Thursday, 10 January 2008

When you teach your kids too well: sometimes it's okay to litter

I was a good little fascist with my kids, when they were young, about littering. No sweetie paper was too small to escape a hunt for the nearest bin; we took a plastic bag with us on our frequent riverside walks, to pick up the litter other, less considerate people had left behind; once or twice, as an example to my impressionable offspring, I even (I blush to recall) stopped people in the street who had thrown down a piece of rubbish, and asked them to clean up after themselves.

But this all came home to roost one day when my daughter, then 6 years old, went to play straight from school with a friend in a particularly rough part of the city.

At 5pm I left home in my car, accompanied by my 7-year-old son, to go and fetch her and, in spite of trying to follow the mother’s directions, I got lost. It was winter, and by the time I realised I was miles from any recognisable landmark and didn’t have a clue where I was, it was getting dark.

After driving around for a bit in a panic, I finally saw a busy-looking spaza shop, its lights a beacon in the gathering dusk, and pulled in, intending to ask for directions or use a phone.

While I was giving my son strict instructions to stay in the car and not unlock the doors for anyone or anything, another car pulled in beside us. It was a fabulously souped-up roadster-type job, with a growling engine and flames painted along its sides; inside were four tough-looking youths, caps sideways on their heads, agleam with bling and keeping beat in a very frightening way to the incredibly loud, jackhammer-like music that was thumping from the car’s sound system.

I was scared shitless; my son was utterly entranced. And as we watched, one of the young gangstas in the car opened a packet of cigarettes, peeled off the plastic wrapper, wound down his window, and threw it out into the street.

My son’s face lit up. Before I could stop him, he’d wound down his window and shouted across in his piping little voice, ‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’

The gangster turned his head slowly and looked our way. I imagined I caught a glimpse of a gleaming gold tooth in the front of his mouth when he grinned evilly and cocked an eyebrow.

‘Don’t litter!’ shouted my 7-year-old son, pointing at the wrapper lying next to the car. ‘It’s wrong to litter! You must pick that up and put it in a bin!’

I’ve always hated cars that are ‘powered by sound’ (what makes their occupants think the rest of humanity wants to listen to their crap music?) but this once I thanked heavens for volume.

As the gangsta leaned out his window, leered at my son and mouthed, ‘Wha’?’, I lunged over the back of the driver’s seat and wound up my son’s window, while signalling to the litterer that it was nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

‘Mom!’ my son said, outraged. ‘He littered! He shouldn’t litter!’

‘I know, my darling, he’s a very naughty boy,’ I said, spinning round, hitting the ignition and reversing out of there like a stock-car racer. ‘But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s not a good idea to tell other people what to do.’

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2 comments:

angel said...

out of the mouths of babes eh??!

meggie said...

How did I miss all these gem posts!
I suppose I have been too busy sweating & having my head up my own fundamental orifice to see them!
Love it.