Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Through Green-Tinted Glasses: An Accidentally Earth-Friendly Childhood

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Vintage green!
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month we're writing about being green — both how green we were when we were young and how green our kids are today. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants

My childhood has never stricken me as particularly green. Surrounded by verge, yes (I lived in the Pacific Northwest).  But Green as in Earth Conscience? Like the spotted-owl advocates? Nope. That wasn't my family's mission. However, for the purposes of this month’s natural parenting carnival, I've taken a contemplative nature hike down memory lane. And lo and behold:  you don’t even have to squint that much before you can indeed see the Green.

We weren't green in the solar panels, low VOC paint, free range eggs sort of way. We were green in a more traditional way. The way called Being Poor. When I showed up at birthday parties proffering small gifts wrapped in Sunday's funny papers it wasn't because I was being taught to reuse/recycle but because wrapping paper was a luxury we couldn't afford. I wore hand-me-downs, not because we were boycotting sweatshops but because they [kind of] fit and they were free. My toys came from garage sales, my books from the library. I did homework compositions on the backside of discarded dot-matrix printer paper my father would bring home from his office. Nowadays you can live like a queen while being green. But back when I was little we weren't trying to live it up, we were scraping on by. And though saving the environment may not have been our motivation, we were nevertheless being conservative with our limited resources and taking up a smaller footprint than other American families at the time.
I remember my mother regaling us with stories of my parents' first (and at that time: only) trip to Hawaii. The sun, the surf and, the part that affected us children the most, the food. She told us that it was there, in the lap of Pacific Island splendor, that she was first introduced to a decadent, exotic concoction:  chili served atop a bed of rice. A recipe she often recreated for us.  I may not have always been thrilled with a[nother] dinner of beans and rice, but I did enjoy the idea I was being served cuisine relished by the king and queen of Hawaii. It never once occurred to me that we were eating the dish not because my mother was training us to live as Hawaiian royalty but because beans and rice are an inexpensive, healthy meal (low on the food chain).  

I don't recall questioning why, rather than purchasing Kleenex, we young children were provided with "snoot rags" (old, thin cloth diapers). At the time it just kind of made sense. You'd use the snoot rag as you would an oversized handkerchief (this was back in the day when children still knew what a handkerchief was) blowing into and using up each section carefully until it could absorb no more, and then you'd toss it in the wash pile and get yourself a clean rag. Perfect sense. 

Even my family's reluctance to purchase over the counter medicine, though surely motivated by an empty pocketbook, ends up cast in a green light when you consider the alternatives we tried before taking a trip to the pharmacy. When we had colds we were encouraged to gargle with salt water (hated that!), sleep with a humidifier (comforting) and to drink hot water with lemon and honey (a treat!). As I remember it, it was only after that regimen that, if still ill, we were dosed with Robitussin. I have no doubt my body's immune system is better for it. 

Reconsidering my childhood through the lens of conservation and cleverness rather than of poverty, I find new inspiration. I can't do all my family's shopping at Whole Foods, but I can show my daughter how to plant and grow [at least some of] our own organic produce.  And if we cannot buy a hybrid vehicle so be it;  but let's maintain the cars we already have so they'll last. It's simple, the idea to reduce, recycle, reuse. But I'd kind of forgotten it, sitting in the shadow of the Buy Green message that's so prevalent nowadays. . . But I'm encouraged. If my childhood could be so green without even trying (indeed, without me even noticing!) then surely raising my daughter to be environmentally conscious won't be as difficult as I've feared.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama


Hobo Mama March 9, 2010 at 5:51 AM  

You are hilarious! I totally love the vibe of being green because of a commitment to something else (such as, living within one's means) not because you're buying the latest and greatest free-range and low-emission products. I need to keep reminding myself of this, every time I'm tempted to buy something new that will supposedly be more environmentally friendly than something old I have — like buying fancy green cleaners to replace my vinegar and water!

Earth Mama March 9, 2010 at 8:21 AM  

Oh lovely, lovely post!! What an inspiration to remind us to reduce, recycle, reuse instead of always going 'trendy green'!!!


