I let my kid pick up trash. Other people’s trash. In public places. It’s our own weird little apostolate.
I didn’t always, of course. I was a first time mom once, too, trailing after my kid at the park, saying, “No, no, honey. Don’t touch that. That’s yucky.”
But I’ve had enough kids and they’ve asked enough questions that I have had to evaluate exactly WHY I was spending so effort much keeping my children from picking up trash and throwing it away. Because, for whatever reason, picking up and throwing away trash is a thing each of my toddlers has been really interested in doing. Really, REALLY interested.
I would SAY, “No, that’s yucky,” but, for me, that wasn’t really the reason. I don’t have a thing about germs. Some folks do, I just don’t. If you have a thing about germs, then this probably isn’t the best little apostolate for you.
But, for me, that wasn’t the reason. For me the reason was: There must be someone else to do that.
My kids saw a mess that needed cleaning. They saw a job that needed doing. They know trash when they see it. They know what we’re supposed to do with trash. They wanted to do it. They saw a little way they could help.
But I saw something that wasn’t our job. Something that, well, wasn’t that just a little beneath us? To pick up other people’s trash?
Don’t they hire people to do that?
And other such grown-up-type thoughts. But grown-up-type thoughts aren’t always the best thoughts. Sometimes, maybe more often than I’d like to admit, my children’s childlike thoughts are way better.
At some point, I realized that if I didn’t have a good answer to the question, “Why Mom? Why can’t I throw it away?” Then the answer should be, “You can. That’s awfully nice of you.”
So now that’s what we do. If they want to pick up trash, they may pick up trash. If they get sticky I wipe them off with a wipe. I might even tell them to go rinse their hands off in the drinking fountain. But I don’t carry soap or hand sanitizer and we’ve never gotten any diseases. My kids don’t get sick a lot in general anyway.
It’s a little thing. A very little thing. But we get plenty out of it. The family that shows up at the playground after us gets a tidier park. I get to NOT say, “No” to something my kid wants to do. I get to teach my kids (or they get to teach me) that we’re not so special that we can’t do little things for other people. Even “yucky” little things.
And I get a good reminder that if something around me needs doing, who better than me to do it? When better than now? It’s . . .