Monday, March 28, 2016

Decisions and Character

Today, Bug and I went to the park, like we do on many days. We drove out to a park near one of the Sacramento libraries, because he absolutely loved this particular park the last time we were there (after Family Blanket Fort Story Time, so that's how he refers to the park) and has been asking to go back. He loves the tire swing, he loves the roller slide, and he loves the big, grassy areas to run around in.

So we were at the park. There were other kids and parents there off and on, and for awhile there was a small herd of ill-behaved teenagers (admittedly, it hasn't been so long since I was an ill-behaved teenager; it's amazing how having a child changes one's perspective). There was also a gathering of homeless people in the picnic area.

I try my hardest to not be outwardly uncomfortable around homeless people. I do, I really do. I really don't want Bug to be developing any prejudices here because of me, and I know that there are plenty of people who are on the streets for innocuous reasons. So while we kept our distance, I didn't say anything outright about them, and I doubt Bug even noticed their presence.

Toward the end of our time there, Bug was playing tag with a slightly older kid. I was keeping watch, occasionally talking a little with the other boy's grandmother. And so it was that until the grandmother pointed it out, I didn't even notice that the homeless people were building a fire. But once I looked, it was clear that was exactly what they were doing, primarily out of sticks and cardboard, although I saw the guy building it looking through the trash, too, so there's no telling what else was used.

The other woman looked at it disapprovingly, but didn't seem particularly inclined to do anything about it. "Do you think we should call the police?" I asked.

"I'm not sure who else we could call," she replied, but she still did nothing.

"I wish I had the non-emergency number for the police here," I commented. And there the conversation pretty much ended. The woman collected her grandson to head home, and Bug and I followed suit about ten minutes later.

But the fire thing still bothered me. I don't know what the intention of the homeless people was--Cooking? Warmth?--but I was worried about it getting out of control and/or spreading. After all, this was a very windy day, there was an awful lot of smoke, and the flames had, by this time, gotten high enough for me to see them from a decent distance away.

And so, after a lot of thought and waffling back and forth, I decided to call the police. Bug and I got in the car and I drove close enough to the library to connect to their wifi (I don't have a data plan on my phone). I looked up the non-emergency number and called the police, who connected me to the fire department. The fire dispatcher asked me a few questions (mostly about what they appeared to be burning; it hadn't occurred to me before, but I imagine those picnic BBQs aren't really meant to burn anything other than charcoal), got my contact information, and ultimately decided to send someone over to check the situation out.

And so, feeling much better about the whole thing, Bug and I headed home. I wondered off and on while I drove if I was blowing the incident out of proportion, but I also knew my conscience would have niggled at me if I hadn't called.

So what's the whole point of this story? Well, there are a couple of things that the incident has left me thinking about, especially in relation to my son.

First, it reminded me how amazing it is to watch a young child trying to wrap their mind around an idea. I told Bug what I was going to do as I was looking up the number, and he did a good job being quiet during my phone call. But after I hung up, he had a million questions. Were the police going to come? Why were the firefighters coming instead, when I had called the police? (How did they connect me to the fire department? Are they right next door to each other?) Was it possible that the fire might get out of the BBQ and cover the entire world? Could it burn down the library? Would the firefighters put it out? How long would it take them to get there? How would the firefighters stay safe? Do they wear gloves to keep their hands safe? Do they wear socks inside of their boots? And on and on. He'd ask some questions, then get quiet for awhile, and then ten minutes later he'd ask a few more. He asked about how other fires start around town, and whether cigarettes could start fires. When I said that they could, he asked how. He asked if I had ever seen that happen, and I told him about the time when I saw a small roadside grass fire, which could very possibly have been started by someone's discarded cigarette. He asked about what I did that time, and listened, riveted, to my story.

The questions continued for the rest of the afternoon. That night, as Bug was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, we talked for a bit, like we usually do. And while mommy-calling-the-firefighters wasn't the only thing he was thinking about bythat point (he also spent awhile talking about how we need to get a farm [it would have parrots, turkeys, and hens... he later added pigs and cows], becoming a mermaid, and how he could enter the book Flat Stanley and become flat himself so that he could go through the cracks under doors), it was still very much on his mind.

Kids, especially preschool-age kids, are a bundle of questions. And I love that! I love seeing the paths his mind takes as it tries to comprehend new ideas. I love trying to answer his questions in a way he can understand, and in a way that invites even more questions.

The other point here is the point of proactivity. I don't want to be the kind of person who sits back and waits for someone to act when I can do something myself. And I definitely don't want my son to be that way. So we also spent some time talking about why I made my phone call in the first place, how the fire they were building made me uncomfortable and how I was concerned that they might lose control of it, so I called the proper authorities to come check in and "keep everyone safe."

And then we talked about how if he sees something that is wrong or bad, it's up to him to do something; he should never assume that someone else will take care of it, so he needs to be the one who talks to an adult about what he sees. He didn't really have much to say to that, but he was quiet for awhile, and it seemed clear that he was thinking about it.

Kids really do learn so much from us by example. I like to hope that an incident like this will cement my words in his mind on some level."Do the right thing" is more than just a phrase, more than just words; it's something I try to live every day.

Parenting is a long, endless process. Here's hoping I can continue to instill good character in my son while inspiring his curiosity.

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