The Common Good

Hope from the Next Generation: Hey, There's Recycling on the Floor

090825-recycleThere's this place near our home called Kiddie Land. It's sort of this epic little corner nearish to the city that, for 80 some years, has boasted good times for kiddos. Think wooden roller coasters from the '30s, a wooden carousel, and rides that make you feel somehow like you are on a boardwalk in Atlantic City or someplace like that in the '20s. But then add to it like 100 million kids, sticky cotton candy, overflowing toilets, stale popcorn, and a half-hour wait to ride the train. ugh.

Kiddie Land is closing in September. This place, a little Chicago legend, is closing down and all of Chicago has decided to visit during the month of August. My mom and I stopped in, and while it was all giddy fun for most of the day, it was a lot of standing and sticking to things as well. They also serve unlimited soda. My kids freaked out. Big stuff this unlimited soda.

So after waiting in line for like seven days we finally hopped onto the Scrambler. My oldest looked down at the floor of the ride where an empty plastic water bottle had been discarded. "Look, mama," he said. "Someone left behind their recycling!"

Oh how I loved that. Never mind that someone lazy or careless left their trash on the floor of the Scrambler, for someone else to deal with, recycle, or more likely throw away. My 6-year-old looked down and saw recycling. He did not see trash.

He also keeps cereal boxes so that we can turn them into space ships. Old graham cracker boxes must always be reused, and forget ever even recycling something with a plastic lid. Wash the container and use it in the bathtub, he says.

Smart little planet-saver.

I told some friends the water bottle story. They said their kids have said similar things. They also noted that, thankfully, this generation of kids will likely grow up considerably more planet-savvy than we currently are. Sad that it takes a climate crisis to bring about this reality, but it is coming along anyway.

Most of us adults today are still wasteful, forgetful, and we all leave our trash on the floor of some Scrambler of our own. We drive more than we should, we leave lights on, we neglect leaky faucets, we decide that it is just too much work for corporations or businesses to change, so the average person just sighs and changes the channel.

We dismiss the warning signs; we say "hey, let's not get all depressed here with this climate talk, let's move on."

We worry more about the bottom line than the fact that our water sources are bottoming out.

We wear "green" T-shirts that were made in an Indonesian sweatshop.

But somehow, in all our adult inconsistencies, our kids are still figuring things out. They are still making wise decisions. They are starting to look at plastic and see it as recyclable. Starting to look at the ocean and see it as needing a little rescue.

Small things like this give me hope. They make me think that indeed, we can change things. And they make me nervous for the day when my son is old enough to demand an excuse as to why my generation lived like sloppy gluttons. The way I demand my parents account for the racism of the '50s, the way my parents demanded their parents account for two world wars, the way that generation demanded an explanation for slavery.

Each generation has an atrocity they must account for. We actually have lots of them, each generation.

This is one of ours. The fact that we stood around arguing and sucking down oil when all the evidence clearly pointed to our planetary demise. The fact that cases of asthma have pretty much doubled in the past 20 years and that according to the CDC, 5- to 17-year-olds will miss 14.7 million days of school this year because of asthma-related issues. Thank you CO2.

The fact that forests and glaciers are disappearing and we are watching them go. That when my kids are my age, they will likely not be able to see any glaciers at Glacier National Park (predicted to be gone by 2030) or the ice field atop Mt. Kilimanjaro (predicted to be gone by 2020). All because we really like SUVs, lots of AC, and strip malls.

I will have to answer for this. After Kiddie Land closes and that bottle has been (hopefully) turned into a park bench, I will have to answer to his generation about why I did not do enough.

Oh to be part of the solution. To be able to grab his little face and tell him that "Mommy did all she could." My heart soars at the chance to make this right while I still can. It starts by taking a very different approach to that bottle in the Scrambler. It starts by seriously, very seriously, looking at how we live and then actually doing something to change it.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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