It's funny how some things in life are never given a second
thought, and then suddenly they gain deeper meaning. For the first
nearly 6 years of my son's life, outside trash cans were simply the
annoying things you had to fill often so the house wouldn't smell
like a garbage dump. Since moving to Chicago, though, we have had
more discussions about these filthy plastic things than I could
have ever predicted!
It started with the discovery that not everyone here has an easy
means to recycle. I spent my first two months here venting about
the fact that each time I would go outside to take out our family's
recycling, our bin was already full - with someone else's
recycling! This was a continual frustration for me, and much to my
Facebook friends' dismay, something I would comment about
The things I would say if I ever caught the person using my
non-community recycling bin as their own! Then one day it
happened…I was taking out our recycling when a man drove up in his
Prius, smiled and said hello, and took all of his recycling bags
out of his trunk and put them in MY bin! And what did my brave self
do? I smiled and said hello back, then promptly put my recycling
into a neighbor's less full bin.
I have also been fascinated by how trash cans also seem to be
communal property. I would often come home to find people rummaging
through our trash cans, trying to avoid eye contact with me. How
uncomfortable for both of us on so many levels. While I initially
felt pure irritation at people using my blue bin as their own
personal recycling site, I felt humbled by the fact that people in
my neighborhood find it necessary to go through other's trash to
I often consider this when I am discussing my own finances, and
I am grateful to have the luxury of a cozy, warm bed to sleep in
and a refrigerator full of food every day. Watching people pore
through our trash has become a teachable moment in our home. On the
coldest of winter days, Caleb and I set out our less used winter
boots on top of our trash bin. They were snapped up in about 10
minutes. We have left out blankets, clothing, household items, and
children's toys, all with a discussion about the fact that some
people don't have the simplest things that we deem necessities and
it is our job to help make their lives a little bit easier.
Caleb now has a greater understanding of the fact that, while he
may not have all of the things that his friends have, he has more
than what he needs. He suggests we go to Wicker Park to bring food
and clothing to the people who don't have homes, and asks really
poignant questions about what might happen to cause someone to not
have any money or even a home. I'm sure this is all really
difficult for a 6-year-old to wrap his brain around; it is surely a
challenging topic for the grown-ups as well.
My toughest Mom-moment in this regard was when Caleb and I were
returning home at night from one of our adventures, and there was a
dad and his son, who was probably only about 8 years old, rummaging
through our trash cans. They looked down in shame, and moved on to
the next trash can in the alley. Explaining why any child would
need to do this and how he should feel secure that he'll never have
to do this was a really complex conversation. Our children deserve
to know the realities of poverty, without frightening them, so that
they can become empowered to make a difference. I'm interested -
How do you discuss these issues with your children? Do you discuss
them at all? Do they get a censored version? Let me know - I'd love
to hear everyone's comments!
Tricia Streit Perez is partner to Dan, mom to Caleb, and founder of One Fit Mama®. She lives in Wicker Park.
See more of Tricia's stories here.
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