Inspiration porn or unfit parent

I have been so overwhelmed with getting in and putting upp the fall vegetable, fruit and herb harvest, while homeschooling to young kids and teaching 11 hours a week, that I was proud but inattentive when Shaye and Marik remarked on trash littering the little street leading up to the train station and expressed outrage at those who throw such litter on the earth.

“Mama, people can’t throw trash on the ground. It makes the earth sad. It is yucky for us, “Shaye, age 4, said.

Marik, who just turned 3 added, “Yucky trash. Pick up trash. I want gloves, Mama.”

They bugged me for gloves and a trash bag. Once last spring, when we did our homeschooling earth and ecology unit, we actually got out and cleaned up trash around the neighborhood and particularly on “our” trails through the overgrown empty land between us and the train station and preschool. You have to pay a fair amount for garbage service in our town and a lot of the part-timers, people who have weekend cottages here and normally live in the city, don’t bother with it. They simply fill a grocery sack with their garbage and dump it in the brush on the way to the train station. The bags burst and there is trash everywhere. There are places in among the trees that we couldn’t clean up because years of such dumping has resulted in a tangle of brush and thorns over a heavy mat of decomposing leaves and garbage. We have even found large items like TVs and toilets on the little dirt track behind our house.

Since we did the clean up in the spring, the trails have been much better. There is a psychological law that holds that if people, especially kids, see litter, they are much more likely to throw out litter. Many children use these same paths to walk to school and when they see the bags of trash thrown out by the part-timers, they toss soda cans, gum wrappers and snack packaging down right on the path. After Dusan, the kids and I cleaned up the major dumps in the vacant, overgrown areas, they largely stopped doing that, but there is still a lot of litter on the road right below the train station.

I kept telling the kids that if they reminded me, I would get us a garbage sack and gloves and we could pick up a few things the next time we went. I mostly meant it but, realistically, we are almost always in a hurry, running to catch the train or make it on time for the English class I teach at the preschool. But then, Shaye and I were invited to the birthday party of a boy in her international preschool choir in Prague. So, the two of us set out last Saturday and actually managed to get going a few minutes early, and Shaye remembered to remind me about the bag and gloves. I was proud of her and more than happy to make it happen.

We picked up the bits and pieces of litter on the trails and then concentrated most of our attention on the litter on the road below the train station. I mostly held the bag open, balancing my white cane in my elbow, while Shaye found the trash, but at one point I had to drop everything to climb over a railing to retrieve discarded paint cans and plastic bottles, at Shaye’s insistence. I heard one family on the road out in their yard and noticed a group of teenagers walking down the road but I didn’t pay any attention to them, even when I vaguely sensed them all fall oddly silent.

After we had left the people behind and started to climb the long steep stairway to the train station, Shaye said, “Mama, why were all those people staring at us with their mouths open?”

And it hit me that the big demonstrative silence had been about everyone staring at us, more specifically me, holding the garbage bag and a white cane while a little kid picks up litter. I’ve had Czechs tell me outright that it is irresponsible of me to have children. This past summer, I experienced two family members (independently of each other) spread the idea that I am not to be trusted with the safety of children because I can’t see well enough, despite the fact that I have never had a serious safety breach with my kids or the kids I teach. My Czech in-laws don’t see me with a cane generally and I doubt they really have a clue how badly I see, which is probably a good thing now that I see what can happen even in the States. So, I’m not really sure what is going through the minds of the people staring at Shaye and me picking up the litter.

Are they thinking “Oh, how amazing, a disabled person doing something to help the town. How inspiring. Or is it that she is being paid by some charity to do it?” or are they thinking, “How sick! There’s this blind lady forcing a little kid to hang out with her and even pick up garbage. Surely, she isn’t allowed to have children.”

So basically, I hate to break it to you, little daughter, but people are staring at your mother because of the combination of this white stick and a garbage bag. Yes, the world is very strange. You’ll understand when you’re older… or not.

Advertisements

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Just Browsing
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 17:29:24

    I stumbled into your blog and enjoyed reading it very much! I’m a first grade teacher in the US and thought these resources might help you talk to your daughter about your appearance differences. I use the book “The Colors of Us” with my students to give them the descriptive language to talk about our different skin tones other than black/brown/white. They use the descriptions all year and it helps them know that different doesn’t mean strange, it just means different. I also use some Todd Parr books, such as “It’s Okay to Be Different” and “The Family Book.” The illustrations are wildly colorful (purple people etc.) to draw young attention and the messages are clear for kids – Differences are not to be scorned or ignored but discussed, explored, and celebrated. I bet you could find them on a CD if they would be difficult to for you to read aloud, or you could ask a US relative to record them reading it onto a CD and mail the book and CD to you which would be a wonderful family connection for your kids! Last but not least, you are putting so much effort into building your daughter up, which is a beautiful thing! Can you find physical aspects to praise that don’t tie into her race, so she can love her body in other ways? Her fast running legs, her strong lifting arms, her beautiful singing voice, her soft hair, her sharp sense of smell when she guesses what’s baking, her keen hearing when she notices the car pull up? These things don’t require her to change what she thinks, but point out new things to love.

    You sound like a dedicated, hard working mother whose children are lucky to have you! Much luck!

    Reply

    • ariefarnam
      Dec 24, 2013 @ 10:45:28

      Thank you for the ideas. We do have The Colors of Us and several other good books. That one is really one of the best, even if it is very short. Recently, I found my daughter mixing colors and truly painting different people in a coloring book different shades of brown. She is almost 5. We were all astounded. I think that part at least truly came from that book. Clearly, yes, the focus has to be only partly on difference. these days it doesn’t happen to be a big focus for us. It depends on what is going on and what has been said in the environment. Right now, our daughter seems to have come through initial fears about difference and our younger son has not yet noticed anything different about people, so it isn’t a topic we discuss daily but simply when it comes up. The children have plenty of good qualities to praise and plenty of difficult behaviors to deal with that have nothing to do with the social problems of this country.

      Reply

  2. Just Browsing
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 15:12:13

    All your hard work with your daughter around her image is showing results! Whatever other difficulties she has, you are succeeding piece by piece. Another set of high-quality picture books I save on my shelf for days when the kids are using differences in a negative way: Amazing Grace (the child’s schoolmates say she can’t be Peter Pan in the play because she’s a girl and she’s Black), Chrysanthemum (children make fun of her long name), and A Bad Case of the Stripes (fantasy book about conforming to what others think instead of liking what you like). Continued success to you as you navigate this difficult path with your children. They sound like smart, fun little people!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: