Grand Theft Acorn
It isn't easy being a kid with a powerful sense of injustice. And if you're a kid like my 11-year-old son, a kid who carries an entire world worth of injustices on his shoulders, a simple field trip activity can become an impossibly painful and complicated exercise in big-stakes moral choices.
After my fabulous experience on the first field trip of the year a few weeks ago, I wasn't about to miss the field trip to a local nature sanctuary.
The fact that doing so would allow me to spend a couple of hours of Election Day romping around in the leaves with a great group of kids made it the easiest choice I'd had to make in a long time. All I'd have to focus on was keeping track of three kids as they romped around in the fall leaves.
Everything was going along just perfectly until we got to the squirrels vs. the blue jay activity: an interactive activity designed to teach kids just how heartless the world can be. It was, on some strange and twisted level, the perfect lesson to be teaching the kids on Election Day: that there are winners and losers in every contest; and that nature, like life itself, can be mercilessly cruel.
Here's how the activity worked. The kids were told that they were squirrels. They were given five acorns and told to hide them near their homes (a hula-hoop sized circle that they placed on the ground). One kid in the class was picked to be the bluejay. His job was to run around stealing acorns from the squirrels while they tried to bury their acorns for the winter. The squirrel who had managed to squirrel away the greatest number of acorns would be the winner because he would be the most likely to survive the winter.
Some of the squirrels were fine with being robbed of their food supply for the winter. They didn't take the activity too seriously. My son was not fine at all. He was protesting the rules of the game before the activity had even gotten underway. How arbitrary of nature! How unfair! And then the bluejay came along and stole not just his acorns but his hula-hoop-sized circle, too. That wasn't even part of the game!
I had to take him aside and explain that he'd figured out the whole idea of the activity – nature is cruel – before he launched a personal vendetta against his bluejay classmate.
I could already see the wheels turning in his head as he stared in amazement at his happy-go-lucky classmates:
"Wake up squirrels! Are you going to let the blue jay get away with grand theft acorn yet again? Are you going to accept acorn crime in your own backyard just because it's the way things have always been or should we try to make things better for the next generation of squirrels?"
The only good thing about being a kid with a strong sense of injustice is that you are naturally drawn towards the path through life where you can make a difference. The downside, of course, is that it isn't the smooth, paved path that leads to Easy Street. It's often the rocky path with unexpected twists and turns. But I wouldn't discourage my son from following the path that's calling him for a minute. It's where the real living takes place.
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Please Note: I'll be back at the Today's Parent Fall BabyTime Show on November 7, 8, and 9. Here's a brief description of what I'll be doing.
"Bestselling Canadian pregnancy and parenting author Ann Douglas returns to Today's Parent Fall BabyTime Show. Come show off your belly or your baby and chat with Ann one-on-one at the "Ask Ann" booth. Then test your knowledge of all things pregnancy, birth, baby, and beyond by playing The Mother of All Trivia Games. You don't have to be a mom or a mom-to-be to play. In fact, some of the most enthusiastic participants in our trivia game at the springtime show were dads and other relatives. All you need is a spirit of adventure and a willingness to take risks (two prerequisites for parenthood, by the way). So get yourself to the main stage by the time the trivia games begin. You won't want to miss out on the fun."