your brain works. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. You are like a sensitive plant. Most people’s brains are like other plants. When ideas bump up against them, they notice them, but their brains do not react very strongly. They don’t ‘move out of the way.’ Their brains are not good. Their brains are not bad. They are just not sensitive plants. Sensitive plants are not better than other plants and other plants are not better than sensitive plants. They’re just different types of plants.”
She looked at me for a minute. I was concerned. It made sense in my head, but maybe out loud, it was crazy.
Then she grinned her goofy grin. With her bouncy little body and still-babyish voice, she told me, “Yeah! And planet Earth needs all different types of plants on it! We can’t only have sensitive plants! And we can’t have no sensitive plants, either!”
Away she went, happy with the analogy.
It’s been about six months. We still circle back to that one. “Mommy, why do other people not… ?” I breathe deeply and ask, “What do we know about sensitive plants?” Almost instantly, the tension melts away and we are able to move on with our day.
We still clean up at the park, though.