By Lauren Gonzalez
“Ooh, look at this, Joey!”
I sunk down onto the prickly gravel of our driveway and pointed to a giant winged ant. I followed it with my finger as it made its way through the winding cemented terrain, bumping and jostling tiny rocks in its path. Joey turned to look, torn for a moment from his daily task of beating our fence with a stick.
“What is it?” he asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Come look!” I motioned with my hand, inviting him to where I knelt on the hard concrete. Dropping the stick, he sped over and bent at the waist, peering down at the ant as it hobbled along.
“OH, A BUG!” he exclaimed, straightening to his full height as he lifted his leg… WHAP! Without a moment’s hesitation, Joey crushed the ant under his sandal, pulled up his foot to briefly view the remains, and returned to his previous post at the fence.
There I sat, sharing the scratchy surface of our driveway with the now lifeless body of an unsuspecting ant, who through no fault of his own had gone to his final resting place at the hands of a bored young boy.
Death by toddler.
I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Having heard somewhere that little boys who are purposely cruel to animals grow up to be serial killers, I considered the fact that I’d mothered the next Dexter, hoping he’d at least use his exploits for good and not evil. Then it dawned on me that Joey might not understand that this ant was a living thing, just like him and me. Perhaps it was no different to him than a toy, and for Joey, the only purpose of any toy is to find out exactly how much force is required to break it. This ant was easy work. All it took was the sole a size five shoe.
I was left to wonder, how do you teach a little boy, built to instinctively enact destruction, to appreciate the complexity and fragility of life, to understand the power he holds in this world to cause chaos or to create beauty, to support life or to take it?
My husband is a US Army veteran, a wild game hunter, and a fisherman. All of these roles involve the taking of life, and carry the great responsibility of that burden. Having not grown up around hunting or fishing, explaining these pastimes to my children is an entirely new challenge for me, and one I never imagined I’d face.
Growing up in a big, landlocked city, I didn’t often take advantage of opportunities to experience the outdoors, to learn about the earth and understand my place in it. Even now, I feel somewhat far removed from my husband’s outdoor hobbies, and until recently hadn’t given much thought to their bearing on my children’s upbringing.
Living in the wilds of Montana, the “last best place,” my kids will have the opportunity to interact with all kinds of wildlife. They may encounter danger out there from other living things that threaten their lives. They may also participate in taking lives themselves, harvesting meat that will, in many ways, sustain their own survival.
The wild, in so many ways, is like the world in which we live. You find things seeking to do you harm, and sometimes you yourself are the one carrying the gun, the knife, and a great degree of power. Whether or not my kids participate in hunting and fishing, my hope is that the wild will teach them about life – that it has purpose, that it is fragile and precious, and that it is all connected.
Living life, giving life, taking life. Each carries great responsibility. My greatest hope is that I am able to raise kids who are worthy of that responsibility.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer/ blogger, whose kids (both under the age of 3) provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles that highlight the challenges, joys and bare realities of motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides that will enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.