I come from a family that is very eco-conscious. I, too, want to do my part to help the environment, reduce my carbon footprint, and help improve the quality of the air and the earth around me.
I am also the mother to two children under the age of five, who are very attached to their favorite plastic straws. When I pulled one of them out of my diaper bag the other day, my brother audibly gasped and said, full of dismay, "Tell me you're not using disposable straws." One would have thought I'd grown a second head or suddenly sprouted wings. The very next day, he and his fiancee showed up on my doorstep with a reusable straw and water bottle in tow.
They've never bought me anything so meaningful and personal, so I knew the gift was full of meaning. I'm happy to report that we seamlessly made the switch and my kids have never once questioned the difference in drinking instrument.
That's not to say that I haven't noticed a slight shift in myself. In my college years, I could create bags of waste and never think twice about it. I took too-long showers and lugged cases of water bottles up to my fifth-floor dorm room, never once considering the harm I was doing. Yet, all of that inconsideration changed when I had my first baby.
Suddenly, it wasn't just my world I was living in. It was hers. Then, when my son was born two years later, it was his, too. I felt an ingrained sense of responsibility to make sure I was creating a home, environment and planet that was the best for them. I researched baby shampoos until my eyes crossed trying to find one that was free of parabens and all harmful chemicals. I stayed up all night making containers of homemade baby food because I was convinced that the store-bought brands weren't healthy enough. I was a mama on a mission, and nothing could stop me.
Then, those babies became toddlers. Preschool started. There were dance lessons, playdates, library storytimes, worksheets and more to juggle. It was all I could do to make it through the day without retreating into the laundry room (the only room with a door that locked) and sitting against the door taking deep, calming breaths while the little ones played in the living room and made a general ruckus of everything I had tried to neatly contain.
As I became more harried and more overwhelmed, my eco-consciousness began to wane. I began using more disposable items because they were quicker to grab. We ate off paper plates because I didn't want to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes. I made up a million and one excuses for my behavior, which was growing increasingly shameful as the rest of my family was taking on a newfound interest in all things green.
My brother, already the most nature-loving relative among us, became a vegetarian and has remained that way for more than a year. He bikes to his work 10 miles each way and goes on long hikes, dictionary in hand, whenever he can. He hired a repairman to fine-tune his HVAC system so it's more efficient and draws less energy from the house. He even convinced our uncle, his landlord, to allow him to install solar panels on the family homeplace down the road where he lives. Since then, he's told us anecdotes about energy savings, efficiency and waste. It's been eye-opening, to say the least.
It's also convinced me to find a way to balance the two sides of my psyche: the one that wants to be as good as possible to this Earth, and the one who is honestly just in a hurry and trying to hold it all together until dinnertime. I'm seeking to consume less, create less waste and use reusable items, such as straws, whenever possible.
I may not be able to commit to cycling with my two children in tow every time we want to visit the library or trek to the museum across town. I might not be at a place in my life where I can go on mile-long hikes with the kids in a carrier (I know it's possible. I just don't think my inherited bad back can conquer it quite yet.) But, I can do small things that make a big difference, and I can wake up every day committed to getting it right. For the planet. For myself. For them.