The Green Grandma is a baby boomer mother of three grown children, who now enjoys her first grandchild in a Midwestern city.
It's been too darn cold and too darn dark for too too too long, and now the light is returning and we are ready to get busy brushing winter out of our houses.
Here in Minnesota we deal with a grimey springtime - our snowfalls are plowing events, and lots of street dirt gets tossed up onto curbs and boulevards and driveways. We use a lot of roadway salt, and that makes for a mess on our cars and in our cars and houses - my rugs and wood floors really take a beating with each thaw, and the baby toddling and touching and dropping things into the crud on the doorsteps and throw rugs spreads dirt and aggravates the sense that everything's falling apart.
We're conscious of air so dry that static electricity is our most reliable companion - across the dinner table last week, grandBaby and green grandmother laughed at one another's hair standing on end. Lint gathers everywhere. Stuff - paper, clothing, random bits of technology - seems drawn into every corner and horizontal surface. We have discovered our closets and cupboards packed full of stuff and there's nothing to wear!
We've begun clearing up small messes indoors as we prepare for the growing season. Excess baby clothes and Mama clothes and grandmother clothese have been washed and folded and packed off to St. Vinnie or Goodwill or a local Headstart that keeps a closet for mothers and children. Art and household accessories have been listed on Craigslist or ebay, and more useful items have gone to furnish apartments for handicapped adults in transition and an organic-farming Auntie. I've given my daughters some of the family keepsakes they would otherwise have been given upon my demise - it's more fun to see them baking angelfood cakes in the same pan that baked the first one they ever ate, to display the botanical prints (even the one with poisonous mushrooms) in their own living rooms and to eat off the dishes I started housekeeping with in their dining rooms than it ever was to store and periodically dust and wash infrequently used items.
We have found ourselves giving gifts like this more and more these past years, and grandBaby has heightened our awareness that time together and support for causes that mean much to us are more in keeping with our values than finding the perfect gift in a store. We like stores, but increasingly spend time and money on books or sewing or buying gardening equipment - a local nursery sells springtime flower gardens in a pot, and the hyacinths in mine are violet, blue, white and yellow - the blue muscari and red tulips that followed the crocuses have looked spectacular - because I'm not up to re-growing bulbs, we will compost my pot of bulbs - unless the squirrels eat them first.
I have been watching the parenting publications in a way I haven't done in twenty years or more, and found a great website: http://greenbabyguide.com/ This collection of blogs and columns is wonderfully heartening, as mothers and fathers share their insights and experiences raising green-aware children in families that live well while living mindfully.
Clean up the house, clean up the planet - enjoy sharing the wealth and responsibility.
We're in the trough of winter here in Minnesota, when even the most green-minded of us looks for a little self-indulgence in the sub-zero temperatures. The windchill factor is real and worrisome here, and it's become a bit of a bore hearing global-warming naysayers gloat about the planet's icebox days being the most severe in several years - at the same time local Arctic explorer Will Steger is teaching schoolkids about the melting Arctic ice and the sorry state of the iconic Polar Bear. It doesn't seem to do any good to explain to them that the farther you pull a pendulum before you let it go, the farther it will swing in the opposite direction before everything just stops.
Locally, too, we've had bad news on the environmental front. Winter is a time when auto emissions are visible and air quality problematic, and the cost of fuels for transportation and heating combine with that effect to make us super-alert to the many costs of internal combustion - so it's disappointing to learn that one of Minnesota's longed-for fixes, ethanol, has turned out to be a false hope for quenching our thirst for cleaner fuel. In fact, it may leaves us just plain thirsty: A large ethanol plant in the western Minnesota city of Grand Rapids ran out of groundwater and pumped water out of the Minnesota River, one of the major tributaries of the Mississippi River here, at the headwaters of the Mississippi system.
While we wait for longer, milder days and better news we continue to work for a more sustainable lifestyle that honors the planet on which we are fortunate to ride, and that honors the demand of justice for our posterity. And we celebrate our love of life, planet, and grandBaby every chance we get.
For instance, Terry Gips, founder of the Alliance for Sustainability in Minneapolis, is celebrating his 57th birthday; the rest of us celebrate Terry's significant influence on the green consciousness of thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations. Those of us looking for a material gift for our loved ones can find something conscious of sustainability's five Rs at ReGift, whose founders Tina and Ryan make us think again about what we baby boom elders can do to support the efforts of our children and grandchildren - while still enjoying the best of our hunter-gatherer instincts. I have decided that my own sweet-toothed grandBaby and his excellent mother will have the benefit of the heart-shaped chocolate cakes I baked in her childhood - but this time, created with organic fair trade chocolate and the same organic, locally produced butter from Organic Valley Farms that we enjoyed in our Christmas baking.
