With mazel tovs abounding, the birth of a child is accompanied by a wide-range of emotions and expectations. If the child is a boy, the hopes that he might one day become a talmid chacham begin to form. That this adorable baby boy could one day be a light unto his nation is an aspiration that many parents secretly harbor. It seems that the only person who is not on board with these grandiose plans is the little boy himself. This lack of shared vision generally comes to light around the time when your three-year-old triumphantly announces his professional goal: to become a garbage man.
Once you get over the shock, you realize that it’s probably better, at least for now, if you jump on the bandwagon, (or, in this case, the back of the truck). Let’s face it, for a three-year-old, there is a lot more excitement associated with being a sanitation engineer than with the aforementioned “vision.” Being a garbage man tugs at his little heartstrings and sings to his soul on many levels.
First of all, there is a truck involved, and nothing can compete with that. Not only can he aspire to drive the truck but also ride on the back of it. This experience is often simulated in the grocery store by children who hang onto the back or side of a shopping cart. I once saw a mother of six who devised a rotation schedule for the “wanna-be” garbage men and women in her family. She required the children to rotate their cart position (two on each side, one in the back) as well as their turn (on vs. off) at the end of each aisle. She also worked out a system that allowed each child to hurtle the non-breakable items into the cart, which, as anyone can attest, is an integral component of being a garbage man. After watching her go up and down a few aisles I wanted to recommend her for a job in the military. Her efficiency, command of the situation, strategic initiatives, and ability to complete her mission while surrounded by friendly-fire clearly qualified her for the position of military general – or at least a medal.
The supermarket is not the only place where the training of future sanitation engineers takes place. I once had the “pleasure” of being a Shabbos guest at the home of a friend whose son’s enthusiasm as a future garbage man was bestowed upon all those gathered around the table. Their little boy would “create garbage” by crumbling up clean napkins and throwing them on the floor. He would then scoop them up, leap onto the back of someone’s chair while holding on with one hand, creating an authentic image of a garbage man. (Here comes the good part.) With the other hand, he would proceed to shove the “garbage” under the seated portion of the unsuspecting person who was occupying the chair. Needless to say, the guests were taken by surprise. Luckily, his simulation of a sanitation specialist was quickly terminated by his parents.
As your child gets older and you’re no longer chasing the garbage truck down the street with your children, you notice your sons beginning to seek more sophisticated opportunities. Many of you will be surprised to learn that the community-wide gatherings engineered for the mitzva of bi’ur chametz serve as an Olympic-like opportunity for our “wanna-be” garbage men. The fiery flames leaping up from the dumpsters inspire the inner garbage man in each of our children. The act of tossing garbage into the bins becomes a triathlon-like event measured by the speed of the running start, the height of the jump, and finally, by the arc of the bag as it sails through the air. The herculean effort of the athlete (I mean five-year-old) is met by the cheers and backslapping of his fellow teammates, who view any bag of garbage as potential for a gold medal.
Now, despite the fact that being a garbage man may not have been your first (second, third, fourth, or fifth) choice of your progeny’s future, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, if you’re still not thrilled with your child’s profession of choice, there is a simple and straightforward way to gauge his commitment to garbage. Simply wait for your son to arrive home after a tough day in kindergarten, and ask him to take out the garbage. His less than enthusiastic reaction, which might include questioning why he has to do all the work around here, will be enough to assure any worried parent that his future is not inextricably tied to his fascination with hurtling objects through the air. On the other hand, all the energy and time you spent running after garbage trucks and ducking objects as they sailed into your shopping cart are not for naught. More than likely, the day will come when, after he’s married, your son will assume the role as “garbage taker-outer.” If you catch him at just the right time, you might still see a running jump as the garbage flies through the air into the garbage can.
Just make sure you still have a few gold medals hanging around.