THE BLOG
03/28/2013 12:22 pm ET Updated May 28, 2013

From Starving Sea Lions to Solutionary Kids

Last week, I wrote about how my 7-year-old daughter cried as we watched a severely malnourished, female sea lion pup struggling to climb the jetty of our local San Diego-area beach.

If you've missed the news stories, more sick and starving California sea lion pups have been rescued in our region in the past two months than are usually rescued in an entire year. Rescue centers like the Pacific Sea Mammal Center have declared "a state of emergency," as they face record numbers of rescues and the need to care for exponentially higher numbers of sea lion pups than usual.

Scientists believe the sea lions' lack of food supply (i.e., fish) is causing the crisis.

When we saw "our" struggling sea lion pup last week, I worked to turn my daughter's tears, and the heartbreak of this crisis, into action -- talking with her, and readers, about ways we can help the sea lions in our everyday lives, wherever we live. These ways include eliminating (or at least greatly reducing) fish from our diet, shrinking our carbon footprint, and speaking out against commercial fishing subsidies.

My daughter and I also helped that particular starving sea lion pup, that cloudy March morning, by calling the local sea mammal rescue center to come help her.

Another Sad Day

Then, yesterday, my daughter, her younger brother and I were back at our local beach -- the same beach we've been visiting every week since she was born -- and her tears were flowing again. Because this time, not only did we see another sea lion pup struggling in the water, but it seemed to be trying to reach a pup who was on the jetty, below where we stood.

And, sadly, this little pup was dead.

Plenty of thoughts raced through my mind as we looked down at the dead sea lion pup, thoughts of both a mother and of a humane educator. Should we stop coming here, is it too traumatic? Is it good for her to see what's really happening? How can I help my kids process this? What more can we DO about this?

I quickly came to my own answers. In both of my roles, I believe it is good for kids to see what is happening to our animals, our planet, and people in our world -- even bad things, in age-appropriate ways -- if they are also empowered with age-appropriate ways to do something about it.

Interestingly, as I moved my kids back to the beach, my 4-year-old was processing the dead sea lion pup and its struggling companion in a different way than his crying sister. He was rather cheerfully crawling on the rocks pretending to be a sea lion pup and acting out the different scenarios of how he (as sea lion pup) could be helped.

So, after "carrying the pup to the rescue center," I focused on my upset 7-year-old. I held her close, and let her be sad and angry about the pups we saw, and about what is happening to this species and the ocean ecosystems, which we'd been reading many books about in recent weeks.

Then, we talked gently about how we might turn her sadness and anger into something positive, and about what we have done to help already. (Calling the rescue center, not eating fish, teaching others about vegan living -- and she had encouraged me to write last week's post about the sea lions, which spread the word to thousands.)

I explained to her the saying "make lemons into lemonade." And I encouraged her to sit with her thoughts and feelings for as long as she needed, while I called the sea mammal rescue center once again.

One Child's Inspiration

On the way home from the beach, I talked with our chatty 4-year-old about the sea lions as our 7-year-old sat in teary silence. Then, within minutes of getting home, she yelled, "Mom! I've got it!"

She began to write and draw frantically, looking up just long enough to say, "I am making a book about the sea lions, and I am going to make a fundraiser to help them!"

As I talked on the phone with a rescue center rep -- who called me back to say they would try their best to get to the jetty ASAP, but they were deluged with rescues today -- my daughter worked. She wrote about the sea lions, about what we can do to help them (with some handwriting and spelling help from me), and she decided on her fundraising goals.

So, we'll be aiming to sponsor two or more California sea lion pups at the Pacific Sea Mammal Center, and will also drive up there and visit the center to learn more.

All Children as Solutionaries

Humane educator Zoe Weil coined the term "solutionaries" to describe her hopes for the kind of citizens our children can become, as they grow up on our struggling planet. I love this term -- the image of young people with a mindset of positive solutions and positive action.

Encouraging our kids to become "solutionaries" is something we all can do. If we don't have kids (and even if we do), we can also work on becoming "solutionaries" ourselves.

In my TEDx Talk, I describe how I think kids are actually born understanding the connection we adults often forget -- between animals, people and the planet -- and how we can keep this connection alive in them, and re-spark it in ourselves.

Seeing a dead sea lion can either be a tragedy or a catalyst for a child, or any of us. It can turn into a depression or an inspired fundraiser.

I encourage you to get inspired to make a difference, and to inspire your kids -- whether it be to feed some starving sea lion pups or whatever it is that matters most to you and them.

"Mom," my daughter said to me today as she continued to work on her fundraiser. "I'm making a big lemon into a big lemonade."