“…I always thought that I couldn’t do anything about it because I was just a little girl, but there was something about today that felt different. Maybe it was the fact that I had a little extra sugar from the Fruit Roll-Up, or a little extra confidence from acing my test, but I decided to go confront him.”
I was walking home from school on a normal Wednesday afternoon. I woke up, ate a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, walked to school, and had a great day. I had aced my spelling test, and someone gave me a Fruit Roll-Up during lunch. My life as a second grader couldn’t be better. My mom said she would buy me ice cream after school because she was so proud of me, so we were on our way there. I thought nothing could ruin my perfect mood. But then, in front of me, I saw an evil man. He had a gray beard and a hunchback. He was wearing a long black coat that looked a size too big for him. He had just finished his milkshake, and he threw his cup on the sidewalk! I couldn’t believe it! There was a garbage can at the end of the block he was on, but he still threw it on the ground. How selfish of him! Now over my seven years of life I had seen people do this time and time again, and I always thought that I couldn’t do anything about it because I was just a little girl, but there was something about today that felt different. Maybe it was the fact that I had a little extra sugar from the Fruit Roll-Up, or a little extra confidence from acing my test, but I decided to go confront him.
I sprinted away from my mom, despite her screaming at me to stop. I stopped right behind this man and poked his back. He looked at me over his shoulder, and for the first time, I saw his full face. He had small brown eyes and chapped lips. He squinted at me, turned around, and mumbled, “What do you want.”
“Hello sir,” I said, trying to mask my fear. He squinted at me again. “Well, I saw you dropped your milkshake cup on the floor, and I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind possibly picking it up?”
“Okay, I guess I’ll do it next time.” He rolled his eyes and began to walk away, but I knew he was lying to me. So, I walked in front of him and stopped him again.
“What do you want now,” he said.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t think you are going to do it next time.”
“So? Why do you care? It’s not my job. There’s other people who can do that. Now let me walk home.”
I knew he was a stranger, and I knew I shouldn’t have even talked to him in the first place, but I felt the anger boiling up inside of me. This happened to me a lot. I would become furious at people like this all the time. Usually, I just ignored it, but instead, I exploded.
“No! You just don’t get it.” I was almost screaming by now. “It is nobody’s job but your own! You know that polar bears and penguins and even dolphins are dying because of you!”
“Whatever,” he mumbled. “Get out of my way, you little brat.” I was mad. I was really, really mad, but this man was scary, with his wrinkled hands that looked like they could knock me out in a second and his creepy squinting eyes. I decided to let him go. I walked back to my mom.
“Mommy! That man threw his cup on the ground and didn’t pick it up, even though I reminded him to!” My mom gave me this look that I got a lot. A pitiful smile, sad eyes. She looked at me like I was some crazy kid who didn’t understand the world. I hated it.
“Honey, it’s okay. He’ll throw it out next time. Also, what did I tell you about talking to strangers! It’s not safe. You’re just a little girl.”
She said it. Those words that I had heard time and time again. They made me so mad. I knew I was smarter than every grown-up who had said this to me, but there was nothing I could do about it.
“Okay, Mommy. I understand.” Suddenly, my day wasn’t so great anymore. I didn’t want ice cream. I walked the rest of the way home with a slump in my back that was almost as big as the evil man’s was.
I got home, went straight to my room, and plopped down onto my bed.
I wish I was older, I thought. Then, people would take me seriously.
Later that night as I was laying in bed, I was unable to fall asleep because I was consumed by my thoughts. I imagined what my life would be like if I was just a little bit older. Even just today would have been different. I bet that old grouch would have listened to me if I was a grown-up or even just a teenager. Sure, I might not get to eat Fruit Roll-Ups as much, and I might not get ice cream just for acing a spelling test, but that wouldn’t matter to me if people actually listened to me. But I knew I was still stuck as a second grader.
The next morning, I woke up, ate my Cheerios, and walked to school again. It was raining, but I didn’t have an umbrella, so when I got to school, I was soaking wet. School was fine. No Fruit Roll-Ups, though. I walked home with my mom, got home, and plopped down on my bed again. I lay there for a little while and thought. Then, I did what I usually did when I felt hopeless or upset, I talked to my sister. I walked to her bedroom and knocked on her door.
“Come in,” she said. “Hi, how’s it going?”
“Not great,” I admitted. “Can I talk to you about something?”
I lay down next to her on her bed and sighed.
“What’s going on?” I wanted to talk to her, I needed to talk to her, but I thought she wouldn’t understand. She was in high school, almost a grown-up. People took her seriously, people didn’t ignore her. I decided to stay quiet.
“I bet I can help. I was seven once too.”
“Fine, but you might not understand. It’s just that nobody takes me seriously! They think that since I’m a little girl, I don’t know anything.” She looked at me for a moment.
“That’s not true,” she said. “People take you seriously! I know I do and — ”
“No, you don’t get it! It happens constantly. Like yesterday, I was walking down the street, and I saw this old freaky man throw his cup on the ground, so I told him to pick it up, but he didn’t! He just called me a brat and walked away!”
