dawud wharnsby

Spring Clean Up (Home School Lessons in Trash Collecting)

At long last, our exceptionally cold and lingering Canadian winter seems to have fallen asleep deep underground, allowing the grass to green above it in preparation for a summer of picnics and play.

During the first day of warmer temperatures a week or so ago, my daughters came running back to the house after only a few minutes outdoors, demanding that I retrieve their little red wagon from the garage, along with gloves for them to wear.

“Is it still cold outside on the playground?” I asked.

“No! We have to go clean the park!” My eldest informed me. Melted snow had revealed five months worth of trash that, according to the girls, “needed” to be urgently cleaned up.

You simply cannot imagine how pleased I was with them when they returned home over an hour later having filled their wagon with paper cups, plastic bottles and pieces of litter ranging in size from that of a cigarette filter to that of a large take-away food container.

The sad reality of my poor wisdom hit me as I realized I had not sent them out with a few important guidelines for park and playground clean-up. Celebrating their initiative and achievement, I also cautioned, “Girls, if you ever see anything that looks like a plastic syringe ~ the kind you play with in your medical kit ~ never touch it, ok? Not even with gloves.” Knowing all about the worry of diseases from their aunt (a scientist renowned for her HIV/AIDS and Malaria research), they easily promised they would immediately call me to retrieve any syringes they may one day find.

Then, in my mind, I danced around how I would delicately caution them about another filthy reality of trash in our 21st Century. A disgustingly discarded item that sometimes sickens shaded public places and even remote hiking trails.

“…and Beyti,” I continued, “if you ever see anything that is plastic and looks like a deflated balloon or rubber glove, never ever touch it. Call me right away to scoop it up with a spade. OK?”

“But what are they?” she asked ~ as I hoped she would not.

“They are from the pharmacy ~ are very dangerous and very dirty.” I retorted with ambiguity, disguised behind emphatic fatherly confidence.

The next day, after heading out to the park, my daughters were surprisingly back home again within minutes.

“Davie! You have to come quickly!” (Yes, my daughters call me “Davie”. We’re a very eccentric family, in case you hadn’t noticed.) “Someone threw a pile of garbage in the park today and there is one of those things you told us about…like a plastic balloon with no air!”

Yuck. The hairs on my neck rose as I shut my eyes and shuttered with nausea. Getting up from my desk, I put on my cardigan, slipped on my shoes and ventured with my excited, pony-tailed park rangers to the playground.

“Where did you see it Bayti?” I asked as I winced, worried of what we’d find. In my mind I grumbled about the nature of people who get their kinky-kicks in a parking lot late at night, then simply toss away their vending machine insurance policies to an area where children play. The back seat of a borrowed car is a lot cheaper than a hotel room for the limited budgets of some libido driven individuals ~ I get that… and far be it from me to judge the life-style choices of consenting adults ~ even if I disagree with some of those choices! But for the love of Pete! Toss your rubber rubbish in a bin ~ not out the car window into a place where kids might find it or worse, pick it up to inspect it inquisitively!

“It’s over there see? That pile in the tennis court?” My daughter directed me.

“That big pink thing!” I asked with confusion.

“Yes! See, it is just like you said ~ plastic and like a balloon without air.”

And indeed it was ~ but this was no average drug-store dollar contraceptive. It was a large, fuchsia deflated kiddie pool.

Laughing to myself and sighing with relief I commended my daughters on doing as I had asked them to do and was happy to be the father of such tremendously socially responsible children ~ still in possession of their beautiful innocence.

But I still couldn’t help watching my step as we walked home through puddles of spring thaw.