Between the Gulf Spill, honey bees heading toward extinction and the big glacial melt-off, our environmental future can look quite bleak. Mercifully, however, a short conversation with certain members of the next generation could very well raise the spirits of even the most downhearted environmentalist – at least if what’s happening in my Brooklyn apartment is any indication.
My six-year-old daughter, Oona, is, you see, way more environmentally conscious than I am. This is great news for trees, birds, clouds and pretty much every living thing – except yours truly. For me it is a little more complicated than that; of course it’s wonderful to have such a sensitive and aware kid, but it’s also a monster headache.
The first time Oona requested that we walk to school rather than take the car – “because cars kill the earth, Mom” – it was cute. My husband and I were highly amused and beaming with pride at her green instincts. The fact that her indignity was delivered with a slight lisp only made it that much cuter. We happily agreed to leave the house thirty minutes early to hoof it, a little over a mile, to her school. When she was still insistent the next day we indulged her again, even though it meant severely altering our morning routine. It’s never fun to argue with adorably impassioned kindergarteners, especially when their reasoning is thoroughly sound. Now, months later, this is something I know all too well, as I can’t pick up the car keys without a lecture from Oona.
There are mornings when I really want, even need, to drive, and I hate having to explain myself to someone who is still under four feet tall. The worst part is that, in our frequent face-offs, my case often seems so pathetic: “Honey, Mommy wants to wear heels today” or “Your little sister kept me up all night and I’m too tired to walk” or “It’s possible that it could rain.” On more occasions than I care to admit, I’ve found myself lying in bed before the girls wake up trying out excuses in my mind. Do I attempt to explain chafing?
Now Oona is on a crusade to have us ditch the car completely. “When this car dies, promise you won’t get another one,” she pleads, as if asking for more ice cream, her giant blue eyes somehow going even bigger. “Or, only get one that runs on air.” (Damn you National Geographic Kids for that “air car” picture!)
We live in New York City, where the subway famously rules, and Oona knows many families that survive without cars. She is relentless. Out of nowhere she’ll go for the jugular. “Mommy! Look at how pretty those little flowers are! See them? Well, you are killing them every time you drive.”
I love seeing Oona inspired by a worthy cause and I absolutely agree with her, but: It’s really hard to push a stroller containing Oona’s decidedly less political, three-year-old sister up a hill in 90-degree weather!
Then there’s the elevator. Oona has figured out – how? why? – that elevators require energy, and she begs us to take the stairs nearly every time we leave our apartment. Here I should tell you that we live on the 6th floor (and bear in mind the toddler-sister and her gear). I am desperately trying to keep the words “carbon footprint” out of Oona’s vocabulary at least until the end of the summer. I cannot live on the east coast without air conditioning.
Apparently, someone at her school or on the playground or somewhere spilled the beans about conserving energy by turning off lights. It’s not that I want to waste energy, but I am also getting a little tired of bashing into the dining room table because it’s pitch black in our apartment!
This mindset doesn’t, of course, come out of nowhere. Oblivious to the potential backlash, my husband and I gave Oona her preservationist start at home. My own father even wrote a book titled THINK WATER!, and I used to show Oona photos from the book of empty reservoirs, but I now believe that it’s the classroom where her tree-hugging streak has truly taken tiny wing.
Over coffee one morning not long ago (as I was resting my weary body after running up the hill to make the second school bell), another kindergarten mother told me that her son had recently arrived home with 20 banana peels in his backpack – not a pretty sight after 5 hours in a hot cubby. He’d rescued them from the garbage can in class after snack-time, determined to bring them to his home compost.
Growing up, my mom cultivated a huge compost heap in our backyard, and I love the wondrous process of decomposition to fertilization, but my blood runs cold at the thought that Oona will take up the habit. We have no garden, and I live in blind fear of cockroaches.
Another mom I spoke with talked about how her son finally came to terms with the idea of reincarnation when he exclaimed, “Hey, it’s like recycling people!” Which reminds me, I’ve got to step it up with my recycling. Yesterday Oona dressed me down when she discovered a yogurt lid in the garbage can. Yogurt containers aren’t too bad, but I really don’t enjoy washing empty peanut butter jars or, even worse, trying to dry rinsed out Ziplocs for reuse. Still, as much as I want to quiet my little watchdog with Mommy powers, I know she’s right.
So I say, bring it on, little girl! My blisters (and vanity) will heal, but this big blue marble may not without the kind of infectious dedication that comes from an open, innocent perspective. Incredibly, the dogged persistence of someone who still has most of her baby teeth has truly made a difference in our habits. But no, honey, we absolutely can not walk to Disneyland.