Once upon a time, not too long ago, I shopped, cooked, and cleaned for myself. And I don't just mean myself, as in there was no one else in my family. I mean myself as if there was no one else in the world. I drove my car two blocks to buy overpriced coffee in a Styrofoam cup wrapped in a cardboard cozy. Cleaning my apartment meant spraying the entire place with disinfectant that I wiped up with a roll of paper towels while drinking bottled water and chain-smoking Marlboro Lights. And recycling? Does nursing a raging hangover with day-old Chinese food count?
Then I got pregnant.
From the moment two pink lines appeared on a stick, I was catapulted from a bottled water-drinking chain-smoker to an organic-obsessed, "holistic"-Googling activist for my expanding belly and its tenant. I had never been so motivated to do so much for someone else. After kids came—two beautiful, energetic, hilarious, exhausting boys—I woke up every day with only one mission in mind: "I will create a pristine environment in which my children can play, learn, and grow." But despite having written Eco-Friendly Families (a book with ideas on how to save the environment), despite my best intentions, despite my enthusiasm and expertise, I felt like a big fat failure.
The solution, I thought, was to do more. I dug in, expecting more from myself and my family. And that led to the breaking point. One evening, instead of reminding my boys to conserve water when they brush their teeth, I stormed into the bathroom and shouted, "Turn off the damn water already! Don't you care about the polar bears!?"
I had gone from eco-menace to eco-maniac. Was this what going green had become? Blaming my toddler and preschooler for melting ice caps? Scaring my kids into turning off the water while they brush their teeth might get them to do it out of fear, but it won't inspire them to adopt this lifestyle. And, ultimately, that's the idea—to want to do this. If we view sustainable living as an enjoyable lifestyle, we will be more likely to stick to the program and help our planet.
The night I blamed my children for global warming, I went to bed realizing that I was making everyone, including myself, crazy. The key, it turns out, is not to do more. It is, simply, to do less, better. With that mantra still ringing in my ears the next morning, I set my sights on a kinder, gentler green mission. Instead of trying to carry the weight of the entire green movement on my shoulders, I would focus on making a handful of meaningful changes with the help of my children. And you can too.