“Fiona, where are you going?” I call from my garden where I’m busily trying to dig a bed for peas and beans.
No answer. She just keeps trotting off down the path between everyone’s gardens. At least she’s staying on the paths now. If only I could get her to stay in our garden as well, it would be easy to have a garden and a toddler.
Off I go to retrieve her back. She sits in the grass for a few minutes and then hops up and wanders off again. She starts off chasing a butterfly, but then suddenly veers off. Into someone else’s garden. Which she begins poking with a stick.
First of all, boundaries between property are not a natural concept. Without physical fences it’s hard to explain boundaries to a toddler. Try it sometime; frustration is good for people.
Second, other gardeners keep inviting her into their gardens. She’s within line of sight, so it’s all safe, but it’s making it exponentially harder to explain that she’s allowed to go onto that unmarked piece of ground when invited, but not the rest of the time and to please not poke their dirt with a stick, even though our dirt is fair game.
I retrieve her and her stick and return to our little plot of earth. “Fiona, what do you want, Baby? Why don’t you help me with our garden?”
“Mama, I need worm.” Her little face is smudged along one cheek with dirt. She looks like a grubby angel.
“Oh.” Right. I’d forgotten about that. Before we moved, Fiona used to help my mother collect worms from the garden for the chickens. She associates gardens with worms.
I’m resistant to finding her a worm, though. You see, she loves them. A lot. Too much. Well, to death, really.
I have difficulty with the idea of digging out a worm from the earth and turning it over to my daughter where it will be held and stretched and mashed a little, cuddled and cooed at and will eventually die. It seems intensely gruesome. Especially when she asks for a second one after the first stops moving.
On the other hand, they are just worms.
Just worms. They are a valuable living creature. They contribute to life and the health of the earth and my vegetables. They are living creatures and do not deserve to die without reason. They are not that important on an individual level and one worm will keep Fiona from digging in other people’s gardens. It is a moral and emotional dilemma.
I start digging my garden plot again. She hovers next to me watching the dirt. After a few moments I unearth a worm. She pounces. She has her worm and sits, quietly playing with it in the grass while I finish the garden bed.
At intervals, I try to talk her into returning the worm to his home. “He will be sad if he doesn’t get to go home.” “He needs to be in the dirt or he will get sick.” “Dirt is the worms habitat, we can’t move him. It would be bad for him.”
My words fall on toddler ears.
The worm dies.
I console myself with the knowledge that I at least didn’t give her the worm, but, somewhere in the back of my mind, I acknowledge that I am morally culpable.