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"I didn't leave it there," he said. "I just found it."
"And now it's your responsibility," I said. "The minute you started playing with it you became responsible for it. The minute you walked away, you became the one that left it."
The "it" was a shopping cart that someone—someone who was apparently in a very big hurry and/or more important than the rest of us—had left on the patch of grass immediately adjacent to our space. My boys had been restless in the backseat while we waited on my wife to "just run in for one thing," and they had asked to pass the time on the only piece of paradise in the area that hadn't been paved for a parking lot.
The cart had invited their curiosity, and they had filled it with imagination but mostly each other. When they were done with their spinning and general silliness, they turned to leave the basket where they had found it, creating the proverbial two wrongs in the process.
We discussed it through the window, and they put it away with stubborn complaint, returning to the car more sour for it.
"Why did I have to put the basket away?" the oldest asked. "We just found it there. Someone else should have put it away."
Sometimes it is just a matter of holding oneself responsible to do the right thing, because the right thing need be done.
"That's true," I agreed. "They should have, but they didn't. You did the right thing. It's like walking through the park, the minute you pick up a piece of trash that another person dropped, then you take responsibility for it and you throw it in the garbage can. If you throw it back on the ground then you are a litterbug, too. Nobody likes a litterbug."
It wasn't the first time we had discussed responsibility, although most of the conversations were more about caring for pets, doing chores and the assorted stuffs of everyday life. This time it just happened to be a shopping cart, and making an example of it provided an opportunity to lay groundwork for future situations, hence the trash talk, because that was something they understood. They did not care for litter.
To be fair, I have left my share of uncorralled carts across the barren wastelands of supermarkets everywhere. Not out of any sort of spite or evil, but because no designated place for them could be found. Or perhaps it was located too many aisles over, and to return it would mean abandoning two children in a hot car or sometimes a bit of ice cream. It's all about choices, and there are levels of responsibility that trump others. For instance, the welfare of my children vs. societal niceties.
Still, if parenting has one golden thread, it is in our most sacred proverb: Do as I say, not as I do. Seriously, that schtick totally holds up in court.
The idea of responsibility can be a relative concept. There are times that responsibility is easy to assign, take or accept. Then there are times where nobody wants it and every finger is pointing outward. There are too many examples to list and, chances are, you have experienced it all before. Sometimes it is just a matter of holding oneself responsible to do the right thing, because the right thing need be done.
"Is responsibility always for bad things?" one of them asked.
'The weight of the world is not all on you.'
"Not at all," I replied. "But that is when it's harder to admit."
"It feels good to do the right thing," he had said. "But sometimes it's scary."
"There's nothing wrong with being scared. That just means you're thinking."
"I think I see another grocery cart over there," said the oldest as he pointed across the street to an empty basket left upside down and unattended, its wheels in the air like a dog playing dead, waiting on a treat that would likely never come.
"You don't have to fix every wrong," I told him. "Trust that there are others being responsible, too. The weight of the world is not all on you."