The scent was pungent. Odrific. In our neighbourhood the skunks rule the roost, and when one of them got battered by devil-may-care urban traffic, the intense scent would waft over the rooftops and infect every street within a 3-mile radius.
My daughter and I wrinkled our noses in disgust as we meandered home from school. Approaching us from the opposite direction was a father with his young child toddling along beside him. He veered directly towards us and then firmly planted his hands over his 3 year old’s ears. ‘There’s a dead skunk on the road up ahead.’ He hissed. ‘You might want to steer your child away from it, it’s a pretty gruesome sight’. I nodded in thanks as he removed his hands, allowing his daughter be a part of the conversation again. They passed us by, him making obvious efforts to distract her. When we were far enough away, I turned to my little 4 year old sprite. ‘Wanna go see it?’ I asked with a glint in my eye. She cried out with a glee normally reserved for roasted marshmallows and My Little Pony. ‘YES!’
We hurried towards the thickening scent and there we saw it. Flattened by tires with it’s insides spilling out onto the road, it was the skunk. ‘Can we go closer?’ The sprite asked. Who was I to deny? Far be it from me to shelter her from the mysteries of life and death. We ventured closer and stood next to the decaying body. I felt an immediate sense of empathy for the creature. My daughter laughed.
I wish to encourage a diversity of thought in my child. How do things work? Why do they work? Our children deserve to know, even if the truth is not always pretty. Far from being obscene, exposing a child to the circle of life and death is a nuanced way to discourage Us vs. Them thinking, a concept that is all too real in today’s modern world.
The idea that any living thing is different or more valuable than another is a sickness that we suffer from in our society. Many communities have lost their innate sense of interdependence. Teaching our youth to foster a connection with the natural world illustrates to them that we are not whole without one another. Seeing a part of our world travel the bodily distance between birth and demise also encourages their inner sense of wholeness. It is this wholeness that leads us all to think objectively and compassionately. It is what I like to call ‘full-circle thinking’.
The gutted skunk may have been a grisly sight, but it really is how you depict it to a child. Children are not preconditioned to the violence that accompanies the blood, guts and gore that mass culture presents to adults on a daily basis.. To my daughter, it was a fascinating look at animal anatomy and a chance to grasp a deeper understanding of the fragility of life. The parent who chooses to shelter their child from these things are teaching them to live in a world where their own senses aren’t able to guide them to an awakened sense of being.
For me, I’ve chosen to parent my daughter in a way that teaches her to use her own instincts as a gauge between right and wrong. This episode with the skunk taught her leagues more than I could’ve ever done with words alone.
The revered Indian sage Ramana Maharishi put it best when he was approached by a seeker. ‘How are we to help others?’ The man asked. To which Maharishi replied ‘ ‘There are no others’.
That decimated skunk by the side of the road was me, it was you, it was the great earth that surrounds us and the sky up above. Describing it as anything less than that does not do fair justice to the hearts of our children.
Maya Bastian is a writer and award-winning filmmaker. Her words can be read in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Her Magazine and others. She currently works as COO of HoneyColony, a holistic health and wellness website while also developing her first feature film and raising her four-year old daughter to be conscious and content. Find out more at www.mayabastian.com