Everything looks different as a parent. Driving home on an icy road last week, I was less concerned with my own safety than I was with having to one day teach my sons how to safely navigate winter weather. Arguments with Wife inevitably get me thinking about teaching my boys the value of compromise and how healthy debate can help strengthen a relationship. Even something as mundane as a bee sitting on the edge of a swimming pool in the middle of summer has a way of becoming a valuable life lesson for Bubby and Boo.
It was a hot day in early August. We were far enough into summer that being outside was only bearable in short spurts and far enough from autumn that cooler weather was still a distant dream. I had been busy with one project or another for the previous few weekends, so it was definitely time to take the boys somewhere. And truth be told Wife and I were a little stir crazy ourselves. So we decided on a trip to the pool in our subdivision. Heck, we were paying three hundred dollars a year in dues, so we figured we should take advantage of the amenities. As we sat by the kiddie pool, watching the children splash and squeal, we ended up engaging in some idle chatter with a mother and her daughter. The conversation had fallen dormant when a fat little bumble bee landed between me and the mother, not close enough to either of us to be any real cause for concern. At least that was my opinion.
I was content to ignore it, knowing it would inspect the landscape for a few minutes then buzz off on its way. The mother chose to take a more assertive approach. She asked her daughter to run grab one of those floating foam boards kids use to help them swim. Being the brilliant thinker I am, I quickly deduced this chain of events would not end well for the bee. Rather than let the bee meet an untimely demise, I splashed some water on it and watched it fly away. It was no doubt pissed but still alive. The mother gave us a disgusted look before turning her attention back to her daughter and pointedly ignoring us for the rest of the afternoon. Don’t ask me why this experience stuck with me, but I walked away from the pool that day with more than a memory of how two adults reacted very differently to the same situation. I walked away with a little more insight into how the actions of those two adults will eventually translate into the lessons they will teach their children.
To that mother, the bee was a threat, a danger that needed to be eliminated before it could do harm to her or someone else. It was just an unsavory thing to be destroyed, and, in her mind, squashing it would have no lasting effect on the world. Maybe she is allergic to bee stings, but it’s far more likely that she just learned—quite possibly from her parents—that bees are to be killed. Hell, if the bee had landed on my shoulder rather than on the edge of the pool, I probably would have shifted right into exterminate-with-extreme-prejudice mode. As it was, however, I saw the bee as just another living creature oblivious to the psychological effect it might have on people. It was just a bee doing what bees do. They don’t care that humans are scared of them. And perhaps we should take a page out of bees’ books sometimes, because for the most part they will leave you alone if you in turn do the same for them. As silly as it may seem, I try to put myself in the bee’s shoes, to look at the world through its eyes. That’s why Wife and I catch spiders and put them back outside when we find them in the house rather than introduce them to the business end of a shoe. And why she has stopped the car on more than one occasion to help a turtle the rest of the way across the street. That’s just who we are as people and who we want our kids to be.
By saving that one bee on that one day, we probably didn’t change the world. Still, I like to think that maybe that mother will at least consider why she reacted the way she did to begin with the next time she’s in a similar situation. Maybe someone else nearby saw the exchange and had a save-the-bees epiphany. Or maybe that mother’s little girl went to the library and checked out a book about bees so she could learn more about them. For me, my actions that day were about more than just rescuing an insect. It was about self-awareness, about questioning our biases and gut reactions, about really looking inside ourselves and understanding why we do the things we do. Are our fears based on logic and tangible evidence? Or are they based on what-ifs and broad generalizations? For most of us the answer is a little of both. But the more we can base our actions on the former rather than the latter, the better off we will be.