We'll defy the cold weather by keeping warm together under a wooly blanket on the couch - an energy efficient approach to grandparental affection. Happy Valentine's Day to us, every one. Live Green, and Prosper.
The winter holidays are upon us - that's quite a turn of phrase, isn't it; sort of like being set upon by something voracious and dangerous and seriously unpleasant. And it's true that a lot of people are overwhelmed and under-satisfied by the season of thanksgiving and giving and giving....
But this year I'm feeling lighter hearted and fuller-hearted than I would have predicted. Yes, there's a lot to worry about - war, energy prices, global climate change, the silliness of the media during an election cycle, the neighbors who cut down several red pines because the pinecones were "messy," and the water shortages that could have been foreseen - not to mention the daily anxieties of family and community life and earning a living.
Despite so much falling apart going on, there is plenty of reason to believe humankind may yet have its best day. The environment is being considered by other than the usual suspects: evangelical Christians are speaking out about environmental degradation from aquifers to surface mining as worse than just bad ideas; Midwesterners have responded to damage done to local community supported agriculture by fall flooding by contributing dollars and actually subscribing to the farms unable to fill tables until next year's recovery; MBA students from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management are working on an energy monitoring business competition; Casey Trees is restoring the urban forest in the nation's capital city; politicos across the partisan spectrum are waking up to the potential for political and security instability if environmental degradation goes unhindered; my elderly neighbor has cheerfully accepted CFL replacements for her outdoor security lighting.
In the Midwest, we are seeing lots of evidence that individuals are willing to commit time and treasure to changing the way we do business. We're glad to see giants like Wal-Mart attempt to turn their practices greener - but it's also encouraging to see that lots of entrepreneurs, from poultry farmers to builders are seeing that there is life in greener lifestyles.
For instance, Do It Green, purveyors of Minnesota's Twin Cities Green Guide is featuring more environmentally friendly artists, businesses, non-profits, and recreation listings than every; Damschen Woods has been awarded Live Green, Live Smart's Integrated Green Vendor commendation; families across the country are finding shopping in keeping with their values around sustainability at retailers like Peapod's and ReGifts and Peace Coffee ; locavore habits are made accessible by venues like the Saint Paul Farmers Market and Glacial Ridge Growers and Harmony Valley Farm.
And organizations like the US Green Building Council and Neighborhood Energy Connection and The Green Institute are helping people be more mindful of the 30 - 60% of our environmental footprint we can control by managing our homes and the way we build, furnish, and live in them. In February, Live Green, Live Smart, in partnership with the Customized Training Program of Saint Paul College will launch Integrated Green, a program to train and certify green housing contractors and designers.
We baby boomers are now acquiring elder status: we have an opportunity to demonstrate the principles of sustainability: to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. What better time than this season of traditional light-seeking and lighting, to take stock of how we've addressed the needs of the future, whether we over-represent the present "need" at the risk of our posterity's well-being. The great thing about this season of giving is that it needn't be about shopping and getting: it can be about pledging that we will help turn the world out of the dark, into the coming light.
I love autumn here in Minnesota. Heck, I even like the word 'autumn' - it has a slightly archaeic spelling that calls to mind the polyglot, ancient roots of the English language, and reminds me that some of my forebears' family name is 'Herbst,' the German word for autumn that sounds even more like 'harvest' in that language than 'fall' and 'autumn' do auf Englisch.
When my children were young this was the exciting culmination of the growing season. After a summer that filled their tummies with green beans and beets and zucchini and tomatoes and raspberries from our mostly-organic home garden, the pumpkins and gourds and squashes and apples were ready to pick. And the changeable weather here made that part of the harvest something of a contest: I can still hear my own grandfather warning me that we might have frost as late as Memorial Day and as early as Labor Day.
I'll get back to Granpa in a little while, but I can't forget to add that autumn is perhaps Minnesota's best season, when we see both the abudance of spring and summer, and the coming scantness of winter. It's a dual personality season that offers a little something for everyone working to be planet friendly and sustainable. I'll start with the leaves.
We can't burn them curbside as was the habit when I was a girl, but many neighborhoods have a day for gathering and bagging or tarping leaves and carrying them away (or having them carried) to a district composting site. The busyness and sense of joint purpose is invigorating, brings us out to look at one another, and gets kids who don't always play with one another sharing piles of leaves for fort-building and jumping into. The colors and scents are distinctive to each variety of tree - the plain yellow walnut fronds, vivid red, orange and gold maples, the yellow ginkos that seem to leap from the branch a few at a time, without regard for our schedule; the tannin smell of oaks that range from yellow to subdued maroon to deep brown is so intense as to be almost erotic. Big heart-shaped catalpa leaves and the trees' long fibrous pods are awe and engineer-inspiring. The purple beech, the yellow basswood - oh, this is one great place for trees and kids and neighbors.
