One of Ben's favorite activities when we visit the coast of North Carolina each summer is to capture and observe the little digger clams that proliferate the shore. We dig in the wet sand, scoop up the each smooth, shiny-shelled mollusk and put it into a bucket filled with sand and water. The clam sits on top of the sand and within a minute, sticks out its tiny hatchet foot, tilts itself up on one end and then digs down under the sand in a matter of seconds.
One of my favorite activities is digging for these clams alongside Ben. His curiosity and enthusiasm are so much fun to watch, and if I let him he would dig in the sand for hours. He is a 'nature boy' who loves the natural world around him--whether it be working in the yard, weeding the garden, picking berries or looking for cool insects. He is in every way his father's son.
While I sat meditating on the wonderful situation we found ourselves in--alone and rapt over something together that did not involve a homework assignment or video game--another young beach visitor stopped by. Peering in our bucket, the boy, who was about eleven years old, asked if we'd caught anything. As Ben pulled up some of the clams and showed him how they dig, the boy proceeded to fish around in the sand next to his foot, and with his hands pulled out a clam to add to Ben's collection. His mom called him away just then and, as he left, Ben commented on the boy's actions.
"He was really nice. Clams are nice too. Basically, anything that's harmless is nice," he said nonchalantly.
But the way he'd phrased it, choosing the word 'harmless', made me wonder if something upsetting was going on in his head.
See, Ben is the type of kid who, when put into bed at night, will lie in the dark and come up with questions like, "Mom, what do blind people see? Is it total blackness, or total whiteness or something else?" It's no wonder he has such a hard time getting to sleep when his mind is trying to puzzle out such questions. So even though his comment seemed innocuous, knowing him as I do, I decided to do a little digging of my own, into his brain.
"You're right, Ben, he was nice. What would you consider 'not nice'?" I asked.
Bracing myself for an answer like 'bullies,' 'mean kids,' 'my brother,' or 'scary dogs,' I hoped my tone came off as more curious than prying. I held my breath.
"Laser beams," he replied.
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing at his answer, as he might misconstrue it as laughing at him.
"Ah, yes, being shot by a laser beam doesn't sound very nice."
Soon after, we decided it was time to free the little clams. As we placed them back on the beach one by one, they dug their way back into the shore unscathed. When I noticed one that didn't seem to be moving at all, despite my nudging and re-positioning of it, I tried to decide if I should hide it from Ben or tell him that I thought the clam was dead. He spotted it before I had a chance to choose.
"That guy's not digging."
"I know, Ben, I think he might be dead."
"Or maybe he's just sleeping."
"Hm, maybe," I said cautiously as he continued to stare at the motionless clam.
"Yeah," he went on, getting more sure of himself. "Maybe he's just a hard core sleeper."
"HA!" This time, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at his choice of words. "Oh, I mean yeah, you're probably right. He's hard core. Let's tuck him in so no one eats him while he's sleeping," I suggested.
"Great idea, Mom. You're really nice."
I don't always have the answers to Ben's questions. But knowing he doesn't mind my digging around to get him to share them with me is enough. Maybe even enough for Ben.
Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission