28 May 2016
Waste-free living and the anxious kid
Once upon a time, when I was very small, I had trouble sleeping at night. I worried about all sorts of irrational things, like falling THROUGH the bed. Not off, but through it - like a sieve. Then, as I got a little older, around about Little Owlet's age, I became more aware of the world around me and just how very small I was in it. I worried about everyone in my family dying and I worried about my pets… Things you'd expect a 10yo kid to be worried about. Then, one hot January night, I started worrying about the electric fan in my room as it gently whirred in the corner.
I'd cringe every time the cool breeze blew over me. Although it brought relief from the heat, there was a growing awareness of my responsibility in having this one fan blow cool air on me all night. In the next room, my sister slept while a similar fan whirred in the corner. And then I started to think about all the other kids in their bedrooms with fans blowing on them. I heard a neighbour's air conditioner humming and I thought of all the other air conditioners humming in my town. In my part of the world, which was experiencing a heat wave. I thought about the supermarkets with their refrigerators working overtime to keep the ice cream cool. Then I remembered that on the other side of the world it was the depths of winter. My friend had recently sent me a postcard from the snow. There would be heaters working overtime there.
As I lay there, the sound of the fan got louder and louder, ringing in my ears until I almost couldn't breathe. With my heart racing, I crept through the silent, dark house to see if anyone else was similarly alarmed, but Dad's loud snoring indicated this wasn't keeping him up. So I crept back to my bed. Tossed and turned for a bit, then I snuck out from under the sheet, switched the fan off and crept back to bed. Relief. Able to rest for the fact that at least I wasn't part of the problem quite so much this time. But what still bothered me was that overwhelming feeling of being so small. Not that my family wouldn't listen or care, they would, of course. But I'm not sure they even knew. I couldn't really put into words the overwhelming sense of urgency and helplessness. That my silent act had very little impact. And that our world was slowly dying.
Fast forward 30 years and, if I let my mind wander on those long nights, I can find myself in a similar state. Things are worse now. More people, more air conditioners, more plastic, more pollution. Our government is doing very little about it. I have three owlets of my own now, who are aware of the problems. One is similar to me and is kept up at night thinking about all sorts of things when all is silent, often teary about her family dying and our planet. Our beautiful, doomed earth. I whisper to her that we are all connected, all of us stardust, and the positive energy that flows between us will help. She worries that it's not enough.
Now, when we lie awake at night, we use that time to make plans. Not to think about what we can't do, but what we can. Late night listening and thinking lead us to a family commitment to opt out of waste as much as we can. It lead to reducing our energy consumption and doing the very best we can to reduce our combined footprint. It has lead the owlets to all sorts of discussions with people we meet, about waste and "no straw, please", and "I'll take the cup home to re-use it, thanks", when they're handed plastic out and about. It's lead to our owlets becoming activists. It's lead to an understanding we all share, about consumption, and when enough is enough. About the impact each of us can make by taking responsibility for our part in it all. And it has lead to all of us sleeping just a little bit better at night. Even me.
Knowing at least three owlets from the next generation understand and care enough to take responsibility and to tell others... If that small, anxious kid with the fan had known. If she'd known she wasn't alone. That more were coming who would understand and want to change things... Maybe she'd have slept a little better too. Change is slow, but it's happening. I'm hoping more people step up to be part of it. That more children become aware of the problems and their urgency and what they can actively do about them. And that more of us hear them. Give them that space to know they can make a difference and speak up and do something. That they are doing something. Then rest, knowing that, just maybe, it's going to be okay.
Were you an anxious kid?
Or maybe you have one?
Was the environment ever something you worried about?
What helped you sleep at night?
Our Zero Waste Families e-course starts this week. For all the overwhelmed kids out there wanting to participate in something they can actively do to make a difference. We're here with you. It's going to be okay. xx