My four-year-old was recently in the bathtub pretending that a green bar of soap was Chris Kratt from The Wild Kratts. When it came time to wash his body, I grabbed the little piece of soap that remained and rubbed it into the washcloth.
“Mommy, you’re crushing him!” my son cried out, a panicked look of shock on his face.
My head started spinning, immediately filled with guilt and remorse. I crushed Chris Kratt? I violently, brutally, crushed my child’s hero? How could I have been the perpetrator of such a callous act of cruelty? After all, I am a bleeding heart, live-and-let-live, love thy neighbor, pseudo-vegetarian! I catch stinkbugs in with Dixie cups and usher them outside to safety. When spiders as big as my fist weave massive webs on our deck, I offer asylum and relocate them in the woods. I only resort to trapping mice when our tiny squatters thoughtlessly leave their excrement in my kitchen cabinets. (Even I have my limits).
I gave myself a mental slap and came to my senses. It was an inanimate piece of soap, after all. We finished the bath and got on with our night, but I couldn’t help thinking about the tone of my son’s voice when he accused me of soap-slaughter. His outrage made me…proud.
With varying levels of success, I have been trying to foster my son’s moral compass to guide him through his days.
I admit that this guidance is
occasionally often delivered through preachy monologues explaining that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas or why he’s not allowed to play with toy guns. When my son asked why I don’t eat pepperoni, I attempted to explain the many problems associated with the food industry. To be clear: I don’t need or want my son to adopt all of my morals. I want to provide him with the tools and information to cultivate his own.
Honestly, I can’t always tell if I’m getting through to him. Most of the time it feels like I’m not.
Then one day he turned to me while watching “Beauty and the Beast” and declared, with unshakable conviction, that “shooting animals is bad.”
The wonderful thing about being human is that a four-year-old can unabashedly believe pepperoni to be the most delicious topping one could ever put on a slice of pizza and still be turned off by Gaston shooting a goose out of the sky for sport. He can love animals and processed meat if he chooses.
A moral compass is more than knowing right from wrong. It guides the decisions we make by considering the impact of our actions.
At the heart of relocating spiders, sparing mice, and passing on pepperoni, are the true takeaways I’d like to impart on my son. I hope his true north leads him to respect animals and the planet. I hope his moral compass points him towards sensitivity and kindness, especially at a time when girls are championed for being strong and decisive, yet it’s still taboo for boys to be gentle and nurturing. Sure, I want my son to stand up for himself, but I want him to know that he can also be thoughtful, a patient listener, and a good friend. He can nurture and care for others.
It might seem crazy to be proud of a four-year-old for caring about a bit of soap, but what it meant to me was that some of these values were getting through. And that maybe he needs a break from The Wild Kratts.