You Shouldn't Be Okay With That.

I read an article today written by a mother who claims to be "okay" with her daughter's cruelty to animals.  You can read the post here, but I can sum it up for you.  It starts off with her describing a gift given to a 4-yr-old girl from her grandfather, a salamander he found under a rock and put in a terrarium for her.  The little girl proceeds to pull the salamander's tail off.  After harassing the animal as much as the mother could handle, they released it.  Instead of releasing it in a proper environment, the mother allowed her daughter to chuck it into a lake with a simple, "Can salamanders swim?  I hope so."  It continues by describing a child who gleefully stomps on ants, who hits her dog.

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.

Immediately after saving him from the cat and cleaning him up.

Setting Roger free.

Roger, who we talk about still.


Happiness is a Choice.

It is not autumn yet, and the leaves on the trees are still quite green and healthy.  However, I had to rake the backyard today because the maple has had a very fertile season and the grass was full of little helicopter seed pods.  Even as I raked them into a sizable pile, they were actively falling from the tree.  Some hit the back of my neck with force and bounced to the ground, others were more of a tickle and fell down the back of my shirt.  It was peaceful.

Thunder started to rumble, and my daughter became frightened.  She was standing on the side porch, splashing in the water table with her brother.  I always try to explain to her that thunder is nothing to be afraid of, that it's just the sky's way of saying hello and letting us know it's about to give us a gift of rain.  This time, she bought it and as the rain began to fall, we ran around the yard.  We spun in dizzy circles, danced, ran through the wet droplets and looked up at the gray clouds, squinting.

I didn't waste time today with the internet, not with social media nor depressing images and stories of an ironic war in a holy land.  I didn't stare at my phone, eagerly awaiting interactions that weren't going to come. Something about today was simple, and it fostered the contentment that had been hard to find lately.  I was happy today, that simple true happiness that grows inside us when we make the choice to nurture it.

True happiness is not contingent upon external circumstances.  It is not dependent upon how much money we have, how large our circle of friends, how loved we are, how much property or material goods we have.  It is instead a product of gratitude, a conscious choice to hold a mirror up to our lives and see all the beauty contained therein instead of staring out a window onto someone else's life.  If you have to look outside for happiness, you'll never find it.

Lately, I've lost sight of the important things in my life.  I've focused on one dead branch in an otherwise overgrown and robust garden and made that misery the focal point of my existence - this one tiny thing that my life lacks.  Pathetically, I've clutched those dead leaves to my chest and lamented, "Why me?"  I've fantasized about that wilting plant and how much nicer my garden would be if only it could be healed, if only someone would rush to my rescue and pull the rotting roots from my soil.

No one is coming.  The universe doesn't owe me that.  The universe doesn't owe any of us anything.  The only thing we can do is pull the offending rot from our own lives, and look out onto our garden and its ripe fruits and vegetables with happiness knowing that the universe didn't owe us that, either.  But here it is, to be enjoyed for what it is.

The truth is, my life is full of simple beauty.  I have a hard-working husband who excels in his job and provides for his family's every need.  Because of his efforts, I am able to be a stay-at-home mom and raise our children myself, giving them the loving guidance and attention they wouldn't get with anyone else.  I grocery shop without a budget, I cook amazing meals in a beautiful kitchen in a home we own, I put my children to bed in their own rooms, then spend the rest of my evening pursuing intellectual hobbies without any real worry hanging over my head.  I have a tarantula my husband didn't want, two cats my husband didn't want, and might be getting a dog (which will actually be a compromise).

I brought my kids in from the rain and straight up to the bath tub.  Grains of sand settled on the bottom, blades of dead grass floated to the top, remnants of a day spent in joy.  We continued to splash and play as I scrubbed them down with castille soap that smelled of spicy lavender, then dried them off with fluffy towels and watched my little nudists run right to my daughter's room to jump on the bed before I wrestled them into clothes.

Happiness is a choice, and I choose to be happy.

*I feel I need to note that my unhappiness is in no way related to my son's autism.  Anyone who might not know what else is going on in my life or my head (and that's everyone, because no one knows what goes on up there) might jump to that conclusion, unfortunately.  My children are beautiful gifts and their own personalities, whether diagnostically labeled or not, are the spices of my otherwise dull life.