I Didn’t Think Twice About My Plastic Habit . . . Until My Second Grader Made Me

Getty / Elva Etienne

It started out innocently. “Look, Grace!” I said, proudly showing my 7-year-old an Instagram featuring Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech about plastics and global warming, in which the Swedish teen warned we could still act quickly. As I narrated the climate crisis for my kid, Grace had tons of questions. She wanted to know why the world’s adults didn’t change their behavior. Didn’t they realize the seriousness of our situation? She was asking the obvious questions, and I was embarrassed it took a child to point out the things we should have realized.

“People only do what they have to do, Grace,” I intoned, meanwhile thinking to myself, “I’m killing it at this parenting thing. She’ll be passionate about making a better world!” I pictured my child giving her own fiery UN speech someday, while I cheered in the background in a designer business suit.

“So why are you still using all those plastics?” Grace’s small but accusatory voice cut into my fantasy. “Me?!” I answered. “Well, I’ve got my reusable bags in the back of the car . . .” “No,” Grace answered, pointing to my Starbucks cup and its green plastic straw. “That,” she said. “Mommy, that’s bad. You’re not doing everything you can, are you?” Uh, no, no I was not.

And so it was that I was shamed into reexamining my eco-alibis. Sure, I had improved: My supply of reusable bags verged on epic. But when it came to single-use plastics, my footprint came with a thud. While I had bought myself a Hydro Flask for the gym, I disregarded it for disposable mini waters from Costco. Worse, I didn’t want coffee to mess up my teeth-whitening rituals, and had been enjoying my disposable coffee cups and whale-harming plastic straws without regard for the greater good – until Grace.

The shame was there, but having admitted my bad deeds, I had freedom to forgive myself and do better. I bought reusable straws and washable Starbucks to-go mugs. I gave up my plastic water bottle habit, but I’m human and sometimes slip up and forget to bring my cup to a coffeehouse – but I have Grace to remind me every time. “Mommy, what is this?!!” she asked recently, the telltale mermaid-embossed cup rolling around the car floor. “We can’t be wasteful because I want to have a land to live in when I grow up,” she lectured. I was simultaneously awed and chastened by her stern words.

I want that for her, too. I’m so glad Grace is a kid who cares deeply about the future – I want her to be the kind of kid who sees something wrong and does what she can to make it right, including her insistence on using recycled napkins and my nice stainless steel forks in her lunchbox.

For a middle-class mom like me, there’s so much to worry about, from social media to how the hell we’ll pay college tuition. But the thought that Grace’s generation may not accept business as usual gives me hope. So I’m willing to try anything, and yes, to change, to ensure Grace gets her wish. After all, a safe Mother Earth to walk on with her big-girl adult shoes is the very least my brilliant daughter should expect.

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