The writing is very typical of mom blogs these days, a proud showcasing of parental apathy, of refusal to not only model the appropriate behavior but also a failure to provide correction when improper actions are exhibited. The mother laments the bad behavior but admits to allowing it, hoping that one day her daughter will figure out on her own what is right and what is wrong.
We have our own salamander story, though ours started out a little different. One morning, our calico, Martha, dragged a salamander up from the basement. It was uninjured, though stunned and sluggish. The snow was heavy outside, so we couldn't release it back to the wild in good conscience. We found ourselves with an amphibious, temporary roommate.
Evelyn took an immediate interest to the salamander, as she does with all life forms she finds, from worms and spiders to birds and squirrels. She wanted to know his name, if he missed his parents. She loved to watch me take care of it, always my little buddy sitting at the counter as I dropped flightless fruit flies into the little home we made him. She would sit like some kids sit in front of the television, her chin propped in her hands and she watched in wide-eyed wonder at the pink tongue darting out and scooping up a meal.
When it was time to release Roger, as I named him the instant she asked for his moniker, we gently put him in a small jar and brought him to a local park with a small lake. We walked to the water's edge, a blurry line of mud and decaying leaves. As I tipped the jar and Roger stepped onto the earth, she smiled. "He's going to go see his mom and dad now," she said. "Perhaps," I said. "He'll be happy here, no matter what." We watched the salamander slowly walk away, until he disappeared under a leaf. "Bye, Roger!" she waved as we headed to the playground.
This behavior isn't unusual for children, the desire to understand the world around them and the animals within it, to treat with kindness whatever creature comes our way. The innocence and naivete of childhood are fertile grounds for compassion and empathy, but the right seeds need to be planted and when weeds start to grow, they need to be pulled up by the root.
Empathy isn't taught by asking a child who has just crushed an ant how she would feel if she was crushed. It is taught constantly by the actions we do every day without thought. A child who sees her mother scream at a spider before crushing it with a napkin is learning a different lesson about the dignity of life than a child who watches her mother trap it in a cup and release it outside. A child who watches her father toss a glass of water on a noisy tomcat in the yard is learning a different lesson than the child who watches her father close the window and shrug that cats will be cats.
A child who is allowed to crush ants joyfully, to injure a wild animal, to abuse the family dog without repercussion is learning a lesson - that violence isn't wrong, that animals are disposable, that pain and suffering are entertaining. I suppose a mother who is okay with her daughter's cruelty to animals needs to stop and ask herself, "Am I okay with these lessons?" She probably isn't, but her actions - or lack of action - shows her child otherwise.
Us? We'll just keep naming ants and pointing out which is carrying food, and which is returning home to see its mom and dad.