Hello everyone! Yes, I know it’s been forever and a day since I last posted. David is now 8 months old and scrambling about the house. Since I’ve been back to work and running after my child while trying to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, I haven’t had much time for Little Blue Earth. I mean, let’s face it: this poor blog has fallen by the wayside for the last year. Fear not, I have the very best of intentions and I hope to devote more time to the blog as David becomes a little more independent, and in turn, more of a hazard to himself. But I digress, that’s not the focus of this post. (Although if anyone has great ideas on how to keep your child safe without locking him in his crib, I’d love to hear them.) Today I want to talk about how to set good examples for your children while on the road.
I recently traveled cross-country to San Diego, CA with Leon and David for a friend’s wedding and to do some site-seeing for the first time in over a year. It felt so nice to get back into the groove of traveling, even if it meant taking a hell of a lot more luggage with us on the plane. Who knew having a little person in tow meant that we had to pack our entire house for a 5 day trip? It felt so ridiculous at the time, but we surprisingly used up almost everything on our trip.
I didn’t plan to see a lot because I wasn’t sure how much we could pack into our short trip with an infant who needs 2-3 naps/day and multiple feedings on the go. Bringing David to California taught us so much about shaping our perspective and adjusting our expectations, but we had an overall wonderful time. The only things on our list were the San Diego Zoo, La Jolla Cove, and photographing a sunset along Sunset Cliffs. We managed to accomplish all that and more, even while getting David down for his naps and making sure we all stayed healthy. ::Pat on the back for adequate parenting:: However, I didn’t expect each of those experiences to teach me valuable parenting lessons.
Lessons From My Father
Since becoming a mother, things affect me stronger than they did before I had a child. I’ve always respected wildlife. I grew up photographing alligators and birds from meandering boardwalks in the Everglades, never daring to move near unpredictable and potentially dangerous animals. I behaved similarly when photographing dolphins and manta rays in Australia, preferring to stay next to the guides rather than swimming closer to these beautiful creatures for better shots.
I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park and seen people climbing on top of each other to get super close shots of a herd of deer. Imagine it from the deer’s perspective: a bunch of people peeking from over the bushes with machines in front of their faces. This was in 2009, before brief moments of Instagram fame. At the time, there were several reports of buffaloes gorging people or bucks kicking people in the face. These people have usually intimidated the wildlife, causing them to respond instinctually: fight or flight. In many cases, animals choose to “fight” by behaving aggressively towards humans before fleeing the scene. Remember, if animals feel endangered, they will protect themselves before seeking safety.
I have countless stories like this one, and have read similar stories in the news. However, I want to point out something my father did: he taught me to respect wildlife from a distance. Yes, you read that correctly: LEAVE THE ANIMALS ALONE! At the time, I was just delving into photography. My father had leant me his Nikon D50 along with a kit lens and his Nikkor 70-300 mm lens to practice with during our trip. My Dad and I (my poor mom is terrified of animals and preferred to stand near the car) stood off to the side while photographing a herd of deer along the river bank. I was only 23 years old at the time, and I didn’t have a lot of experience traveling through national parks. But something troubled me: didn’t the parents realize that they were endangering their own children? Of course, the single woman in me let this roll off her shoulder and I continued enjoying my trip without a care in the world.
Not anymore: as a parent, things bother you for days and weeks on end.
San Diego Zoo: Respecting Wildlife Even When They Walk Amongst Us
The San Diego Zoo did a marvelous job of educating its visitors on animal protection and conservation, as well as the effects of climate change on wildlife. We spent hours listening to experts dispel Internet rumors, as well as reading about the behaviors and characteristics of each beautiful animal. As we walked through each area of the park, we noticed that some of the more “peaceful” birds were allowed to roam the grounds rather than stay behind cages or moats. In this one particular case, there was a beautiful male peacock hanging about the entrance near the snow leopards. Leon and I were bringing David to see a female leopard who recently had two cubs.