When the children track or the wind blows a few leaves into the house, I am loathe to consider them trash. When my daughters were small they would collect the "best" ones and store them between paper for art projects, or just put them in a paper bag to play with later. I will be doing the same thing with my grandBaby, who is a little young for crafts, but who will love to have a bag of leaves for his indoor tent at Grandma's some cold rainy day.
His brilliant mother found a basket of assorted gourds at the farmer's market for three dollars; she brought them home and washed them, and they have joined the blocks and dump truck in on the play rug. GrandBaby loves them, and knows they are something special, though just what and just why is yet to be appreciated - but the colors, shapes, sound of the bounce and rattle, and the different textures of the shells, well!
The sunflowers drooping and drying in the garden are attracting squirrels who compete with the birds, so a couple have come indoors to be used later in the season - but tiny fingers pluck the seeds out and try to poke them back in; this is damage that can be done without scolding, and I hope someday will be remembered as a Good Time with Grandma. GrandBaby and I have been picking pods of milkweed and other drying plants to put into arrangements with the wild asters that grow in the alleyways above the Mississippi. I get help scraping seeds out of the squash I bake for dinner, and more help taking the seeds outdoors for the beasts and birds attracted by our sheltered sward.
My own grandfather and my mother were gardeners, and loving to be with them I loved to be out in the garden, too. Among my best early memories are standing in the autumn garden with my then-twenty-something mother, picking pods of Kentucky Wonder pole beans, splitting the dry pods and feeling the silk inside - the scent of those split beans is a lovely thing to remember when I am feeling low. My grandfather was strict about the kohlrabi and raspberries I loved to pick, insisted on moderation in thinning the carrots, but allowed me to pick as many blue and pink Bachelor's Buttons for bouquets as I wanted. No garden is a garden without good beans and Bachelor's Buttons.
And a grandparent or two helps make it perfect. I hope grandBaby will not remember that "Gamga say, 'no no' " but that we walked and dug and plucked and watered and had a great time with outdoor loot. Maybe not at the conscious level, but deep in his heart and nose and culinary palate. I believe this experience of the growing world is important to learning - and to truly feeling - love and respect for the natural world upon which our lives depend. And the memories of this shared joy are wonderful places for the spirit to find solace when life is difficult or losses multiply.
Get busy making cherishable memories of our planetary home (and of ourselves, too). There's no time to spare: the leaves are falling!
While the practical goal of reducing GHG emissions and our overall environmental footprint is "simply" to save the planet, we can't ignore the philosophical underpinnings needed for our conversion to a greener consciousness to be sustained over time. These values seem to naturally encourage attention to people and the planet, and to discourage materialism and greed that will harm the world - and since grandparents and grandBabies are the perfect vector for developing that consciousness, one important behavior to examine is gift giving.
Probably nothing exemplifies American grandparenthood better while also highlighting some of our most green-defeating behavior than our habits during the winter holidays of Christmas and Chaukah. What began as a few oranges and mittens, dreidels and coins - and a toy or two - has now become observance of a great orgy of buying and giving that is expected and automatic and sometimes almost random.
Giving is good; giving mindfully is better, and since both holidays call us to remember and reflect upon the miracle of abundant gifts, this is as good a time as any to start working on giving greener to all our grandchildren, family members and friends. We can make 2007 the year of Giving Green while Giving Greatly.
My children decided during the years that everyone was in college or graduate school that gifts would be given voluntarily, that they should be within the real budget of the giver, and that not everyone needed the same sized or priced gift. This immediately changed the terms of engagement, and allowed them to review the past years' giving, and they came to some conclusions:
None of us needed a lot more stuff;
Most of what we needed we could get ourselves at other times of the year;
Most of the big items we 'just' wanted couldn't be afforded by the rest of the givers;
We buy stuff all year around, so the windfall soon passed out of memory;
The gifts most-loved were ususally not the most expensive ones;
Too many expensive gifts became a burden to recipient and giver alike.
This year, our discussions about Christmas and Boxing Day have already begun, with the twist that grandBaby will be old enough to enjoy opening some gifts and participating in preparations. Here's what we've come up with so far:
Three family members are coming from the East Coast and will need to fly in order to meet time constraints: My major holiday gift will be a contribution to airfare - this gift gives back to me: I get adult offspring home for a few days. Air travel comes with a lot of carbon, but without the need to shop and wrap - leaving me with the time to supervise earth-friendly decorations and food preparation for family and friends.
