On Friday afternoon, I was lucky to have a little one-on-one time with our middle child, Kate. One-on-one time with any of our children doesn’t happen very often in our household, so we decided to take full advantage of our alone time together. Because it was unseasonably warm, we chose to spend most of the two hours outside. It’s amazing what a little fresh air, warm sunshine and hoops in the driveway can do for the spirit. After my arms felt like Jell-O from all those awesome hook shots (yea, right), I suggested that we take a break and walk down the road to the duck pond. I wanted to pick up a little trash as a “free” act of kindness for my #365ActsofKindness project. While Kate didn’t want to go initially, I convinced her with the stash of stale Goldfish crackers in the pantry, knowing that she couldn’t resist going as feeding the ducks is one of her favorite activities.
When we walked into the house to grab the Goldfish, our pup, Jane, was waiting at the door with her ears perked up as if she knew exactly where we were going. We couldn’t NOT bring her, although we both strongly considered that option. You see, while Jane’s a super-sweet dog, there is nothing sweet about walking her. She tugs on the leash so hard that you can feel your arm being pulled out of its socket and she goes completely berserk when she sees a squirrel, bird, jogger, or another dog. It’s just not necessarily the way we wanted to spend our special mother-daughter time together. Still, the pathetic look she gave us, complete with a single tear in her eye (okay, slight exaggeration), convinced us that we couldn’t leave without her. We put on her harness and set off for the duck pond. Our loveable Jane only attempted to bite the head off of one squirrel and one other dog. It was a successful walk in our book. :o)
We spent about a half an hour at the pond looking out at the water and feeding the ducks, geese and an occasional seagull. Kate would grab a handful of the tiny Goldfish crackers out of the bag, throw them up into the air and the seagulls would swoop down to try to grab the crackers before they landed in the water. Kate giggled and screamed as the seagulls got a little close for comfort or when she’d see a duck swimming over for the food. The sun was shining at just the right angle…not only did it warm our skin as we stood at the water’s edge, but it also made the surface of the water literally sparkle. I took a deep breath and smelled the warm, earthy soon-to-be spring air. It was the perfect moment. One thing that I love about the duck pond is that while it is beautiful and serene, there’s more depth to it than one would initially realize. If you focus your gaze a little further down the river beyond the tall grasses and gaggle of geese, there is the stark contrast to the quiet beauty where the traffic whizzes by on I95. It’s pretty cool because you get to feel the calm, peaceful feeling of nature, but you don’t feel isolated because you’re reminded of all the other people in the world – commuters, families, truckers – buzzing by at about sixty-five miles per hour on the highway. People. Noise. Reality. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I grew up in a big city, but I like it. For some reason it makes me feel less alone. I always end up imagining the people in the cars and trucks, I do the same thing with airplanes. I stare off and wonder…who’s driving, where they are going, what are they thinking…are they happy or sad?
“Okay…it’s empty!” Kate’s words brought me back from my thoughts as she shook the empty bag of Goldfish at all the wildlife creatures she had now attracted to her. It was time to go home. Just like most perfect moments, it went too quickly and had to come to an end. Our one-on-one time would soon become one-on-three time.
As we walked up to the road from the grassy area of the duck pond, I remembered that I wanted to pick up trash as my 72nd (72nd!) act of kindness. At the edge of the park, there was a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with garbage and an empty pack of Marlboros perched on top of it. It was like someone had pulled over, cleaned out the contents of their car, put it in the Ziploc baggie, sealed it, topped it off with the box of cigarettes that wouldn’t fit in the bag and intentionally left it all there. Once again, there was the stark contrast to the beauty of nature, only unlike the traffic whizzing by, the trash that was purposefully left behind really annoyed me. I almost went ahead and picked up the Ziploc bag, but then thought of all the dogs that walk by and what dogs do to mark their territory, and I thought, I might be kind, but even “kind” has its limits. I decided to leave it there. About a foot away from the bag, was a half empty (or was it half full?) Dunkin Donuts plastic cup on the side of the road. I rationalized to myself and Kate that this would work as my “trash”, so I picked it up and carefully held it in between my index finger and thumb. Along the way home, Kate laughed and said, “Oh, that looks so refreshing, Mom, how does it taste?” I pretended to sip it and answered, “It tastes so good, wanna sip?” The moment made even more hilarious when the dirt crusted along the side of the cup moved and we thought there was a bug crawling on it. We were laughing so hard by the time we got home it almost seemed a shame to throw it away…almost.
But, even during that silly moment, I didn’t feel great about leaving all the other trash behind or the lesson I was modeling for my daughter who is a careful, quiet observer. By only picking up the one piece of trash and claiming that I did my act of kindness for the day, I felt like a complete fake. It also made me feel like I was just going through the motions to check something off a list instead of really being mindful of my acts of kindness. The thought of the garbage and my complacency nagged at me the rest of the night.
So, early the next morning, I decided to walk back to the duck pond. This time, instead of stale Goldfish, I grabbed a tall white kitchen garbage bag and my helper-pup, Jane. On my way out, I invited Kate to join us, but she responded that she was really comfy in her bed with her iPad. When I explained to her why I was going back, my old-soul daughter listened, smiled knowingly and went back to playing her game.
When Jane and I arrived at the duck pond, I was sorta surprised, but pleased to see that the Ziploc bag, complete with cigarette box on top of it, was still sitting along the road. I picked it up along with several beer cans scattered around, although I actually didn’t mind that part because it felt like payback for the days long, long ago when my friends and I would drink at the beach or the park and then toss our empties everywhere except the garbage cans. I also picked up other garbage, including filthy Styrofoam containers, broken glass, a crushed diet coke can, old paper and tissue, and I had to carefully step over and through some sticker bushes to get a couple Whole Foods deli containers with old fruit and salads. It was completely disgusting and I had a scratch or two on my legs, but it definitely felt better than just picking up the one Dunkin Donuts cup.
After I was finished collecting the trash, I walked back home with our helpful pup, Jane. She didn’t even pull on her leash that hard. I was amazed that we filled half the garbage bag with trash that was carelessly cast away by others. The duck pond was cleaner and so was my conscience. What’s that saying about trash, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? I guess this sorta applies here. While it wasn’t my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, it wasn’t all bad either. There have been days when I loathe this project sitting over my head, but mostly I am grateful. Very grateful. I hope Kate (and Emma and Brian) notice my gratitude too.
#74. Left some scratch off lotto tickets on a couple of cars’ windshields in the parking lot at Goodwill.
#73. Picked up the trash at the duck pond: A Redux. (RAK of the Week)
#72. Picked up trash at the duck pond: the lite version.
#71. Gave Emma Starbucks gift cards to give to others on her birthday. She successfully hid two gift cards in random lockers AND in her dad’s “beauty product” drawer. :o)
#70. Wrote letters to adolescent residents in a mental health facility as suggested by the Random Act of Kindness Organization (RAKtivist)*.
#69. Gave an extra tip to a car wash attendant.
#68. Let someone pull ahead of me in traffic.
*Note about Cards to Inspire: http://cardstoinspire.tumblr.com/post/139438764164/cards-to-inspire-card-drive Cards To Inspire is doing a card drive for encouraging cards for adolescents who are residents in mental health treatment facilities. The cards will be presented to the adolescents in May in honor of May being mental health month. You’re welcome to contribute!
A big “thank you” to my friend, Colleen King, for the clean-up at the duck pond suggestion. I never realized how much trash accumulates at one of our favorite spots. Do you have any other “free” acts of kindness that you like to do? If so, I’d love to hear all ideas! Thank you!