Dionna @Code Name: Mama March 9, 2010 at 9:27 AM  

(snort) Snoot rags. I'm going to have to start using that one, since we do the same thing in our house ;)

I'm beginning to get the feeling that we should have described the carnival this month as "how did being poor cause your family to go green," because it seems to be a common thread for many of us!

Molly March 9, 2010 at 1:30 PM  

Oh, my gosh, we had snot rags, too! I just love the sound of it. It TOTALLY takes me back to my childhood. How funny is that?

We're struggling financially right now and I have to admit, besides the stress of trying to juggle due dates and postal service times (**Sigh**) I'm relishing all the new "green" aspects this life brings. And I realized I got kinda lazy living like a queen. I don't want to raise my daughter to be unaware!

But, to your point, I don't think kids really realize it until they are grown and gone. They just think that's the way 'tis.

Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 6:23 PM  

I really like the idea of snoot rags! I have a ton of thin cloth diapers (previously used for spit up) that I have nothing to do with and Peanut currently has a bit of a runny nose. I've been feeling guilty that I throw away so many kleenexs (because you can really only get one wipe with those thin things) and this is the perfect solution! Thanks!

Melodie March 9, 2010 at 7:10 PM  

We eat a lot of beans and rice too, but I've never considered telling my kids that it's the food of royalty. I think I might do that next time though. Always good to at least make dinner time more fun. Thanks, I really enjoyed this post!

Paige March 9, 2010 at 7:42 PM  

oh Kleenex were huge luxuries in my house too! And paper towels. We used cloth for things like that. Everything is disposable now! Not only is it not green but it is a waste of money! Thanks for the great post.

BluebirdMama March 9, 2010 at 9:39 PM  

We were on the same page this month. I love the idea that we can Live Green rather than Buy Green. Very nicely put.

And yeah, a lot of the motivation in my family was financial too and as a kid that may have been embarrassing but now, it's kind of a source of pride.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

Growing up in the Caribbean, I had a handkerchief because that's what every kid took to school. I remember using up every square inch of it before throwing it in the wash. I don't use a handkerchief anymore but I still try to use every square inch of tissue before throwing it in the trash. Old habits die hard.

the grumbles March 12, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

Sounds like it's past time for a revival of the handkerchief! I could get on board with that. At my husband's grandmother's funeral they handed out her delicate lacy little handkerchiefs to all the ladies as keepsakes. I loved it!

Anonymous March 12, 2010 at 1:27 PM  

I love this post and find myself thinking about things we did when we were young that, looking back, was because we didn't have a lot of money either - but we really never new it. Thrift and caring for things you already have sometimes seems to be perceived as "old fashioned" - but you are right...good and useful ways/things are never out-dated. I love you for remembering and reminding all of us about that.

Love, Mom P

Elizabeth White March 12, 2010 at 6:08 PM  

One memory that I cherish was when you taught me how to make little stick dolls using: of course sticks, twine, and a smooth flat rock for the head...dressing them in seasonal flowers. I loved it.

Darcel March 12, 2010 at 8:17 PM  

Great post! We also wore hand me downs, as do my girls. I love going to thrift stores, too.
Hopefully someday we'll be able to row our own garden.

seekingmother March 13, 2010 at 9:05 AM  

It is amazing how looking through a different framework can give you a new perspective on aspects of your childhood. I knew that we were poor and that we were just scraping by, but I didn't have a parent as clever as yours, shaping your minds to be more positive about your options. Going green these days is very expensive when you consider all of the new products that are out there to help us achieve a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. But there are so many thing, with which many of us are familiar, that are both affordable and green. Your voice is wonderful to read.

Anonymous March 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM  

This was so beautiful, simple and inspiring. Thanks for the reminder that living greenly is about taking up less space and living simply, and not about following fads.

Stephanie March 23, 2010 at 8:47 AM  

I really enjoyed this post.
Poignant and sweet, in a "To Kill a Mockingbird" sort of way. :)

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