I use the word “treasures” facetiously, since from my perspective all that’s revealed after a long winter of abandonment beneath a snow bank is something gross. Like trash or dog poop. But to an ever-fascinated toddler, the silver granola bar wrapper shines like a trinket from its half-snowed in haven, and the piles of dog waste now dotting our walk home – yes, even those – emerge from their pristine hiding places like little auburn surprises.
“What’s that?” she asks, as we pass by crumpled yellow food wrappers peeking out like early spring flowers.
“Look!” she shouts, pointing to a just uncovered doggie pile.
And then I explain: That’s trash. That’s dog poop.
And then she asserts: I pick it up.
You see, we’ve been hitting the pick-up-after-yourself thing hard these days. At two, children are just beginning to become conscious of their burgeoning independence. That blossoming sense of autonomy can make simple tasks, like putting on socks or coloring on paper instead of the wall, go wickedly awry. Child development experts suggest giving your toddler specific tasks, like tidying their toys or throwing away their own wet diaper, as a means of channeling their new inclination to do everything “mine self” in a positive, helpful direction.
So, at home, Elle is the trash thrower-awayer, and on walks with the dog, she is the “Look, the dog is taking a dump over there” whistle blower.
(The mechanics of placing a just-unloaded pile of poop into a plastic bag is exceptionally intriguing to a two-year-old, it turns out.)
This is all well and good when it’s our trash and our dog’s poop.
But the conundrum has inevitably arisen: If it’s so good to pick up our own trash, why wouldn’t we pick up all the trash? Including someone else’s fluorescent green gum wad or all the half melted-out dog piles we can find?
I have made all the excuses I can think of to avoid doing just this.
“Oh, Elle, that’s yucky – it has germs.”
“You know what? I don’t actually have another doggie bag.”
Meanwhile, I’m thinking: My toddler is a better person than I am.
There are no gray areas in a two-year-old’s sense of good and bad, naughty and nice. Picking up trash is good. Leaving dog poop on the ground is naughty. These are universal tenets that should be abided by. To a two-year-old, the technicalities of whose trash, or whose dog pile, are irrelevant.
To a 30-year-old, these issues are colored in many more shades of good or bad. It is, of course, irresponsible to spit your gum on the sidewalk or toss your trash out the car window. It is immature to walk your dog and pretend like you don’t see him taking a big crap. So, as a responsible and mature 30-year-old, I don’t do these things.
But do I pick up other people’s trash? Someone else’s dog’s poop? My sense of righteousness falters when it comes time to bend over to scrape up a half-frozen pile, one that definitely didn’t originate from known sources.
Yet my toddler has helped me to realize that maybe I should bend over, plastic baggie in hand, for nothing more than the greater good. Or, at the very least, to demonstrate in action the principles I preach about to my daughter.
So, when we load up for a sunny day walk these days, I bring a handful of extra poop bags. They serve as defenses against yucky germs when picking up trash. And, I am proud (well, honestly, kind of grossed out) to admit that I have, on occasion, plucked an aging pile of poop off the ground – one that I know didn’t come from my own dog.
(I admit, however, that I try to walk faster and direct Elle’s attention elsewhere when approaching a particularly rich doggie mine field. I’m just not that good-hearted.)
I don’t expect that these feeble gestures will affect my daughter to the extent that she grows into the kind of woman that spearheads neighborhood clean-up drives or rallies her community leaders to construct more doggie poop bag dispensers… but you never know.