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Growing Up Green

A couple days ago, I was reading a
parenting magazine and Maddie asked me to read out loud to her. The
article was about ways to “green” your household
routine, and one of the suggestions was, “Turn off your water
while you brush your teeth.” Maddie looked at me, bewildered,
and said, “Why would anyone leave the water on while they
brush their teeth?”

Last week, I handed out scripts to my teenage acting class.
I’d copied them single-sided on purpose, to leave room for
them to take notes, and one of my students noticed this and said,
only half-teasing, “Way to mess up the environment, Miss Jen!
Don’t worry about the ecological inheritance you’re
leaving us!”

I look around, and realize it’s a
whole new world from when I grew up. Way back in the day (I
can’t believe I’m sounding like this) we had this new
invention called Plastics, and we thought it was the coolest thing
ever. Disposable everything – no mess, no fuss! –
without a second thought, and of course all meals were microwaved
in those same plastic containers. Every new invention –
disposable dusting cloths! Disposable toilet scrubbers! – was
a new marvel.

Of course, not everyone was like that. My grandmother, for one, was
eco-conscious when eco-conscious wasn’t cool. Thrifty that
she was (with five kids and a preacher’s salary) she took
used paper and cut it up for phone messages. If you go out to the
farm today, you’ll still see the compost pile and the bag for
paper trash, and the row of trees they planted to help terra-form
the land way back before people talked about soil erosion in trendy
circles. And heaven save you if you left the water running while
you washed dishes, rather than filling up the basin and scrubbing
each by hand.

But by and large, my generation didn’t think about Multiple
Uses for Baggies, or How to Re-Purpose Chiclet Wrappers.
Today’s kids, though, are miles ahead of where we were. For
good reason, of course – they truly are inheriting the
problems we created. Still, it does my heart good to see my
two-year-old look for the recycling can on the street for her
paper, or to see my four-year-old’s horrified face at the
thought of leaving the faucet running for sixty seconds for no

They’re not fanatics, I promise. It’s just that as we
approach Earth Day in a couple weeks (a holiday I hold at almost
the same level as Thanksgiving, as my past preaching will attest)
I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and how grateful I am that
our kids will grow up using re-usable water bottles and heating
their food in glass microwave containers and looking at me
questioningly when I say it’s time for new toothbrushes.
“Ok, first,” said Maddie, “It’s only been a
couple months. Second, can I recycle it?”

I’m gonna have to look that one up.


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