Green Lessons from My Mother
- Saturday, 05 June 2010
My childhood was probably pretty typical of a young girl growing up in the U.S. suburbs during the seventies: Mom stayed at home with us kids while Dad went to work. Mom was burdened with mundane housework and playing referee to frequent arguments between my older brother and me. She was a member of the PTA and signed on as Den Mother of the local Boy Scout troupe.
My mother was trained as an educator and that spilled over into her parenting. A wrong answer would receive only encouragement to make the right choice—which, in my opinion, only enforces the message that making smart choices for our planet will certainly pay off. It's never too late to start doing so.
But there is a difference that looms large between my mother and many others I knew, a difference I became of much later on in life. She was very ahead of her time in simple eco-conscious behaviors like recycling and reducing energy usage. Here are a few green lessons I learned from my mother, in particular order of substance.
Walk in Compassion
Compassion is defined as "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it." But it's more than just that. Compassion is an attitude, a philosophy, a way of life. Sustainability is rooted in the basic compassion of being kind to others; a gift that keeps giving.
I was taught to not hit, bite, and call others names. Sharing earned a gold star because, at some level, we all have more than we need. Good things should be shared with everyone, especially if these good things can change at least one person's life.
She pointed out all those valuable sand box lessons, though my "sandbox" was a tad different. I would play "funeral" with one of my dolls as the deceased. My toy cars were often in a lengthy funeral procession, driving to a burial ground in the sand box, where a tiny grave was waiting. The longer the procession, the more impressive for the rest of my dolls.
Breathe in Nature
Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living.
My mother was inspired by Anne Frank, and in turn passed that gift to me. This was a passage written by Anne in her diary: "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature."
My mother created an expanded scope of concern for nature's creatures, too. Those innocent looking soft plastic holders for soft drink cans and other products can entangle birds, fish, and small animals; we would snip apart each ring before throwing it in the trash. We would not throw rice at weddings in order to protect birds that might pick up the grains and have their tummies explode.
Visualize the Future
She somehow knew we needed to cut the meat habit for a more sustainable outlook. And that worked out just fine since it was already a built-in eco-trait of being Catholic—Friday was pasta night. She was also a fan of adding artificial bacon-flavored bits to give pasta more zing.
We would turn off the faucets when brushing our teeth, rather than watching nearly 10 gallons of water just slide down the drain. Leave the car running while she waited for the kids to be dismissed from school? The rule was to leave it on if you'll be there less than a minute, otherwise it's more efficient to turn it off and restart it when you're ready to go.
Turn down the heat. Only wash full loads of laundry. Set the freezer temps exactly between 0 and 5 degrees. Always lather and rinse just once, and make sure it is Clairol's Herbal Essences.
And the most important way to visualize the future? Always say your prayers before you go to bed.