“Okay, so you might be right. People don’t take you seriously ‘cause you’re a kid. But that’s okay, you can just wait until you’re older, you shouldn’t have to worry about this. You’re seven! Have fun and make it last.”
“Fine. I guess you’re right.” I began to walk out of the room, but paused mid step.
“I have one more thing to say… ”
“What is it?” My sister walked back to my bed and lay down next to me again. I took a deep breath.
“Well, it’s just that, I think actually… um, I might be afraid of growing up… ”
“What? You just told me you wanted to be an adult so people can trust you to change the world or whatever.”
“I know, and I have been telling myself that. I thought that all of my problems would go away if I grew up, but that’s kind of why I’m afraid of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what if when I do grow up, people still don’t take me seriously? I try to help people do the right thing, and they still say that I don’t know anything or that I’m just being stupid.”
“I don’t think that will happen. You’re so smart. I know it, you know it, and the rest of the world will know it soon enough.”
“Yes, I know I’m smart. And I’ve always thought that it was a good thing that I am determined, but Mommy has told me that sometimes I don’t know when to stop, and I don’t think that will change with age.”
“I think it’s great that you’re so perseverant. Sure it annoys some people, like that old grouch, but not me.”
“You have to say that ‘cause you’re my sister. If even my own mommy thinks it’s annoying, then it probably is. So maybe I just use my age as an excuse, because really I am insecure.”
“Well, I don’t know if you can say that for sure, and — ”
“No, I think I can. I haven’t told anyone before. I’ve barely even admitted it to myself. But you’re my sister, you know me better than anyone in the world. So tell me, will this ever change?”
“Well, I guess it kind of doesn’t. But it’s not just for you, it’s not just because you’re so smart and determined, it’s true for everyone. Whenever someone disagrees with you, they won’t listen. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do about that.”
“I think you can always do something about any situation. I’ve always thought that I don’t have to try to make a change yet, because it will be easier when I’m older, but now that I’ve realized that it might never get easier, I might have to do something now.”
“Okay, I guess you might be right, but what can you do?” There was a moment of silence Then, my face lit up. I had an idea.
“Well, even if I can’t make other people pick up their garbage, I can just do it for them. Maybe I can go and pick up all that garbage from the streets myself! I’ve been waiting for so long to help solve this issue, and I thought I’d have to wait till I was an adult, but maybe I can start now. I know people might not listen to me, but I can still make a change. I’m going to save all the polar bears and penguins and dolphins!”
“Alright, have fun! You can do it!” I was ready to begin. I didn’t care that it was raining. In fact, that just made me want to do it more. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a bunch of garbage bags. I went into the closet and put on a pair of stained yellow gloves that were a bit too big, because they were meant for Mommy. Then, I went back into my room and grabbed my swimming goggles just in case anything happened. I put on a rain jacket and rain boots, and sprinted out the door.
“I’ll be back soon!” I yelled. The door closed behind be with a slam. I stepped into the rain, I took a deep breath, and began.
There was hardly anyone on the street since it was pouring out, which made this much easier. I kind of got into a zone. Pick up garbage, put in bag, drag bag forwards. Over and over again. It might sound boring, but I actually had lots of fun. I imagined that each piece of garbage I picked up was a polar bear, or penguin, or dolphin that I was saving. I had no sense of time, because it was already dark out from the rain, but after a while my mom came out and told me it was time for dinner. I told my family about what I had done.
“I picked up garbage off the streets, and now all of the animals won’t die anymore.”
“That’s great, honey,” my mom said. She still gave me the look, but I didn’t care. I knew I was making a change no matter what.
That night, I fell asleep much happier than I had in a very long time.
The next morning was Friday, my favorite day of the week. Mommy always made chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, so I had that instead of another bowl of Cheerios. It was still raining, but I was okay with that. And it was someone’s birthday at school, so we all got cupcakes!
When Mommy picked me up, she offered to get me ice cream since we never got it the day before, but I told her I wanted to go home since I was so excited! I had been looking forward to this all day. Again, I grabbed the garbage bag, the gloves, the goggles, and my rain jacket and rain boots. As I was running out the door, my sister stopped me.
“Wait! Can I come with you?”
“Of course! Yay!”
She grabbed her own pair of gloves, goggles, and rainboots. She threw on her jacket.
“We’ll be back soon!” she yelled, and we ran out the door.
We decided to go to a slightly different neighborhood today, just a few minutes from ours. We rode our bikes there, got off, and got to work.
It was great. We were soaked from head to toe, but we didn’t care. I told her about imagining each piece of garbage as an animal, and she laughed at me at first, but then realized that it was actually quite fun.
I looked around and realized how great this was. I was no longer making excuses, but instead making a change. I looked around. I saw the clean streets that almost looked like they sparkled. It was dark and gloomy, but still, I thought the neighborhood had never looked better.