By Elizabeth Small
?Mama! Come see what Daddy got us!? My 4-year-old daughter tugged at my pant leg, wide-eyed and pulsing, head darting about like a prairie dog, the way little kids do when they are at peak excitement.
Clasped in my husband?s hands was a tab-top, brown bag, the kind that is certain to contain coffee or fancy chocolates. My mouth salivated as I walked over to see the treat. I drew in a deep breath to fully enjoy the aroma of cocoa or coffee. But as I peered into the bag, I caught a big whiff of stink and saw that my beloved was offering up a bag teeming with worms. Big, juicy, red wiggler worms.
?Isn?t that awesome, Mama! They are for our compost!?
I shot my husband the ?you?d-better-find-some-chocolate-around-here-tonight-if-you-value-your-life-look.? But for the sake of my child, I nodded, ?Sure is something.?
?They are going to live with us now, Mama!?
?Wait, live with us, as in, inside our home?? I asked, hoping they were teasing.
?Honey,? my husband said in a warm and deferential tone that made certain he was not teasing, ?these worms are temperature-sensitive and prefer a climate of 55 to 77 degrees, so they have to stay indoors.?
He really does speak like that, all facts and rhetoric, a quality that can be lovely when he’s not holding a bag of what appears to be oscillating brains.
?Please, mama? I love them!?
?You love worms??
?She loves the worms, Elizabeth.?
And with that, I pulled a bottle of wine from the cupboard and welcomed my new roommates with a toast.
Keep in mind: By no account could I be described as a delicate flower. I?ve gone head-to-head with convicted murderers. I have represented political-asylum seekers. And I?ve birthed two children. But none of that remotely approached the visceral alarm I felt when I looked at the worms.
Rational? Absolutely not. But it?s no exaggeration to say inviting these worms into my home pushed the bounds of my marital vows.
It?s true that on the one hand, the worms turn our garbage into nutrient-rich soil, which can be used to fertilize our garden, helping both our household and environment. The EPA estimates Americans throw away an average of 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily, and the combination of food waste and yard trimmings comprises up to 24 percent of municipal solid-waste streams. But the worms turn what would otherwise go in the landfill into a free, organic fertilizer. The worms are captivating to our children and allow them to witness the natural cycle of it all.
On the other hand, I have to live with worms, a fact I found to be gross and inconvenient.
But as soon as I attached those two words to my feelings, I realized that I needed to put on my big-girl pants and do what?s best. Get over it.
If I may step onto my high horse for a moment, those two words, ?inconvenient? and ?gross,? stop many of us from acting as stewards for the earth and doing right by one another. The list of things I should do but don?t because the alternative is “inconvenient” or “gross” is longer than I would like to admit.
I have driven when I could have walked. I have used a cleaning product when I should have simply used more elbow grease. And I have turned my eyes away from the revolting suffering of others.
But you have to remember that life is messy. And the longer we demand things to be neatly packaged both in the literal sense of consumer packaging and in the unquestioning acceptance of the status quo, we will not be living as our healthiest and best selves. If I am sincere about living an ethical life for my children, I need to banish “inconvenient” and “gross” from my excuses.
My kids would be quick to tell you I am no parenting expert. But one thing about it I know for sure is that you can?t expect your kids to do a darn thing you tell them if you don?t also show them. I want to show them, that ?inconvenient and gross? aren?t good enough reasons to stop us from doing anything.
And so each morning, I put on my game face, ask my daughters to lift the compost lid, scrap my plate and say, ?Hello worms! Come see what treat I brought you!?
Elizabeth Small is a lawyer by training, writer by nature, and wife and mother by spirit. She has lived up and down the east coast of the United States, in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Boston, and now resides in Connecticut.