A Brainstorm And A Lesson
0 comment Friday, May 9, 2014 |
Met with a friend who participates in a lot of public/wild space clearing volunteer work who is very interested in work for individual gardens for disabled. He said he had been very struck by the subject as he realised that there must be many people - thousands, in fact - in England alone who are in the same space I'm in; loving to garden, but due to infirmary or cash issues being incapable of doing so. I told him the story below about using gardening to teach my son about empathy for living things, as he was equally struck by the power of such a small lesson. I admit, I hadn't really thought of the intensity of it till I saw the look on his face, but I guess he's right.
One of the issues I find myself consistently needing to address with my son is a lack of empathy. This gets translated in many (erroneous) ways by people who should know better, including the social/health services: lack of emotion, inability to show love for others, selfishness, cruelty, sociopathic development. While it is true that an autistic child can appear to be quite cruel, the underlying issue is a bit deeper than that, and needs to addressed not with horror and punishment, but as potential to teach.
My son is not immune to blow-ups and violence towards others; children, adults, animals. It is difficult for him to grasp that he is hurting someone when he isn't the one feeling the pain. However things used to be much, much worse. Last year, I caught my son stomping on a rosebush - literally jumping up and down on both feet on one of my plants, giggling and grinning as he did it. I'm sure if anyone who didn't know my son came across this scene, he would have been grounded immediately or even earned a smart smack across the bum. Would it have stopped the immediate behaviour? Certainly...but when dealing with a child like mine, it's necessary to get down to the main issue in order to make sure the lesson is learned.
I watched my son - who was reveling in the cause and effect of his action causing the reaction of the rose's limbs springing back, and snapping under his boots. I came up behind him and told him quietly. "You killed the flower. Why did you kill it?"
My son turned round with his angelic, uncomprehending smile, babbling half in his own language, and half in mine. "...boing boing!" He laughed. I may be his mother, but even I had to remind myself that there was a lesson here - and in order to teach it, I had to hold my instinctive reaction in.
"You've killed the flower, son."
He stared back at me with a bewildered expression, and carelessly responded. "Mummy fix it."
"I can't fix it. It's dead."
He casted about again for his second rationalisation. "Daddy fix it."
"He can't fix it. You killed the flower. It's dead."
It took about ten minutes, with my son becoming more and more agitated. I wanted to hug him as I knew he was growing more and more upset, but I stayed firm. Consequence of action is something he just never seemed to comprehend. After all, whenever he broke something, or smeared, or danced about babbling leaving a wreck in his wake, who would clean it up? For five years I had been housekeeper, cook, disciplinarian, advocate and, it must be said, punching bag. And now, I was turning this upside down by making it clear that here was something that could not be made whole once my son had finished having his "fun". Here was repercussion, and here was a dead flower - one broken stem still under his boot. And he had done the deed.
If he were truly a cruel or mentally ill child, perhaps he would have felt a feeling of power at being able to destroy life so readily; how EASY it is. Like pulling the legs off a fly or ripping the boughs off the sapling trees in the city centre; just something for the drunken yobs to do on a Saturday night, stumbling about and egging each other on. After all, it's just a car window, just a tree, just a kid from a rival gang. Just a life...who cares?
But my son stared down at the broken rose, and I watched the comprehension dawn on his young face. And then, he looked up at me with his eyes welling with tears. My heart broke for him, but the lesson wasn't done yet. It's one thing to show a child they've done wrong, but you can't leave it there. You then have to show them how to make it right.
So I took my son to a nearby garden-shop, with some small roses in boxes ready for half-hearted gardening attempts of city dwellers. Maybe not "posh" but that wasn't the point. We searched round and found a colour he liked best (he chose Blue Moon), and back we went, armed with a new rosebush, small gloves for him, and his very own trowel.
I taught him how to prepare the ground, to dig, and to plant the rose gently, with "soft hands". I showed him how to water it, and I watched as he watered it every day, and gently stroked the newly budding leaves with a tenderness he'd never bothered to display before to a plant.
A year on, and the rose grows well. He tends it nicely, feeds it, waters it, and gently takes the blooms off the bush to bring inside, float in water, and stare at its beauty with his chin propped on his hands.
Such a simple lesson, such a simple thing. But it may have been the most important lesson I've ever taught my son. And yet, there are those who still think a garden is merely a luxury, merely for looks, of no use to a child who stares right through you when you try to get him to look you in the eye.
I beg to differ.

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