How do kids become passionate about life? Ask a two-year-old cactus!

My two-and-a-half year-old grandson was a cactus for Halloween. Not because of the adults in his world, really. The idea came from him and we all just sort of “helped.”

When I think about it, the way J. became a cactus is how we all ought to become whoever or whatever it is we are meant to be – little by little, and bit by bit.

I don’t know when it all began, but my grandson became quite interested in cactus plants, no doubt after experiencing the sting of a few near his house. Now he visits cacti in the wild as though on pilgimage, pastes stickers of cacti into blank books, and has checked out every picture book about cactus plants in the public library.

Whenever I visit, I love to hike the dirt road in the early morning; and later in the day, I usually take him along. The problem is, we barely move at a crawl because the child stops at every cactus within ten yards of the road.

He knows the specific location of each and every one – most of them prickly pears – and will become distraught should I, or any adult, begrudge him a private audience.

During a recent visit I took J. down the hill from his house, away from the beautifully fenced play-yard that his father built and that J. now tries to escape at every opportunity. Fearless of the uneven terrain, he darted ahead.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

J. pointed at a steep incline, probably four ft. deep, to the left of the rutted drive. Dense pines overgrown with low-lying branches loomed below. “Here,” he said, and he ambled down the embankment like a fleet-footed mountain goat.

“You want me to go…um… down there?”

He looked up at me, face beaming. “Yeah!!”

“Mimi can’t climb down there. She’ll fall,” I said. (Why do adults always refer to themselves in the third person when talking to small children? It sounds so ridiculous.)

With a sigh of frustration, he scurried back up the small abyss and led me uphill for a few yards. “Other way,” he said, and he ducked down a gentle path that my son later identified as the “handicapped route.”

At the bottom, where the ground flattens out, branches clawed at my shirt. J. slithered right through and I found myself wishing I were shorter. When he finally arrived at his destination, he knelt in front of a cactus no bigger than a tea cup.

His excitement manifested in nonstop jabber. He must not have been convinced that I shared his enthusiasm, though, because he took hold of my right index finger, and with the precision of a guided missile, steered it toward the miniscule stickers. “Mimi touch it,”  he said.

Now, I will encourage the love of nature in any child, but fingering a prickly pear falls outside the realm of reason. “Nope,” I said. “Not me. You can touch it if you want to.”

J. got up off the ground, his brown eyes sad, and tucked his little hands behind him. “Bye-bye cactus,” he said.

When we climbed out of that wooded grotto, J. led me hither and yon over the property in search of other cactus cousins. As we made our way back to the house, we stopped to smooth our hands over moss-covered rocks, and I watched as he climbed on a white boulder about eight or ten times – just for the pleasure of jumping off.  And by the time we got home, it was nearly dark.

And that – more or less – is how my grandson became a cactus. FFG


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