They were playing in the common areas, right in the thick of the lush tropical gardens. I told him he could go get some fresh air and to be home by 5pm. Besides, he was with his new classmate Giana, a very cute little girl who just moved into the neighborhood. So between riding skateboards, kicking the soccer ball, several rounds of hide-and-seek, and other miscellaneous putzing around, this seven year-old duo amused themselves for hours.
“How’d it go?” I asked when he returned promptly at 5pm drenched in sweat and tracking mud throughout the house. (How come they never look down and notice?)
“Good. We just played in the plants and stuff,” he mumbled and slipped into his bedroom.
Days later I am at my friend’s house, who happens to also be the president of the Condo Board. Her front entranceway faces this vast, open common area where my kids always frolic about. And because she is such a nature-lover, if weather permits, her air conditioning is usually turned-off and the windows are flipped open, to beckon inside whatever breeze may be blowing---and inadvertently eavesdrops on the conversations of passers-by.
“Kids, go outside and walk the dog,” she ordered then pulled me aside and told me a story.
Apparently my son and his little accomplice, after a couple of hours of playing, decided to step the creativity up a notch and imagined they were lost in the jungle. I had told my kids long, long ago that those plants with the elephant ears were affectionately called sombrilla del pobre, or poor man’s umbrella, in Costa Rica.
Without considering the repercussions at the time, my son, invoking that knowledge, decided to tear several of the healthiest and greenest leaves from this natural masterpiece as he and his rescued princess swirled around the garden like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
My friend was listening to the two as the fantasy unfolded. She stepped out of her house to confront them on their crime.
“Why did you rip those vibrant leaves from the plant? Do you realize someone had to pay money for them? Your parents are now going to be responsible for replacing them.”
“Huh?” My son was visibly baffled.
His older, nosey sister suddenly appeared on the scene---I had instructed her to check up on him---and pleaded on my behalf.
“Please, no, it’s not fair to make my parents pay. Besides, it wasn’t their fault and he, (pointing to my son) has $23.64 in his bank account. So he can pay.”
Now my son was crying---the tightfisted little guy he is---and insisted he didn’t know it was wrong. “I had no idea they cost money, and I’m sorry,” he rambled on, “and please, please don’t tell mommy.”
“Well,” my friend considered, noticeably touched and tickled by his display of raw, spontaneous emotion, “You know how everything looks so lovely? How did you really think those plants got there in the first place?”
“I thought God put it all there,” he shrugged his shoulders, and raised his eyebrows in a matter-of-fact expression.
As a mom, my reactions upon hearing her rendition were slow and strange and inconsistent. At first, I was seething with anger as she recounted how he destroyed the plant, one that happens to be my personal favorite. Then I was touched by the sheer simplistic beauty of his authentic, heartfelt response. Next, I found myself miffed again that he desecrated what he thought to be made by God.
(But admittedly, I mostly was relieved she didn’t tell me they were feeling each other up. Because frankly, as natural as it is, I am terrified of my own children’s budding sexuality. Please indulge me a little more time to come to grips with this one; my eldest is ten and I can’t turn that corner yet.)
Nonetheless, in the end, he never did tell me what happened, and nobody had to pay.
But I am left wondering: How many other innocent children out there truly believe that everything that grows from the ground was planted by God?