This Mom/Grandma has all the pretty-pretties she will ever need: she would like company at a play, dinner at one of our favorite ethnic restaurants (most of the group eats little or no meat, so a vegetarian Indian restaurant is a high probability) or some time walking along the bluffs with that wretched dog we rescued and now seem stuck with (and love);
Giving to one another will be only token gifts: One daughter makes jam from organic fruit she picked, and will probably insist on providing more photos of the world's fanciest grandBaby; another worked on a CSA farm, and it's possible that the garlic and shallot garlands she braided will feature in her giving; another works for an energy development NGO and has no time to shop - I'm betting we each get a couple of ducks or a goat or clutch of reforesting seedlings sent in our name to Heifer International.
We do love a local store, ReGift, that offers home accessories and personal items made of recycled materials that have been made useful and lovely in some new form, so the daughters' young men are likely to receive a made-new-again gift from ReGift (I covet one of the purses made from old auto license plates, but that will have to wait for another occasion) or a couple of pounds of shade-grown fair trade coffee from a company like Peace Coffee in Minneapolis; of even something very cool from Cool Planet Goods.
And general re-gifting should be cool with those of us interested in being greener: last year, old vinyl albums that I couldn't deal with were gratefully received by a young friend who's taken up collection them; the espresso machine a well-intended friend gave me went to another who would appreciate it; the third copy of a new novel given a daughter is now in my bookcase.
The grandBaby is a huge temptation to indulge in a lot of conspicious consumption. But we may be able to stick to our plan and still have a great time:
His parents have decided that he will be receiving a large collection of baby-safe small cars and trucks that they played with years ago - to go with a refurbished track they found at a resale store (totally free of lead and other bad stuff). Mom has her eye on some age-appropriate toy musical instruments (which will not be staying at Grandma's house); Dad is refurbishing a small red wagon that was abandoned curbside. "Nothing with batteries" was the request.
His greatgrandmother is making a rug for his room from old coats she salvages from thrift stores, cuts into strips, braids, and sews into unique heirlooms.
His Green Grandma has found an old baby buggy from his mother's girlhood, and will make a ragdoll boy doll to ride in it with his babydoll and the stuffed panda, squid and pupdog. Most of the fabric for this ragdoll has languished in a trunk since his mother became too cool for me to sew for during high school; some is from her dresses.
The aunties have decided to shop at a second-hand kids shop that has a large selection of organic cotton items, and at stores like Peapods that are perfect for a green baby. They have even have offered child care during the daycare provider's paid holiday.
Because children love being part of meaningful work, and have fun doing it with people they love, and everyone's time is short, the cookie bake this year will feature fewer fancies in favor of smoosh sugar cookies flattened with a cup, whole grain cereal "glops" that he can form with his hands, and gingersnaps that are rolled in sugar and baked as a ball. Of course, he won't be eating most of these, and we know they're full of sugar and fat - the time spent with happy family bakers is said to be an antidote to all of those concerns.
The adults in our extended family have, over the years, made holiday gift-giving casual and voluntary - a bottle of wine or a book by a favorite author (sometimes gently pre-read), the recipe for my sister-in-law's mother's date bread, or a CD of music performed by the nephews are all lovely - and we've stopped keeping count.
Greatgrandmother has come up with one of the best ideas of all: instead of shopping in stores, she gives each family personal items that would otherwise come to us after her death - she gets to enjoy seeing us enjoy them, now.
For her and some great aunts we avoid anything that has to be dusted or landfilled. They love rolls of postage stamps, bookstore gift cards, having help updating their computer software, help in the garden in April when everything is so messy here in Minnesota, and novelty food items that tend toward locally vinted wines, wild rice, a bread gift-card for a local artisanal organic baker and dinner out or at our homes (so far, they've tried Turkish, Ukrainian, Thai, Greek and Scandiavian cuisine in this way). Membership in a CSA farm like Harmony Valley Farm is a great foodie gift. Tickets to concerts and plays are also appreciated: some like the giver to attend with them; others enjoy the freedom to treat a friend to share the event.
Not all of these gifts come with reduced carbon - but they do come with a less materialistic orientation than our family has had in the past. For me, this is part of the ethos of sustainability - honoring not just the Earth but the people who ride upon it, being respectful of people's needs and limits, and rethinking what is important to us - and what values we want to emphasize with the younger generations.
We can sometimes do best not by buying to give, but by giving a cheerful example of the joys of moderation.
Sustainability can be its own reward.
A friend - a businessman who is devoted to educating disadvantaged children, who contributes his own money and time out of his life to get them into good schools and change policies that keep them in poor ones - expressed some exasperation toward "greenies" over lunch recently. I told him about my involvement in the sustainability movement, and he said he hoped I wasn't doing anything that would interfere with free markets. I assured him that I am, just a mother and grandmother, unlikely to have much sway over markets.
