Last week in Road Town we headed to a park that we've been to before. It's got a nice variety of gear, soft astro-turf covering the ground and we can generally let the girls loose to climb, swing and slide at their leisure. We made our way through the bustling downtown area, wearing all the girls - winding our way through the narrow roads, past the colorful shop windows and finally to our destination.
But this time, the park looked a little different than the last time we were here. This time it was covered - and I mean covered - in trash.
"What the heck?" I muttered to Scott as we walked through the park entrance, my face puckered in disgust.
It literally looked as if someone took a huge garbage bag of cups, straws, plastic cutlery, chicken bones, soda cans, take out containers and bottles and literally emptied it out all over the park. On purpose.
It was disgusting.
"This is so bad it almost looks like a joke" I said to Scott in disbelief. I have seen a lot of trash in these islands because, sadly, environmental education has a long way to come down here, but the sheer amount of condensed litter in this one little park really took the cake. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Garbage was literally everywhere. Everywhere. And no dice throwing it all away in the existing garbage cans (points for having them!) because they were completely overflowing.
"I wish we had a garbage bag" I said to Scott, shaking my head. He wholeheartedly agreed. But we didn't, so we did our best to ignore the filth and tried to make the best of it, making sure none of it found it's way into the mouths of the twins as they explored. The icing on the cake came when I had to dress the wound of a local boy who sliced his bare foot open on a shard of glass.
I mean, come on.
The next day we returned to the park and while we were hopeful that maybe just maybe someone came back and cleaned up the mess, we brought with us a garbage bag.
No one had cleaned up the mess.
So we did.
Forty-five minutes later the park was more or less litter-less and our girls were free to play in a clean environment. I knew that tidying up the park would make me feel better (for better or worse, I am a bit of a neat freak in case you hadn't picked up on that), but I was shocked at how totally gratified I felt. Looking at our giant garbage bag full of trash and then looking at the beautiful, clean playground, gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
Because, duh, doing good things for no other reason than to do good things feels...well...good.
There is truly something wonderful about taking a little ownership of something and making it beautiful again. Because (and sorry to get all Pollyanna here), we are kind of all in this together.
It was also a fantastic teachable moment for our girls.
Of course our efforts did little to dent what is clearly a much bigger, underlying issue. Our clean up was a temporary fix and we knew it. We returned to the park the next day only to find more trash strewn about. I can't say I was surprised, but it was a bummer.
"Who trashes this park like this?" I asked the old man who runs the little snack shack on the premises.
"You are the ones who cleaned it up yesterday?" he asked lifting his chin inquisitively. We replied that, yes, it was us. "It's the school children," he started with a solemn shake of his head, "...they come here for lunch and then just leave it a mess." He continued sweeping his stoop and shaking his head. I asked for another garbage bag and he gave me one. I collected some more trash, futile as it was. Because the fact of the matter was that no matter how many times we cleaned up this park, it was going to get trashed over and over again.
We returned again the next day and (in the words of those catchy internet articles)...you won't believe what happened next...
When I let Haven out of her carrier to stretch her legs and run around, she walked right over to an empty plastic water bottle and picked up. She looked at us, looked at the bottle, smiled her Haven-bright smile and waddled right over to the garbage can and threw it in. I swear to God. Right into the trash bin. Scott and I could not believe our eyes. Then, she strutted over to a paper bag, picked it up and threw it in the garbage. Then a bottle cap. Then another soda can. Each time she came across a stray piece of garbage, she picked it up and threw it away.
Scott and I were totally gobsmacked. And incredibly proud.
If there was ever any doubt that kids learn directly from watching their parents and/or caretakers, this trumps it. I have never been so awed in my life. I know it doesn't sound like much, but seeing her do that - totally unprovoked and at just over one year old, mind you - (we have video to prove it, sadly internet bandwidth tells me it will take 20 hours to upload) was truly a magical parenting moment for me. One that I will never forget.
And it made that seemingly futile effort of cleaning up that park totally worth it.
Because sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to be reminded that we as parents are doing something right every once and a while.
It also drove home a meaningful lesson for me:
While we might not be able to change current behavior, we can influence future behavior and there is tremendous power and beauty in that.
It's an important reminder.
So pick up that stray soda can and throw it out. Help that old women out of her car. Give that man the extra dime he needs to make his purchase. Assist that fellow shopper bag her groceries. Help that struggling boater tie up his dock lines. Hold the door. Say hello. Always remember "please" and "thank you". Smile.
And watch with joy as your children pay it forward.
Because no good deed goes undone, and in one way or another, it will come back to you. Karma is a beautiful thing.
|The mess. The photos don't really do it justice, but you get the idea.|
|Our family, taking matters into our own hands!|
|All better! Isn't it lovely?|
|We didn't dare leave our garbage bag behind, took it with us to dispose of in a dumpster.|
|Here's Haven the following day throwing out garbage totally unprovoked and on her own volition. She is one.|
|And here's Isla doing the same. Proud mama right here!|