What is it about kids and dogs and gross things found in bushes?
This week, it rained at the park, and my students took cover under a tree. Within a couple of minutes, they were all working together to build a kick-ass fort out of branches, morning glory vines, and anything else they could find. The thing was, this was all happening in Volunteer Park, and they weren’t the only one who had ever taken shelter under that tree. It went as follows:
Kid: Look at this enormous shoelace! (Holds up long cord, perhaps the drawstring of a sleeping bag.)
Other Kid: We can tie that branch on with it!
Kid: And here’s a toothbrush!
Me: So, uh, guys, I want you to use your common sense when you’re looking around for stuff. If you see any gross trash, don’t touch it.
Kid: Like, if we found a dirty diaper.
Me: (noticing a condom wrapper on the ground) Um, exactly. Or like a needle from a doctor’s office, or any uh, yucky plastic things. If you’re not sure, just ask me, and I’ll tell you if it’s something good to play with.
And they were off gathering sequoia fronds and cedar twigs. I carefully perused the scene. Yep, a condom wrapper, but no condom. A little gross, but not dangerous. No broken glass. Definitely no needles. (I’ve never seen any at that park, but it just seemed like part of the lecture.) A random toothbrush. And already the beginnings of a really cool fort, built by some pretty admirable cooperative efforts. Ok. Then:
Kid: What’s this stuff? (Pokes at a little plastic packet in the dirt on the far side of the tree.)
I check it out. It’s lube.
Me: Oh, that’s just some, uh, gel. It looks pretty gross. I’d just leave it alone.
Kid: Is it something people put on each other when they are doing DRUGS??
Me: No, no, I don’t think it’s anything like that. It’s just some slidy gel.(Oh geez, Becca, SLIDY GEL???) I mean, I don’t know what they did with it. I wasn’t here to see. Let’s just leave it alone.
So the kids go back to their fort, and I am left thinking about why it is so much easier to talk to kids about hard drugs than protected sex. Sex is so much more nuanced. Finding lube and condom wrappers in the park is gross. But I’m glad the people were using condoms. And if they’d cleaned up their trash, I wouldn’t be bothering my head about the fact that there had been sex there. It’s funny, too, how children are drawn to bushes and other edgy places, (trees! walls! gutters!) and how as a teacher, I must constantly negotiate those boundaries with them, keeping them safe without making their world too small.
As for dogs, there has been a lot of dog bathing around here, because some of us have a differing ideas of what smells good, and what one should do when one finds rotting meat in the bushes. Just so you know, I’m not the one advocating rolling in it.