If you are a parent you have probably experienced this scenario.
You are out somewhere in public. A grocery store. A park. Church. A festival of some sort. Your kid puts something in their mouth and then promptly decides that they do not like it. They hate it so much, in fact, that they indicate they simply must spit it out. Right! Now!
So what do you do? Without thinking, you hold out your hand for that child to spit into. Sexy? No. But at least it keeps the partially chewed food off the ground where other people will be grossed out by it and/or slip on it.
This happens less and less as kids get older, thank heavens. But the habit, once established, asserts itself in new ways. Kids give you their trash. Their apple cores. Their friend’s trash. They have learned that if they have something that they want to get rid of, you will take it from them. And without thinking you usually do.
What happens once you have this half-chewed food / gross apple core / used tissue in your hand? Inevitably you look around and realize that there are no signs of a garbage can in the vicinity. As in, you could walk for three fricking days and not find a garbage can. Or a compost bin. Or any sort of likely place to leave the crud you’re holding.
Unless you’re at Disneyland. There are trash cans everywhere at Disneyland. But really, how likely is it that you’re at Disneyland?
This is why my purse contains old cheese string wrappers and wadded-up napkins and popsicle sticks that have been licked clean and sometimes even chewed on. I usually persist long enough to find an appropriate receptacle for things that will rot or very sticky things, but the rest has a way of ending up stashed somewhere for the moment and then of course I immediately forget about it because I’m in public with kids and my mind is sort of occupied.
This summer while visiting the PNE, which is the annual summer fair in Vancouver, I experienced this scenario when my daughter attempted to hand me her empty snow cone cup. Without thinking I started to reach my hand towards her to collect her trash. And then mid-stride I had a moment of clarity.
Amber! the voice in my head spoke, you do not have to carry your children’s trash around. You can just say no.
And so I did. My daughter looked puzzled. She asked where to put it. I told her that, in fact, I didn’t know. I do not have magical garbage disposal abilities. But she could look for a trash can. And she did. And then we continued our day.
It’s funny how you get into these parenting habits when you have two-year-olds and then just carry on for years without a second thought. Of course you’re going to deal with gross stuff when you have a two-year-old. Toddlers are gross. And loud. You’ll go a long way to avoid exposing others to their grossness and loudness. If they’re melting down because their tongue touched cheddar when they were expecting mozza you’ll hold out your hand just to avoid the stares of passing strangers.
But then, one day, you realize you’re taking your 11-year-old’s trash for no good reason. Or tying your eight-year-old’s shoes for him. And single-handedly doing all the cleaning and meal preparation and so on. Because you’re used to it. Your kids are used to it. And it’s just easier. With each realization, you have a decision to make. Are you ready to take a stand? Are you ready to go through the effort to change things?
On the trash collection front, I am ready. I am taking a stand. From here on in, my kids can throw out their own trash. And maybe the next time I rifle around in my purse for my keys, I won’t pull out a half eaten cereal bar and three empty food sample cups in the process.
A mom can dream, right?