Ruby and I made another trek to Walker Park today. Because I usually work most of Tuesday and Wednesday, it was a chance for us to reconnect.
In case you didn’t know, summer of 2013 arrived last week. The tall trees provided great shade for a mom and little girl to have a picnic. Ruby and I sat, side by side, eating sandwiches and talking about this and that. Ruby’s small sock puppet joined us.
Ruby turned around and watched the water. Facing the other way, I saw a car pull up. A mom and two adorable little blonde girls tumbled out. The older girl, dressed in head to toe pink, had her long-ringlet hair in a ponytail. I would say she was probably about 5 years old. Her younger sister, be-diapered and with a flowered hairband, toddled behind.
“C’mon, sis!” the older girl called, smiling, from the slide. “You can do it!”
The smaller girl crept up the steps of the play structure, one step at a time. One foot, then the other foot met on the same step. Over and over she climbed. Her slow progress didn’t diminish her good attitude. She reached a plateau and called to her mom. She wanted to slide down the parallel bars attached to the side of the structure.
“No, baby,” her wise mother said. “You’re not old enough for that.”
“I can do that,” Ruby scoffed.
Sure she can. But the smaller girl was probably 2.5, maybe 3. I reminded her when she was that small she couldn’t do it, either. She wasn’t a big enough girl to stretch her legs across both bars and slide down. You have to be taller and stronger to make it.
After our al fresco lunch, we wandered down to the rocky shore. An unknown sea creature splashed in the inlet. We watched the browny-green water to see if it surfaced again. We saw a seagull bobbing on the small waves. We hunted shells and sea glass. We crept slowly along the water’s edge, Ruby investigating sand fleas and looking for the elusive unbroken scallop shell.
“Mom!” Ruby exclaimed. “I found one!” Pleased, she kept her eyes on the ground.
She also wanted a whole clam shell, both top and bottom shells still hinged together, unbroken. She found one.
Suddenly, she jerked it away from her.
“It squirted water at me!” She wrinkled her nose in disgust.
It was alive.
“It has to go back into the water. You can’t keep it.” I tried to let her down easy.
“But why, Mom? I want it.” She finally found something she’d been searching for and she couldn’t have it. Seemed mighty unfair to my girl.
I reminded her that the clam would die without water. The sun warmed up the still air, and even in the shade, it seemed a bit humid.
She pondered my assertion a moment. Then the clam oozed out more water. In her mind, the clam quickly reached disgusting proportions. Ugh!
We walked down to the gently lapping waves.
“Can I throw it?” she asked.
“No. Place it gently in the water. You might break its shells if you throw it.”
She had to be coaxed. The clam snugly fit in her small palm and tossing it into the waves would be so satisfying…
She knelt down and eased the clam into the shallow water. The clam opened its maw a micrometer and let out a bubble of relief.
“See?” I told her. “It said ‘thank you.'”
Ruby took a look for herself. She agreed. She let the clam know it was welcome.
If we don’t teach our kids mercy and compassion in the small things, how will they do in the larger, more onerous circumstances of life? Little girls get bigger and stronger over time. Clams, helpless on the rocks above the low tide line, need protection. May I remember to extend mercy to those who cannot help themselves.