We exchanged notes on our children and my grandBaby, and as we parted he said that he thinks it's very important we Babyboomers get wise to the fact that we are leaving our kids and grandkids with poorer education and quality of life than we enjoyed. I told him that I agree with him. And have wondered whether we really understand one another. So I went back to basics and looked for a succinct explanation of a way in which our mutual interests might intersect, honoring both the earth upon which we depend for our existence, and the markets on which we depend for our income.
In 1987 the United Nations' World Commission on Environment and Development issued a report titled "Our Common Future: From One Earth to One World." Headed by Norwegian Gro Harlem Bruntland, it has become known as The Bruntland Report, and it's introduction to the concept of sustainable development has become accepted as a mission statement for sustainability:
"Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure
that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of
sustainable development does imply limits - not absolute limits but
limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social
organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the
biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities."
To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, that sounds like the practice of every responsible parent and corporation. It sounds like good business as well as sound environmental policy, and it serves as a most useful touchstone for judging our activities at home and in the marketplace.
As I look at my grown children and this first grandBaby I begin to understand that while I can always expect to have more money, I cannot expect to have more time: I realize that the profit of sustainability is, first of all, life itself.
Markets can adjust to changing circumstances and alter business models to create monetary wealth from the opportunities imposed by the "limits" of which the Bruntland Report speaks. One of those limits is time - we need to move quickly, before we run out of time for future generations. Money won't matter when the air and soil and water are beyond consuming, but, paradoxically, there will be money - lots, for everyone - if we develop more sustainable technologies, livestyles, and business models.
You can read The Bruntland Commission Report Our Common Future at http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-cf.htm
It's written clearly for a layperson's easy understanding; there are some policy pronouncements that one may not agree with, but the informing intelligence of the report is quite eloquent.
Why, people often ask one another rhetorically, don't more people use public transit to get to and from their jobs, appointments, school? It's relatively affordable, convenient, low-carbon-impact compared to private automobiles, and, well -- it's the right thing to do, dang it. We can reduce our contributions to global warming and leave a little planet for the next generation.
Never one to avoid a rhetorical question, I set out today to answer it. Instead of my twice-weekly commute to Live Green, Live Smart's Wayzata offices near The Sustainable House in Minnetonka, I decided to take the bus from my home 25 miles away, in the heart of the city. For two dollars and seventy five cents I rode the bus for ninety minutes.
This was also the first day of class at the University of Minnesota, and a few weeks into the closing of the north/south Interstate 35W route after the collapse of the bridge across the Mississippi in Minnneapolis: by car, the commute has taken me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. Riding the bus, I did some work and made some phone calls; driving, I cuss out the other drivers and the DOT and the laws of gravity.
It's a choose-your-poison situation. On the trip back into town I only needed to get to an appointment fifteen miles from my starting point: a little less than an hour, half an hour had I known about the express bus; but I didn't have to pay to park and I learned a lot about who takes the bus to work in the suburban car washes and fast food restaurants.
In major and coastal cities with well-established rapid transit it's often simpler to use the El or the Metro or LRT or Subway than to attempt to navigate and park your own vehicle. In midwestern and western cities, including the metropolitan area we live in, the car and the paved highway (and even the freeway) became common at the same time. During the post-war years we let public transportation get away from us, the streetcars were (at last allegedly) bought up and gutted by automobile companies, and we headed for the suburbs in such large numbers that the car, the clover-leaf exchange, and the two-car garage became standards of working middle class life.
But when I started driving a 99 dollar used Corvair, gasoline was 25 cents a gallon. Mileage was barely in the double digits,yet with five bucks I could get to work and back most of the week and parking was free. Today, the SUVs in the way of my compact get mileage comparable to the smaller 6-cylinder cars of 1970, run a little cleaner, cost more than my first house and still warm up the planet while trashing the countryside - places I knew as a child and young driver have disappeared under asphalt and I whiz by them (unless the grid is locked during a rush hour that grows longer and longer).
Our children are losing many of the environmental and economic advantages we took for granted. Eventually they may face a question not of affordability of fuel, but of availability. For a brief while in the 1970s we found ourselves waiting at empty or rationed pumps for fuel the then-new OPEC cartel withheld from the market. Gas got as high as a buck a gallon, and Congress lowered the speed on Interstate highways to 55 to conserve gas. But then the oil flowed freely again, and we were not only back to our guzzling and burning and speed, we increased it as though there were no tomorrow.