A panther guards her cubs who were wrestling in the den of their sanctuary while onlookers stood at the periphery snapping away.
I noticed several red flags as we entered the sanctuary: 1) there were waaaaay too many people blocking the entrance/exit; 2) there was no park staff to supervise this area and help keep the flow of human traffic moving; 3) the peacock looked scared. Now, I will admit, I felt the same thrill that everyone else probably did when seeing a beautiful animal for the first time. I had my Sony 55-210 mm lens at the ready, snapping photos from a distance as the peacock opened his feathers and showed off a beautiful display of colors. He was a marvel to behold, and I snapped away for about two minutes. That display of feathers should have been my first sign: the peacock felt threatened and was trying to intimidate what he thought were predators. Even I started to feel overwhelmed by the mass of people and had to escape quickly.
A few minutes later, Leon followed me and said that the peacock had lunged at some children who had gotten too close.
Let’s talk about that for a second: a peaceful creature lunged at some children. Something went wrong, and I saw what that “something” was after I finished photographing the leopards in their den. It turns out the parents of these children were encouraging them to stand as close as possible to the peacock while they took photos, even egging them on to reach out and touch the animal’s feathers. This sort of behavior is completely irresponsible. Rather than setting good examples by standing to the side and quietly observing, these parents decided to put their children in harm’s way. I started to speak up, but they quickly left and rounded the corner. All for a stupid, goddamn picture.
If the peacock had bitten a child or caused serious harm, guess who would have had to pay the price? The animal most likely would have been put down after harming a human. A human who was threatening the well being of the animal in the first place. Talk about selfishness. Not only did the parents threaten an animal minding its own business, but they put their children in danger. The whole ordeal infuriated me. After that incident, I vowed to set good examples for David and teach him how to behave around wildlife from an early age. Even now when I see that he is hitting or getting too aggressive, I grasp his hands and teach him how to touch something gently. It’s never too early to imprint these values upon your child. In fact, starting young can only benefit them in the long run.
Sunset Cliffs: Heeding Warning Signs and Staying Safe in Natural Parks
One of the things I was eagerly anticipating was photographing a sunset along Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. We ended up spending less than an hour around the area because the winds picked up, and I didn’t want David to get sick from the cold. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and still saw a beautiful sunset.
The only issue I noticed was that there were some kids jumping the guardrails to walk down to the beach. These stairs were blocked off because of recent erosion from unstable cliffs. [We were near Ladera Stairs, a popular area where people can view cliffs and walk through sea caves.] I get it: someone is young and thinks they’re immortal. They trespass into “forbidden” territory to embark on their version of a dangerous adventure. It’s exciting to do something that’s wrong. I’ve been there, and I totally understand. However, there have been many accidents written in the news about people who disregarded warning signs, ending up injured or dead.
While I was in Australia, I wanted to photograph Spa Pool in Hammersley Gorge in Karijini National Park. My guide forbade anyone from walking across the rocks, which had recently been blocked by rangers because of an increase in accidents. I was annoyed: I’d come so far only to be told that I couldn’t see this landmark. The Spa Pool was only 100′ away, and I asked if I could quickly walk over to get a good view. My guide was adamant and stood his ground: no way. I climbed to a higher vantage point (with his supervision) and took the picture from a different perspective. He was still angry with me because I’d gotten too close to the edge and even lectured our group about safety in national parks.
Even if the idea of something seems exciting, it’s important to remember safety when walking through natural areas. Sunset Cliffs, as it turns out, started showing cracks in February 2018. As the article points out, this can set off a domino-like effect. One cliff starts to crack, and the rest follow. If people continue to walk along the cliffs, they can create further geological erosion and damage. This can one day lead to a catastrophic accident should anyone be walking along the cliffs or on the beach.
