There’s a saying that goes something like, “You can take the person out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the person.” I don’t remember it exactly because, frankly, I’m not at all fond of it. I think it generalizes and it’s a cop-out. The sentiment is simple: You cannot change your behavior or thinking because where you came from will always control what you do and where you go. Put more succinctly (and a line Jessica likes to quote from “A Knight’s Tale): You cannot change your stars.
Having said that, a few weeks ago, I was at the intersection around the corner from my house and waiting at the light coming the other direction was a silver Audi with a well-dressed man in a business suit in the front seat. While the light was red, he proceeded to open his door just enough to drop a bag of McDonald’s trash nonchalantly and then closed his door and drove off when the light changed. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say that the first thought that came to my mind was that saying. Here we had what, by all appearances, seemed to be a pretty together person and yet, rather than finding a trash can, he just threw his trash out in the street.
While I love our neighborhood, the one thing that has always bugged me about it is that people will leave their trash all over the street. Living in an urban environment where you have both foot and auto traffic of all sorts on your streets, you’ll find people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. You truly do run the gamut of everything from the poverty-stricken to the wealthy.
So, fast forward to a couple of days ago when I was taking ‘T’ to school. She goes to school about five minutes from here, but because of road construction, the route there changes daily and it’s an effort sometimes to figure out the way. On this particular day, I missed the one and only turn that I could make to get there. This involved a ten minute detour to make it around the Miller Valley and try again. During this detour, ‘T’ sneezed and needed a tissue. I handed her the tissue and she blew her nose. She then asked for another tissue to wrap it up.She tried to roll down the window. Thank goodness the window lock was on. She then tried to open the door at the traffic signal. Once again, thank goodness the doors auto-lock. I turned around and asked her what she was doing and she pointed to the trash in her hand and stated that she needed to throw it out. I admit it, I lost my cool a little bit at this point. It wasn’t directed at her (although she would not know the difference) so much as the situation. The level of apathy she exhibited about it threw me off my game. It’s obvious that this was what she’d always known and that it’s the thing you’re SUPPOSED to do when you have trash. I explained to her that we don’t throw trash in the street and that trash goes in trash cans. That when she does that, it makes more work for someone else, animals could get sick and it’s just plain ugly. In response, she looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and did not say a word to me on the rest of the trip (not that she’s overly talkative most of the time, anyway).
I dropped her off at school and I’ve given it a lot of thought. How do I teach this little innocent girl that what she’s known (and likely her mother has known and so on) that what she’s doing is harmful behavior? So, I’ve decided that this weekend, we are going to take her and the other older kids with trash bags and we’re going to take a trip around the neighborhood picking up trash. I’ve done this with Eli and Brenna before and they really liked feeling like they were part of a bigger picture. I am hoping that taking ‘T’, she’ll see that other people really *are* causing her more work and that it really *is* ugly. And, eventually, maybe she’ll start to feel part of a bigger picture and prove that she can change her stars.