Now, looking into the eyes of my grown daughters who tell me we should have been more prudent, I feel guilty. Looking into the eyes of my grandson, whose favorite mode of travel is on a friendly hip, I feel anxious. I want him to have those acres of meadow and woodland and ferny dells that I enjoyed - the places that made me care about the growing things on the planet, in the first place. And I want him to be able to head out on a highway to see the wonderful places I have seen on this continent - the Ohio River valley, and the Smoky Mountains, the Laurentian Shield and the Glacial Ridge, the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and the semi-arid dunes of Nebraska.
I know that taking the bus a couple of times a week will not, by itself, assure Baby of his righful hereditiments - but it's something, and I can do this, and I will add it to the list of 'what Grandma did during the climate crisis" stories for the day when he starts asking.
My favorite baby is now half-way through his second year, and as his needs change so does my awareness of ways in which parenting and grandparenting can help repair the damage we do to the planet - and ourselves in the process.
His mother has adopted a minimalist approach that emphasizes the important elements of childcare (responsive attention, good nutrition, not sweating the small stuff, not collecting more plain old stuff than is necessary) and already values about how people and the world should be treated are being conveyed to him.
As much as possible Mom chooses organic foods, especially dairy products and apples, bananas, green beans, and meat from local organic producers. She makes sure his diet is balanced by making sure her own is good, and so he already eats the table foods he will grow up with: already, he loves ratatouille, tomatoes, fresh berries, broccoli, potatoes, cheeses of several varieties and spicy chicken as much as lean chopped meats. As the season changes, he tries cucumbers, radishes, parsnips and smoked fish. This variety of flavors and textures is more interesting than the bland stodge of fast-food, with its standardized range of flavors that emphasize fat, salt, and sugar, and makes it likely that he will eat healthfully and sustainably as he grows old enough to make his own food choices. In addition, it's easier and more fun to travel and dine out with a child whose needs can be accommodated alongside those of the rest of the family. On recent trip, he snacked on cherries beside Lake Superior, noshed whole wheat crackers and cereals in the car, and drank water and organic milk instead of roadside sodas.
Toys include a bucket and pail for working in the garden, and a special hat for working in the yard beside Mom. One of his first words is "flower" and he already collects sticks, seed pods, and small hand tools. Children love to have meaningful work, and he already knows that in his family this includes gardens, trees, birds and water. Books and puzzles figure largely in his play, and nature themes are one of the family's first choices.
Mom buys many of his clothes secondhand, recycling with an emphasis on natural fibers and, where possible, organically produced ones. When buying new, we like to support local vendors that share our values about stuff -- like Peapods on Saint Paul's Snelling Avenue (online, go to http://www.peapods.com/ ) as well as better-known larger retailers, like Patagonia.
Childrearing has become a huge commercial sector, and the amount of quickly obsolescent stuff is overwhelming. By being discerning in her choices, Baby's mother is teaching him to get what he needs, not what is shiny, new, and temporary. I see habits and values of sustainability that will become part of this child's adult life -- I wish we had been more mindful earlier in my own generation.
For ideas about keeping your baby green as she grows, visit http://greenliving.suite101.com/article.cfm/green_kids_online
This July 4th, like every one, invites metaphors of both unity and independence, courage, faithfulness, and the old fashioned and sometimes distorted virtue of patriotism. Here in Saint Paul we launch fireworks above the Mississippi and take pride in our freedoms, tolerance, and foresightedness, eat some potato salad and drink some beer – and some of us clean up and recycle the celebratory mess the next day.
This year, because of this Baby in the family, we’re thinking about what America and the world will look like when he is grown, middle-aged, old.
So when, this morning, I opened another emessage from Environmental Defense and saw again their draft of a Declaration of New Patriotism, I took a closer look. Environmental Defense will be printing a full-page ad featuring this declaration in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, as a call to action to members of Congress and the Senate.
More than 50,000 individuals have already signed this declaration, and another 50,000 by the Fourth would be a very fine statement to the politicos whose staff and handlers run our government. Anyone watching the push-back polluters are exerting on efforts to slow global climate change must sometimes feel discouraged – especially as so many people are ignoring the crisis or taking a “scoop my share now” attitude.
In my part of the world, we have bald eagles flying into nests at dusk – something I thought I would never see, because in the 1960s only about 400 nesting pairs existed in the entire country. Because of devoted, visionary, stubborn and courageous people, the national symbol is now thriving sufficiently to leave the endangered species list. Their presence in my neighborhood also speaks to the improved conditions of the Mississippi waterways nearby, and our improved practices with regard to pesticides.
