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Seeds of something fine

Creatures great and small

Staff writer

I like to think my 2-year-old has been instilled with a healthy respect for the awesome power of the natural world, animals in particular. We’re big respecters of all life in our house. As vegetarians, we have explained to Lyla that the food on our table comes from plants like the ones in our garden.

We have also told her that some food comes from animals, including the milk, eggs, and cheese she and her father partake of. We were lucky enough to have a friend be the wonderful agent of an educational opportunity with eggs recently and Lyla can’t stop talking about it: “We took those eggs from the chickens!”
I explained to her the chickens let us have them and we should be sure to think of them when we say thanks for our food before we eat.

We have explained that some families get their food from animals in ways that we don’t. We are careful to avoid making any kind of judgment and we certainly aren’t trying to indoctrinate her. All we do is explain this is how her dad and I have chosen to live. Anything more would be too much at this point.

She has developed, completely on her own, a respect for bugs I promise she did not get from me. I, of course, encourage her to “leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone,” and she has seen me trap and release some creepy crawlies that somehow found their way inside our house, but she has also seen me squish more than a couple of spiders. I have my limits.

But Lyla has gotten to the point where she steps over ants and says “excuse me bug” and lets them go on their merry way ... even in my kitchen!

The other day she noticed one marching along a few feet away from where she was playing. She went over to it, greeted it, and ran off to get something. In her absence, I stealthily transplanted the critter back outdoors.

When she returned and couldn’t find him, she wailed as if a longtime friend had been ripped from her arms.

“I wanted to show him my puzzles!” she cried, hot tears streaming down her face.

I explained to her that, as an ant, he really needed to keep doing his ant thing, gathering food for his family outside. I also ventured that he may not have been a very cooperative playmate for her because she looks very, very big to him and he might have been afraid.

She seemed to ponder that, and I hugged her, deeply appreciating all that her mind was trying to grasp about the balance between love of nature, keeping a respectful distance, and her own desires.

It’s a hard concept and an exceptionally difficult balance to strike. I struggle with it daily.

There are principles I live by that come from a deep, thoughtful place within me that were formed many years ago when I first started trying to live a little lighter on this planet.

But what happens when I can’t afford the sacrifices such principles require? I wish I could always read every word on every label of everything I buy and refuse to purchase if, say, I know some aspect of the production of that product perpetuates a system I feel depends on a lack of respect for some form of life, animal or human, that is so oppressed it cannot speak for itself. But I can’t.

Sometimes, I don’t have the time. Sometimes, I don’t have the money. Sometimes, I don’t have any other option.

Sometimes, my job is to do my mommy thing and be sure I’m not spending so much time researching greener options that I miss the chance to teach my kid why those principles are so important to me.

Sometimes, there’s an intensely creepy spider the size of my fist making its way toward my child and I stomp that thing like a mama bear protecting her cub.

Lyla sees the contradiction and asks about it.

“Mommy, are you going to put the spider outside?”

I answer honestly.

“Honey, sometimes mommy can’t tell if it’s a good bug or a bug that hurts, and if I think it might hurt you, I squish it.”

I share my own struggle for balance in an effort to be transparent and it gives her still-agile mind something to chew on. And maybe, in doing so, she’ll come up with some brilliant way to bridge that gap for her generation.

Maybe she’ll reject vegetarianism but catch and release all spiders. Who knows? Either way I’ll know her choices are rooted in reflection about her place in the natural that has already begun.

Last modified May 11, 2011

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