In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon, and three little bears sitting on chairs, and a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush, and tons of stuff. Way, way too much stuff. At least there’s too much stuff in my family’s great room, which I was cleaning it out recently in my Sisyphean effort to simplify, simplify, when I found our stash of Goodnight Moons — three copies, one for each of my girls. The belovedly battered board books, some with teeth marks and crayon scribbles, all with naked, gray edges, were baby gifts from tender days long ago, and though I haven’t cracked their cardboard spines in years, finding them is like stumbling on a maternal Proustian madeleine.
That little rabbit in his blue striped PJs unleashes memories of sweet cuddles and exhausted nights, when my girls, their damp hair smelling of Johnson’s No More Tears, delighted in finding the little mouse on each page as the bunny’s bedroom grew darker and darker. Like every other parent, I’ve served my time with Margaret Wise Brown’s anesthetizing classic: “Good night comb, good night brush. Good night to the old lady whispering hush.” Yes, hush; after 500 weary reads, please hush.
In the same overgrown trove of puzzles and books I also found our forgotten copy of Boom Baby Moon, the hilarious parody that tromps through a 1990s era nursery bidding bon soir to the fancy-dancy humidifier and space-age plastic pacifier and all the other pricey paraphernalia that us Yuppie parents bought for our well-outfitted offspring. And it dawned on me that an updated version might be equally over-the-top, only with a different slant. “Good night recycled plastic comb and natural bristle brush, good night red bamboo thread sheets and organic stone-ground whole-grain mush. Good night solar-powered baby swing and renewable forest wooden blocks. Good night to the hip, young vegan babysitter whispering hush.”
Don’t get me wrong — the parody works because I’m right there too, fully implicated, a wannabe eco-mom in a minivan, doing my best to raise my kids, save the planet and make it to ballet pick-up on time. Long before I became a mom, I was an outdoorsy granola girl. My nickname in junior high was “tree” (granted, I was tall and my maiden name was Wood), and later in college, when I spent summers on the trail leading an adventure camp, it was “wheat bread.” As a child I claimed my own great green room, down at the end of our street, high in the perches of old Mrs. Kearns’ magnificent magnolia. I’d spend hours in that timbered loft, hidden by the glossy, deep green leaves. Sometimes I pretended I was a sailor on lookout atop a tall mast, other times I just quietly watched and listened to the birds and squirrels, letting my imagination branch out as I climbed the sturdy limbs. There I found solitude and connectedness, independence and interdependence, and recognized, even from my limited child’s perspective, that in this “room,” things were of a different order.
That’s the room I want to know better and bring my kids up in — the great green room where the wild things are, where there is no telephone or red balloon, where wide-eyed wonder and amazement compel me to hush. The irony is disconcerting: motherhood may be my greatest greenest motivation — looking into the grand canyon of my child’s eyes is the only reason I need to be environmentally responsible, yet my day-to-day carbon footprint has more bunions than ever. Breastfeeding was my ultimate lesson in the principles and value of the local-food, sustainable eating movement, but there are nights when the agri-business frozen lasagna is easier than biking to the farmer’s market.
My own inconvenient truth is that convenience often trumps intention when running a household with three kids on the go. Juice boxes, disposable diapers, too much driving around, overkill on $5 t-shirts from Old Navy — guilty as charged. I find myself in that quintessential motherhood spot, as familiar as the shady bench by the sandbox, where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, where guilt and anxiety cross-pollinate and optimism and frustration cancel each other out. In the most basic sense, the term “eco-mom” is an oxymoron. As Donella Meadows of Vermont’s Sustainability Institute said, “From the earth’s point of view, it’s not all that important which kind of diaper you use. The important decision was having the baby.”
Yes, it matters what light bulbs we use, what grocery bags we chose, what cars we drive, what food we buy, but being an eco-vigilant shopper is still being a shopper. I want to teach my children to recycle, reduce, and reuse, but even more, I want them to re-envision what it means to be connected to the natural world, not just a consumer of it. I want them to tune into the real live Planet Earth where the wind blows and the sea salt dries crusty on their skin, not just “Planet Earth” (excellent BBC production though it is) on the Discovery Channel.
I yearn to be green in the sense of the word that means new, fresh, full of vitality, even naïve. Green as in fledgling, trying hard, amateur — which, of course, in Latin means lover. I want to be a lover stumbling around with new, unsteady legs, in the great green room carpeted in moss and lilies, draped in awe, lit with star shine (unimpeded by light pollution), with a picture of a cow (grass-fed, no antibiotics) jumping over a bright, rising moon. It is a great green room, and it’s not a tired bedtime story, but an urgent wake-up call. Let’s go explore it.