Guerilla Green

I am often amazed by how much I learn from my sons. I segued into motherhood expecting to be the teacher, but my experience has proven to be reflective; as I teach so am I taught. It is humbling, thrilling and sometimes downright annoying. I should be the reigning expert. I really don’t want to be dressed down by somebody smaller, younger and higher pitched than me.

My eight year-old, H, has become my Green Tutor and he is a formidable taskmaster. H joined the Green Team at school this year. He has a regular recycling gig there and a special bilious green t-shirt that he wears to prove it. (I wish these environmental groups could see their way clear to wear black – it’s the colour of dirt and is much more flattering than pale urine.)

One particular teacher has led an initiative to educate all the students and faculty on environment-saving steps. Should you enter the school towards the end of the day, you are likely to find most of the classrooms in darkness. You may not be able to locate your child unless you wear a miner’s hat, but this is a small inconvenience compared to all the saved power. Parents are encouraged to send litterless lunches to school. The students support endangered species through fundraising efforts and the school pick-up zones sport signs that read: “No idling; young lungs at work”.

I am thrilled with this program. Children require education and passion in order to preserve the earth for their lifetimes and the lifetimes of future generations. And, many adults need to be coached to break old habits. The problem is H has morphed into a Green fanatic and he is turning his mama into one, too. In him, it is admirable and cute. In me, it is probably cloying and annoying.

As recently as five years ago, my shower was a sacred place in which the rites of washing, creative thinking and amateur opera singing were carried out at luxurious length. I left the taps on for up to ten minutes, allowing the water to warm to just the right temperature and the stall to steam up to a spa-like atmosphere. Then H developed his Green voice. “Mom, you’ve just used more water than an entire African village uses in a day!”

He was right. I was mortified. Now, I immediately slink in to the shower upon turning it on. I am chilled but I feel like I can look my kid in the eye. I feel like I can look the world in the eye.

Likewise, I will never allow the water to run while I’m brushing my teeth. It’s a waste. When I wash my hands, I apply the soap before turning on the tap to save water time – even when H is not around!

H reminds me to turn lights off whenever possible and if I try to pass off a used piece of paper towel as garbage instead of placing it in the organics bin, he immediately calls me on my transgression. He drives me crazy. But, he makes me think.

Our biggest on-going environmental conversation involves automobiles. H has made me acutely aware of the mindless tendency to let motors idle. Now, when I drop him off at school in the mornings, I turn off the car while he gathers his school-bag and opens the door. I also do this when I am waiting for someone and I repeatedly kill and restart the engine as I make my way forward in the carwash line. H says I should not use the carwash anyway, that cleaning the car on our driveway is better for the environment. I do not agree – the inevitable water fight will use up more natural resources than a commercial carwash, but he is right in principle.

My son reaches his fanatical crescendo when suggesting that I turn off the car while we are sitting in rush-hour traffic, moving no more than six inches every few seconds. I argue that this might be unsafe. I worry that the drivers behind us might become incensed. Still, H is keeping me honest and aware, one faux-pas at a time.

Last week, as I was walking through the parking lot of my neighbourhood grocery store, I passed an idling car. This bad behaviour now makes me nuts. But, unless the altercation occurs from behind the thick, glass windows of my automobile, I am anti-confrontational and therefore incapable of approaching a culprit and rapping on his window in order to donate a piece of my brainstem. Instead, I glare. I scrunch my eyebrows together, narrow my eyes and collapse my lips into a sneer. I glowered at the fellow sitting in the driver’s seat of his gas-guzzling luxury car and once I felt that he was appropriately withered, I turned and entered the store to buy my regrettably over-packaged Oreos.

Perusing the fresh fruit displays, I was about to wheel my cart past an older couple when the man looked me in the eyes. “You weren’t very happy with me in the parking lot, were you?” he said. “What did I do?”

I felt the blush of embarrassment warming my cheeks, energy saving heat. He was so nice, elderly and genuinely perplexed as to what he’d done to incur my wrath. “You were idling,” I ventured.

The man considered for a moment. “You’re right” he said. “I shouldn’t do that – it’s bad for the environment. Still, you looked at me as if I’d just committed murder.”

“I’m sorry” I said. “My son is teaching me to be more conscientious; I guess I’ve turned into a Green guerrilla.”

The man smiled indulgently at me and moved on. In that instant I remembered how much more one can accomplish when one’s lips are turned up at the sides. Smiling is also good for the environment.

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