But at the same time, children like our Baby, in neighboring communities are drinking from wells found to be polluted by chemicals dumped by a respected Minnesota company. These children now have these chemicals – deemed to be at “non-hazardous levels” by the same people who deposited them in their bodies without anyone’s permission to trespass on these young bodies – in their bloodstreams and, presumably, in the cells of their bodies.
So, while Baby will have eagles, we can’t be sure what else he will lose, what hazard or harm we are leaving him and the rest of our posterity.
Please take a few minutes to read this modest and humane Declaration of New Patriotism. And, if you have the courage, please consider signing it electronically at http://action.environmentaldefense.org/campaign/newpatriotism
And enjoy the picnic over the holiday week.
Declaration of New Patriotism
Drafted by the Environmental Defense Action Fund
Global warming is the crisis of our time.
As we prepare to celebrate our nation's birthday, we renew our commitment to the qualities and values that have guided our nation for more than 200 years.
Today, we recognize that patriotism is not only about love of country. It is also about a shared commitment to the welfare of our planet.
Future generations will judge us based on our success or failure to be good stewards of the Earth. We owe our children and our children's children nothing less than our very best effort.
We the undersigned, pledge to:
- Recognize that we live in a time of crisis. We must be active and forceful in bringing about the necessary changes - based on science, not politics - to stop global warming, no matter how difficult that may be.
- Be active citizens, by pressing our elected officials to take urgent action now, and by pressing all candidates for office to commit to passing strong legislation to cut America's global warming pollution.
- Spread the word, by making sure our friends, neighbors and loved ones recognize that each of us has a role to play in meeting this all-important challenge.
- Be mindful consumers, by minimizing our personal global warming "footprint" and weighing our personal choices against the needs and rights of future generations.
This nation's founders risked everything to realize a new relationship between government and the governed. We must now do whatever is necessary to realize a new relationship with the web of life that includes and sustains us.
One of the things about having a baby in my life after a long time
without one is that a sense of awe and delight is often accompanied by
an awareness of potential disaster even more acute than when I was the
mom instead of the grandma. I have long practice worrying about the
bad things that might happen, both the freakish and ordinary. And I
have the experience of accrued information and improved knowledge about
environmental issues that were only vague notions thirty years ago.
I have been worrying about plastic. Not just the plastic-or-paper we
all confront when we shop in stores, but the ubiquity of plastic in my
life and in the baby’s.
For example: Baby’s mother breastfed
fully for the first six months, but when she went back to work she
expressed milk to leave with the daycare provider – milk that was saved
in plastic liners or bottles. And the “rubber” nipple of the bottles
were also made of plastic. The diaper bag and cooler that carried the
nourishing breastmilk were lined with plastic. The colorful mobile
that hung above the crib as coated with plastic polymer paint – “safe”
“food grade” plastic, similar to what those cute sippy cups are made
Most of the sorting blocks and trucks and pushtoys that
were once-upon-a-time wood or metal – and, in those days, too often
coated with lead-bearing paints – now are either made of or coated with
plastics of one formulation or another. And all of this plastic has
molecules that migrate into us – and into Baby. When we eat ice cream
or mic a veggie tv dinner, wrap our organic vegetables, use a non-stick
plan – well, you get it: plastic. Even the cheap liquor a tired parent
might put in a cocktail made with organic juice may come in plastic
bottles. Even the pipes bringing water to your faucet may be plastic –
and studies show that molecules of these polymerized products are in
95% of Americans and 80% of the rest of the world’s population.
Including our Baby.
what to do. Well, the pediatrician says to freeze bagels for teething
and that a dirty carrot is better (well, sort of dirty) than a plastic
chew toy. Cotton dolls and animals rather than those made of plastic
or polyester. Glass bottled juices and water instead of those in
plastic bottles hardened with the monomer Bisphenol-A (PBA).
it gets tougher yet: various types of plastic - polycarbonate (PC),
polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP), high-density
polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyvinyl
chloride (PVC or vinyl), and others all migrate to some degree. And
they are in contact lenses, syringes, baby bottles, PVC pipes,
containers for everything (even the inside or beverage and food cans).
when old enough, Baby’s mother hast to decide whether the dental
products that improved her orthodontics and sealed her molars are going
to similarly “protect” Baby.
So – plastics. Not something you
immediately think of when you think of grandparenting. But we need to
think about it, now. Once plastic aware, we can look for smarter,
greener options. People smart enough to invent plastics are smart
enough to replace them with something better. If not for ourselves or
our own children – then for theirs.
For more information about the problematics of PBA, PC, PVC and other such plastics, try these websites and links:
years ago as I gazed into the eyes of my firstborn, the prospect of
grandmotherhood was a mere abstraction. Like most baby boomers in our
mid-twenties I just figured it would happen later, when we’d perfected
the world, and it would be easy.
