It’s Not Easy Being Green

Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22nd.  I would like to say that I have big Green plans for that day, like planting a tree or buying a Prius.  But I don’t.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not anti-earth day, or anti-green.  I try to be green.  I have reusable bags, we have a low-flush toilet in our powder room, and I try to remember to turn off the water while I’m brushing my teeth.  But I have a confession to make…being Green doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m trying, but it’s really hard.

Here’s a perfect example.  We live only a few blocks from my son’s school, in a school district where there are no busses.  Everyone walks to school.  Well, everyone is supposed to walk to school.  But in reality, some kids walk to school while many others are driven to school by their parents.  Sounds ridiculous right?  The school district is 1 mile total.  It doesn’t take that long to walk to school, no matter where you live.  And as I said, the distance to school from our house in only a few blocks.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve never driven him to school.  I wish I could say that we ALWAYS walk, regardless of rain, cold temperatures, or how late we are.  I guess I could say that we always walk, but then I would be lying.  Am I embarrassed by this?  Yes, I am.  Does that stop my from driving him?  No, it does not.  Because while I have the best of intentions, there are still those moments when my 4 year old daughters are still wearing the pjs, we are very close to being late, and it’s pouring down rain.  On those days, it is so much easier to toss the kids in the car and drive to the school.

The problem is that my weakness for driving has not gone unnoticed by my children, especially Daughter B.  Everyone says that she takes after her father, and she does in almost every way.  Every way, except for one.  Mark loves to walk.  He would walk for hours and miles.  He has made me walk all over every major city we’ve visited, from San Francisco in the rain to Paris in the snow.  He walks everywhere he can.  I, however, do not love walking and neither does Daughter B.  She hates to walk even more than I do…and that says something.  And so it goes that on the mornings when I do decide that we will walk to school, she is quick to complain.

“Mommy, we take car today?”

“No, we’re going to walk.”

“NOOOOO, we don’t walk.  We take car!!!!!!”  She screams at me as I drag her out the door (and she continues to scream this at me halfway down the street).

This interaction does nothing to strengthen my walking resolve.

One day, we were watching “Sid, the Science Kid” on television.  Sid was talking about taking care of the environment.  Sid and his Mom decide to walk to school because it’s good for the earth, and Sid says, “It’s better to walk than drive!”  This gives me an idea.  The next morning, as we head out the door and Daughter B asks if we are driving, I reply,

“No, remember what Sid said?  It’s better to walk than drive!”

She looks at me, smiles and says, “Oh yes Mommy, you’re right.”  And we walk all the way to school and back without one tear.  I’m feeling really proud of myself, the way parents feel when they think they’ve outsmarted their kids.   That afternoon, we are getting ready to pick up my son from school, and Daughter B says to me,

“Are we driving?”

“No, remember what Sid said?”  I ask her, thinking that this one sentence is the answer to all my prayers.

“Yes, Sid said ‘It’s better to walk, then drive.” she says proudly.  “We walked before, now we drive!”

For a moment, I’m confused.  Then I realize that we have a communication problem.

“No sweetie, Sid didn’t say walk then drive, he said, ‘it’s better to walk than drive.’ ”  I try to explain.  But she doesn’t understand the difference between these two words and bursts into tears as she realizes that we are, in fact, walking.  She cries the entire way there and I grow more and more frustrated as I try explaining the English language to her.  Thanks for nothing, Sid.

It’s not that I don’t understand that driving the car to the school is bad for the environment.  I understand that walking is better than driving.  I also understand that buying local produce is better, and using eco friendly cleaning products is better.  I understand it and I really do want to live a greener life.  But what I’ve come to realize is this:  The decision to be green does not, by itself, make you green.  There’s the decision to be green, and then there’s the commitment to being green…and those are two very different things.

And isn’t that the truth about most things in life.  I’ve decided on more than one occasion to lose 15 pounds.  But guess what?  Those 15 pounds are still here.  Because the decision alone doesn’t make those 15 pounds go away.  And until I’m actually committed to losing them, they will continue to hang around.  Deciding something is really just about intention.  I have the intention to lose 15 pounds, I have the intention to exercise more.  I also have the intention to be a better parent, the intention to procrastinate less and stop wasting time on Facebook and web surfing.  I have the intention to be green and take care of the earth.  But the intention alone, the decision alone, just doesn’t cut it.  Because all of those things take a daily commitment.  They require action, not just thought.  If I really want to exercise more (and procrastinate less and be green all at the same time), I need to get up from my desk, put on my tennis shoes, and walk to the local farmers’ market where I can buy some locally grown produce.  Just sitting here and thinking about it makes me feel good but doesn’t achieve anything.

One of my favorite movies is “Keeping the Faith,” with Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman.  If you haven’t seen it before, stop reading this blog and go find it on Netflix or something.  About three quarters of the way through the movie, Edward Norton (who is playing a priest) is talking to another priest, Father Havel, about priesthood and marriage.  Father Havel says,

“The truth is you can never tell yourself there is only one thing you could be. If you are a priest or if you marry a woman it’s the same challenge. You cannot make a real commitment unless you accept that it’s a choice that you keep making again and again and again.”

Real commitment to anything doesn’t just happen once.  You have to recommit to it again and again by the decisions you make.  Does that mean that one poor decision means you’ve failed at your commitment?  If I drive the kids to school once in a while instead of walking, does that mean that I’ve completely failed at being green?  Not any more then eating a cookie once in a while means that I’ve failed at leading a healthy life (not that I’m claiming to lead an incredibly healthy life, but that’s a blog post for another day!).  For me, being green isn’t about one decision…it’s about the sum of all my decisions.  Every decision I make is an opportunity to be green.   Sometimes I’ll choose the green option, and sometimes I won’t.  But with every decision, every choice, I get the chance to try again.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, Tammy! You got to the core of the matter and did a terrific job verbalizing it. I do think that the commitment is the first step, and I think that we recommit to many things in little ways, every day. But, I also like that you realize that “slipping” every once in a while doesn’t make you a hypocrite. I love to walk, and I’m pretty green, but I’d rather sleep late. 🙂 And that’s the sad truth…!

    • Thank you so much! I feel like it’s so easy to get discouraged when, on the path to trying to do something, be something, or change something, we slip up. We beat ourselves up over one misstep, rather than feeling proud of the decisions we make that move us closer to our goals. Sticking to our commitments can be tough. But it seems to me that the most difficult commitments are often the most worthwhile.
      Oh, and I’m definitely with you about the sleeping late! 🙂

      • Well put, Tammy. I’m pretty good at beating myself up, too! But, I think one key to sticking to our commitments and not getting discouraged is knowing ourselves. For instance–I KNEW that I really can’t get out of bed in the morning and that I was going to sleep right through the extra 20 minustes it would take to walk my boys to school in the morning, so I just did not get down on myself for that. But, we walked home in the afternoon. 🙂

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