The park, when we arrive, is thoroughly trashed. It’s the day after a long weekend and what looks like an inordinate number of children’s birthday parties. I can practically hear my own kids’ hearts sink. Forget the enormous, rocket-ship climbing frame; our eyes fly past plastic bottles and yoghurt bags to a gentle slope shimmering with tinsel. The long strands, clear and iridescent, lift and wave like sea-grass in the breeze, tumbling away to colonise more parkland. It is beautiful — and deadly.
“Wow,” says my eleven-year-old. “It can feed the birds in the park. Then all the wildlife in the creeks, and then whatever’s left will wash out to sea to feed the fish and turtles and sea-birds. Forever, because plastic never breaks down. Whoever did this has done a REALLY great job!”
“I’m thinking, we might need to clean up a bit,” I say. Picking up other people’s litter is probably weird – this isn’t even our town – but he’s right. Left like that, it will do untold damage. And I refuse to teach my children that public space is someone else’s problem.
Michelle agrees. “I think we do,” she says.
So we pick up a fast-food bag and begin collecting litter. The girls bring soggy balloons and crisp packets before going off to practise cartwheels and somersaults. My boy stays with the grown-ups, gathering tinsel. And as we wander, picking it up, we chat. About the animals we’re helping, and why people do this. About environmental regulations and consumerism and other ways people could celebrate their children’s birthdays. About council funding and rubbish dumps and plastic degradation.
We discuss Australia’s massive recycling-waste storehouses, exported piecemeal to China, how they cannot cope with our production, either. We talk about Precious Plastics and the Nev House Project and poverty and resources. My boy loves talk like this. Problems and solutions.
I feel myself relax. I’ve been stressed because after five years of unrelenting difficulty, of fights and arguments and misery, I’ve finally accepted that school doesn’t suit my boy. He’s bright, has no learning difficulties, no social trouble, endlessly supportive teachers (including Michelle). He just can’t tie his interest to anyone else’s agenda. And to be fair, that agenda doesn’t seem to be making the world a better place. So we’re taking our first tentative steps into homeschooling – unschooling, really, since he baulks at anything remotely lesson-like. It’s right, but the move terrifies me. So much responsibility. So much scope for disaster.
But as I listen to him talking with Michelle, I think, this is it. We are doing it. Learning. Making the world better. We’ll be alright, if we just keep doing this.
The tinsel is bagged and binned. It’s hot; our backs ache. We talk about not taking responsibility for the whole park – or indeed the whole planet – but choosing one patch we can make better without exhausting ourselves. We’ve done that, so we go to Michelle’s place for treats.
We’ll be alright. We’re doing it.
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