Well, it’s happened, and
somehow we never got around to perfecting the world. I admit being the
grandparent is easier than being the mama – and I can’t help but feel a
little pang at all the decisions that confront new mothers and
fathers. I’m glad I don’t have to decide paper or cloth, when to wean,
how to find daycare, when to call the doctor, and how to get enough
But I find it’s at least as difficult to resist giving
advice and opinions as it was for my own mother. The only difference,
so far as I can tell, is that my advice and opinions are usually more
valid than my mother’s were. I wonder if that could be one of those
Fortunately for me, if not for always for
Baby, I find that growing up in a home where we tried to be attuned to
the natural world has made my daughter, Baby’s mother, more inclined to
value many of the same goals I reached for. Against all odds she
managed to breastfeed while working full-time, found a gentle
responsive daycare provider (no, not Grandma), disciplines rather than
punishes, and persuades Baby to eat good food from the family’s health
conscious table rather than having to settle for processed meals and
Did I mention that Baby is doing brilliantly, and his mother is simply splendid?
I see it, I play a supporting role, and an important one that comes
with both perks and perils. I am learning that good parenting, like
living green, lasts – and that it requires revisiting, re-evaluation,
and sometimes settling for what we can get rather than what we’d rather
have – and we can usually get better than what we’re offered first time
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in Baby’s
first year, and what I learn as time goes on. I’ll start with some
small stuff, like – stuff:
For months we shopped for baby
furniture, baby clothes, baby toys, implements of feeding, bathing,
strolling, hiking, driving and entertaining baby. I say shopped, not
bought, because we found this entire project gave us plenty of
opportunity to learn that what the baby needed and mother wanted were
not always what retailers were willing to sell them.
for instance. We looked at crib after crib, dressers, changing tables,
hutches, cradles, portable beds, high chairs, swings, bassinets, and
all the accoutrements to gussy them up. Where, we wondered, did people
get the money? And where do they put all this stuff? We had endless
conversations over which grandparent or auntie would buy which items,
which were value for dollar spent, which were out of stock, and why the
stuff had to be so big, so expensive, and so tempting – and why so
little was made of certified sustainable wood.
In the end, the
nursery was outfitted with a modest crib that will convert into a
toddler bed in a few months – and the baby rarely sleeps in it,
preferring to cuddle by mother for mid-night nursing. More important
were a healthy mattress and lots of sheets for changing. The dresser
has enough horizontal surface to also be a changing table – though
usually Baby is changed wherever there’s a clear space on a floor or
mattress, and the dresser drawers are never really closed on the dozens
of cute second-hand oufits his mother and her sisters have acquired for
him. But the hours of looking at the stuff that got left behind! The
anguished young parents and grandparents we observed, paralyzed at
decisions about the least-important aspects of bringing home a baby!
seats have improved and models become so numerous that I was relieved
that choosing one wasn’t my responsibility. One even turned up in the
backseat of my compact station wagon without any effort on my part.
When it’s not full of Baby, it’s full of extra gloves or grocery bags
or a small dog. It doesn’t affect fuel efficiency much, but it has
improved and slowed my driving, so it may have a net benefit on carbon
The doctor and nurse were selected for their
friendliness to more natural childrearing and childcare practices, and
seemed remarkably like those I’d chosen thirty years ago. They
encouraged carrying the baby, not the bucket of car seat. They
supported the decision to breastfeed for the first year, and helped
with the problem of working while breastfeeding. They gave out
brochures on Snuglis and back carriers and slings. Decisions about
vaccines and antibiotics were, happily, beyond me. When the
pediatrician recommended frozen organic bagels for teething – “why have
them chew on that darn plastic?” he said – I endorsed his position by
bringing the bagels, and looked, if I must say so myself, both
brilliant and humble.
Really, the bagel event was just the
follow-up to a pattern we set early on: my contribution for the first
months was mostly to feed Baby’s mother a couple times a week, and to
make sure that she had healthy, and whenever possible, organic, snacks
and meals available most of the time. The additional thirty cents a
pound for organic bananas was not a hard sell for me; the organic oats
and carrots and hormone-free chickens that challenged a young family’s
budget found their way into my shopping cart and into their pantry and
fridge – or onto the table when they dined at my home or I offered to
bring part of a meal to theirs. When they demurred at the extra cost
of natural cheese or a loaf of organic artisanal bread, I could say
“you’re worth it.”
Every young family is worth it, and we should
show them so. Grandparents (and aunts and uncles) have an opportunity
to help repair the world on behalf of future generations. Over the
coming months I will consider, meditate, gossip about how we can help
young families live in eco-friendly ways and how we can change our own
habits to leave the planet in good condition for our posterity.