Saturday, December 24, 2011

Real, True Gifts

These long dark nights of winter break remind me of my own inner darkness.  Sometimes I am mean.  And hard-hearted.   Just before the break, I was meanly resenting the students in the garden for not appreciating what was being laid before them.  They were restless and inattentive.  To them, it seemed much more like classroom learning than most moments in the garden: they were being asked to copy something from the blackboard, to draw and label the layers of compost that they had been assembling in the new pile.  They whined and interrupted.  I spoke up: “Guys, I keep hearing people talking while T is trying to explain something, and it doesn’t feel very respectful to me.”   Okay, not so very mean.  But what I meant was “shut the %&*# up, this is important.  She is giving you a gift here, people.”

I was acutely aware of this gift, having had the need to call upon it not long before.  The story: I am particularly hard-hearted when it comes to my depriving my own kids of the pleasures of modern life, namely, movies.  My poor kids are so movie-starved that when I am too ill to do anything but lie in bed, I can show them a cheese-making instructional video and they actually enjoy it.  But recently, weary from various personal stressors, I decided to let them watch an actual, mainstream, narrative-based film.  For this special event I chose Wall-E, based on my completely uninformed impression that it had a strong pro-environment message.

Wall-E, unfortunately, did not give us an evening of relaxed family time.  Rather, my five-year-old whined through most of it that it was boring, and my ten-year-old ended up in tears.  Given that the movie has an predictably happy ending, the tears confused me, until my sweet, sad boy said, in reference to the earth overrun by life-killing garbage that provides the backdrop for the robot love story: “I feel like that’s really happening.” 

My kid sees a planet being abused.  And who am I to correct him?  When we are willing to let drop all the masks we wear to protect ourselves from seeing it, we know he’s right.  That’s what’s really happening, in many ways, perhaps not precisely through the over-accumulation of soda cans, but from the over-accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere and toxins in our environment.  It’s real.  And scary.  And sad.

So, what do you tell a kid who is describing a basic truth about the world, a sad, scary truth?  You hand him another truth, a concrete, real, hopeful one.  You say, “But you and I, and all the kids at school, we will not let a world like that happen, a world without soil, without plants, without food.  Without life.  Because you and I, and all the kids at school, we know how to make dirt.  We know how to create a place for plants to grow, and how to grow food.  We, all of us, will never let that happen.”  And when you say that, he nods, and you see some light return to his eyes. 

May the light ever return, and may we pass on the gifts that we are given.  Now, let’s make some dirt.

Recipe in pictorial form:

How to make Compost Cake:

(And later in the year, once their dirt-making pile is smokin’ hot, I’ll make them the chocolate version.  So check back in the springtime.)


  1. A lot of people all around the world are doing necessary actions to help alleviate the possible realities of what "Wall-E" was portraying.
    I appreciate that you are teaching the children at school and at your home how to be tenders of Earth.
    Thank you.

  2. it is imperative that all of us know our responsibilities regarding taking care of our earth, and we must start with our youth. But when our young are so anxiety~ridden that a cartoon brings them to panicked tears, there is a problem with the messages they've been given at home. Children must be empowered to act, not scared into immobilizing anxiety....not with regard to our earth or anything else.

  3. I agree with the commenter above, strongly. But the messages they get about environmental devastation are not just at home. Even more motivation to work hard to make them feel empowered to act.