While I’m away, I’ve been posting essays, reviews, and articles that have either appeared elsewhere on the Web or else have never before been seen! This one originally appeared in Catapult, but was written more than three years ago…still, the story’s worth telling, I think…
Before I had my first child, I thought that people who brought their own bags to the grocery store were weird, that recycling was a waste of time and organic food a waste of money. But now Aidan’s nearly three, and last week during a meal of vegetables from our organic CSA share, he declared, “This kohlrabi is delicious!” He reminds me to take the “green bags” before we leave to go shopping, and he helps to sort the recycling. He plays with a small wooden toy recycling truck; he’s been brought up (mostly) in cloth diapers, and now he loves to dig in the garden with his child-sized spade while I hang his newborn brother’s diapers on the clothesline.
You’ve probably heard of the Great Law of the Iroquois (there’s a company that has taken their name from it); it states that every tribal decision must consider the impact that decision will have on the next seven generations. Unfortunately, I wasn’t mindful of the effects my actions had upon the Earth until I actually looked the next generation in the face. As I threw away diaper after diaper in those early months, I began to feel uneasy. Where did they go once they left our trashcan? And as I nursed Aidan day after day (and came across an article on pesticide residues in human milk, and one on the beef industry) I began to think that maybe I shouldn’t be eating a 16oz steak every Friday night. When I put him in the bathtub, I began wondering about the potentially toxic residues from cleaning products.
As I slowly began to learn about all things “green,” and to make gradual changes in our household (drastically cutting our meat consumption, eating organic vegetables, using cloth diapers and reusable grocery bags), I became ashamed of my complacency toward the Earth, and began to strive to learn more, and to do better — and I’m still striving. It’s not only that I worry about the kind of world my sons are going to grow up to inherit (though it makes me terribly sad to think of the ever-growing piles of trash they’ll receive, and the glorious biodiversity that they won’t); I want them to grow up to be good stewards of the earth, to serve and guard it, to cultivate and keep it, as God commanded Adam to keep Eden.
My friend Nicki is an Episcopal priest and a homeschooling mother of three. Not long ago, she organized a series of lectures to coincide with the Harvest Festival, to address questions related to Christianity and the environment. Most impressive to me were the questions and ideas raised by her eight year old son, Teddy. When we sat gathered to share thoughts and resources for “greener” living, though many adults remained quiet, Teddy contributed thoughtfully several times. It was clear that Nicki and her husband had not only taught Teddy to care about the Earth, but also, to think and act creatively in response to our present environmental crisis.
Some time later, I asked Nicki about her philosophy of ‘green’ parenting. Incidentally, she’d stopped by to give me a bag of hand-me-down cloth diapers outgrown by her son Henry. She looked over at our sons, who were playing together on Aidan’s dilapidated ride-on car, something we’d inherited from a fellow graduate student family, shrugged her shoulders, and began talking about how Teddy is in charge of checking the country of origin labeling on apples (we live in the UK where country of origin labeling is the law; thankfully, “C.O.O.L.” will soon be law in the USA) and makes sure that they don’t buy anything grown outside the UK. Teddy also knows about the benefits of getting around by bicycle rather than car; she told me that often, it’s he that insists they cycle rather than drive.
As I talked with Nicki, I recognized afresh that children do what their parents do, and, to some extent, care about what their parents care about. Nicki herself is committed to the “Fife diet” (Fife is the kingdom, or county, where we live), even to the point of denying herself foods that she loves. She regularly meets with friends to swap clothing and other things that she no longer needs, and, let’s not forget — she came to my house that day to bring me secondhand cloth diapers for my new baby! She seems, to me, to do her best to live responsibly and authentically before her watching children. And they have certainly learned from her.