Wednesday, January 04, 2006
And A Child Shall Lead Them...
Over the holiday week with my kids, I noticed something in common among High King Peter of Narnia, the Lorax, and my son: they all like to save trees. This observation kindled a memory from early 2004…
It was the first time I had ever attended a city council meeting--my neighbor Lou had asked me to accompany him so that I could give him my proxy as a Menlo Park resident to address the council for 3 minutes. Among two other neighbors and me, Lou would get the time he needed to present his objections to a new city council amendment--strongly advocated by the mayor--that permitted anyone to chop down a mature oak tree without permit or notification so long as it stood in a permitted building envelope. At the time I was hobbling around on crutches nursing a bad ankle sprain, but this seemed like a worthy, if futile, expedition to help Lou save our town's native trees.
On the way out the door, my four-year-old son asked me where I was going. It was late at night, and he was already in his pajamas, but I thought, Hey, why not give the kid a civics lesson? "I'm going with Lou to a city council meeting, where neighbors we've elected make city laws. Do you want to join us?" Yes, he would.
It was only a three minute ride to the council chambers, and along the way he asked why we were going. "The city council is thinking about whether it should be easier for people to knock down trees in order to make their homes bigger. What do you think?"
"No, I don't think so," he said.
When we arrived, Lou told me that he didn't need my son's proxy, since he had already reached the cap. I asked my son whether he would like to use his 3 minutes to share his views with the city council. He nodded yes, so I submitted his name on the roster. We didn't have any time to discuss what he might say!
We sat through 45 minutes of rather boring administrative discussion, and finally reached the alloted time for public opinion. My son's name was the first one called. Was my four-year-old still awake enough to do this? Would he even speak? Did he actually remember why we were here tonight? If he did speak, he would likely just jabber on about the cool looking spotlights and big computer monitor. But I had promised him his chance, so I crutched up to the microphone with him by my side.
"My son, a Menlo Park resident, would like to tell the Council why he opposes the new amendment on heritage trees." To the look of many surprised faces, I lifted the small boy up to the microphone, having no idea what he would actually say, if anything.
But, sometimes children truly surprise. Without hesitation, he spoke a single sentence--delivered clearly and to the point. "I think we should save the trees because they make the air we breathe, they give us shade, they're beautiful to look at, and they're home for the animals."
I set him on the ground, and he walked slowly beside me as I crutched my way back to our seats. I heard the first sound of clapping hands from somewhere in the audience but within just 2 or 3 seconds every person in that room joined in, including the city council members and mayor. We sat down amid a thundering applause--one tired little boy and the proudest father who ever lived.
My neighbor Lou then delivered his presentation, but it was moot. My son had already chopped that amendment down with ten times the force of an excavator uprooting an oak. Turns out that he gave me the civics lesson!
Update: I'm often amused that commenters to my blog challenge the veracity of my reports (e.g. see comments on these posts), as if I have any reason to hoodwink you. Fortunately, our local newspaper backed up this little anecdote of mine with a front page story on how Avery prevailed upon the council to repeal the amendment!
Posted by David Cowan at 12:38 AM