How do we raise our children to love and appreciate nature, yet still respect it? How does a world filled with people who want the same thing, not be able to create it?
What started out as a lesson for my daughter turned into quite a few lessons for me.
For weeks now, I have been trying to get her to understand that it would be best to release butterflies right after she catches them.
“But mommy, they make me so happy and you always say to do what makes me happy.”
“I understand, but butterflies are made to fly.”
“But they’re so beautiful and I love them.”
“If you love them, then you should let them go.”
“But you said that love is the most important thing.”
“Yes, but how would you feel if an alien came from outer space and decided to keep you in a cage because you’re so beautiful?”
“How long would he keep me?”
Not the response I anticipated.
I admit that it is not always easy to listen and respond thoughtfully when everything you say is met with "but you said" and "but you don't understand." If you are a parent, grandparent or anyone who cares for a child in any way, I believe you will know the exact tone I'm referring to.
But last night, I did understand...through a soft, passionate and at times cracking voice that brought me to tears. It's not just about catching the butterfly for her. It's about holding it and "loving" it. It's about watching it fly about a room and watching it return to her. (I've witnessed it land right back on her.) It's about feeding it strawberries and sweetened water on cottonballs and talking to it in the same way she talks to Logan (our dog). Through the eyes of most adults, it might seem silly. To her, I assure you it is not.
For most kids and even adults, it's the thrill. It's catching that butterfly. That is what's celebrated. For some, it's about the wedding day. It's more about the excitement that's garnered from landing that job.
But for some of us, it's more about what happens after. It's about loving and enjoying "the catch." As adults, we have difficulty letting go of the things we love, why would it be any different for our children.
"Why are birds and dogs pets?" she asked. "Why can't butterflies be pets?" "What if we lived in a different world and dogs lived outside and butterflies could live inside?" Who gets to decide what's a pet? she was trying to ask. I didn't have an answer. We declaw our cats so they don't ruin our furniture. We put chemicals on our dogs to avoid fleas. Who decides all this, really? Just because things are the way they have always been, doesn't make them right.
As a parent, that sense of "struggle" you feel when you want your child to see things your way is uncomfortable. But can it be avoided? Yes, when you are able to put aside your pre-conceived thoughts and truly listen. You can't expect them to see through your eyes if you are unwilling to see through theirs. And, we often forget that our brains are much more developed than theirs.
It occurred to me that this is also the reason why so many relationships end in disarray. We all want the same things; love, truth, justice, joy, peace. Right? So, why can't we get there?
As a world, we forget we are one consciousness. As a country, we forget that it's not "my people" or "your people," it's "We, the people." In a family, it's not just about "you" or "I," it's about "us."
It's time to pay attention and truly listen. Put aside your idea of how things should be and look at what you can change within yourself that will be to your benefit as well as those around you.
At fifteen, I wanted to change the world. I now realize, it takes more than one childhood dream to do just that. It takes all of yours and all of our children's dreams too.
Love and blessings,
Kathleen O'Malley, DC