Please respect park rules. And please set good examples for your kids by teaching them to heed warning signs. If I saw David jumping the fence to walk along broken cliffs, I’d definitely be one pissed off mama.
La Jolla Cove: Tide Pools, Marine Life, and Federal Laws
Are you ready for this one? This incident really, really got to me.
La Jolla Cove is a popular beach area where people can walk down stairs and get close to sea lions. Along the shoreline are tide pools where various marine life can be found, such as crabs, mollusks, urchins, etc. People can stop and witness marine life thriving in its natural state.
And then, I noticed one man just settling into his assholery and encouraging his children to do the wrong thing. Where to begin…
My friends and I wanted to take our kids to watch the sea lions and walk along the beach. It was rather crowded and we didn’t want to stay long because of Memorial Day traffic. We took pictures on the rocks with each other and let our kids play in the sand. While I was photographing sea lions and the shoreline, I noticed one man standing with his arms crossed. He was pretending to ignore his kids collecting marine life from the tide pools. These kids were piling one animal on top of another in a tiny fish bowl. Without exaggeration, half of the bowl was filled with marine life. It was cruel and inhumane, with the animals probably suffering significant trauma in the process.
I couldn’t let this one go without doing something; I marched over to the lifeguard station to report what I’d seen. The lifeguard walked over with me to stop the kids from creating more trouble. He made an announcement that they were breaking federal law and to return the animals to their rightful place. For more information on these laws, please visit the National Park Service.
All it takes is for one person to speak up to stop something bad from happening. I’ll speak up and put a stop to unnecessary harm. All I want is to set good examples for my son. If this is my way of contributing to animal conservation, then so be it.
Setting Good Examples While On the Road
This post is meant to convey the importance of setting good examples, especially when traveling with children. Everyone has different opinions, but I think we can all agree that disrespecting the environment and wildlife are reprehensible actions. If you’re wondering how to teach good values to your children on the road, here are a few tips:
- Show your children how to respect different cultures. Read about the destinations, the people who live there and what they value, the various customs and religions, etc. Teach your kids about the way people interact with the environment. The point is to educate yourselves before you visit somewhere, even if it’s within your very own country.
- Teach your children how to respect the environment and various wildlife. This is also important for local places. I live 30 minutes away from Everglades National Park. I prefer to watch alligators, birds, and snakes from a distance. PSA: Never feed an alligator! It will only make you an easier target.
- Learn a few words from a different language. It’ll make your trip a lot easier when you need to converse with the locals. While visiting Paris, I’d greet people with my limited French before politely asking if they could converse in English. They appreciated the effort, and our trip went much smoother even with my minimal French. (I don’t think anyone wanted to listen to my abysmal accent.)
- Talk to locals. Don’t just visit the areas filled with Westernized restaurants and tourists. Whenever we travel somewhere, we ask the locals where they prefer to eat. We walk through places that are less crowded. Of course, we visit areas advertised to visitors because they’re fun to see, too. However, we try to experience places that are lesser known, though just as enjoyable and interesting.
- Finally–LEAVE THE ANIMALS ALONE. Don’t feed them, don’t hug them, and don’t corner them. Unless you are with a trained expert who properly handles wild animals, you should never try to touch them yourselves. It only puts yourself, your children, and the animals in danger.
David is still too young to appreciate these lessons. In fact, all I could get out of him was a dinosaur shriek before he turned his attention to something else. Like, his hat or the straps on his stroller. I mean, he’s 8 months old so there’s not much I can do. But at least I’m getting into the habit of introducing him to different cultures.
If there’s anything I want to convey to my readers, it’s the importance of setting good examples for our kids. All we have to do is speak up and educate ourselves. Wild animals are not pets, and they deserve the same respect as any human. There is nothing I detest more than people exploiting animals for their own personal gain, namely Instagram fame. So please, teach your children to be respectful and kind. Educate them and yourselves. Finally, help them to find the value in observation and patience. It will really pay off in the long run.