clean water

I Never Wanted To Teach, But I Won’t Pass Up A Teaching Moment

On this isolated beach in the Galapagos, we found hundreds of fragments of plastic. Sad, but a perfect teaching moment.

I spend a lot of time in the car with my kids. It’s one of my favorite ways to connect with them because they’re a captive audience. Tonight’s topic of conversation was the state of the planet. What can I say? Sometimes we talk about what’s better — Thor’s hammer or Captain America’s shield? Sometimes we talk about potential flooding from eventual global warming. It all evens out. Tonight’s topic started with a plastic bottle of water in the car.

“Remember when we were in Ecuador and we couldn’t drink water from the tap in that nice hotel?” Joe asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Why was that?”

“Well, it was because the water that comes from the tap there isn’t as clean as the water that comes from the tap in our house,” I replied.

“Do the Ecuadorians drink their own tap water?” he continued.

“I would guess some do. I would guess many others buy bottled water because it’s safer for drinking,” I said, recalling an article I recently read in the New York Times, which stated that residents of Mexico City spend as much as 10% of their income on five-gallon bottles of drinking water because they don’t trust the city’s water supply.

“Do you realize,” I continued, “how lucky we are to have such a clean, safe, continuous supply of water delivered to our home day in and day out? Do you remember when we were watching The Amazing Race and the racers were in Tanzania and they saw all those people on line in town to fill up their water bottles for the day? That’s how it is for many people in this world. Not everyone has the luxury of turning on the tap and getting fresh water. Many of them have to go fetch it and bring it home, if they can get it at all,” I told them.

“I would hate it if we had to carry water home just to take a shower,” Joe said.

“I would too. You realize that when we shower, we’re using the same clean, safe water we have to drink, right?”

“We’re showering in our drinking water?” Joe said incredulously.

“Sure. It’s the same water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes, and watering our lawn,” I told him.

“That’s stupid,” Joe said. “We should use other water for showering and watering the grass and save the good water for drinking,” he said.

Yes! End scene. That’s exactly the thought I was hoping he would get to. At least he showed some glimmer of recognition that safe drinking water is a precious commodity. Will that stop him from taking his 15 minute shower tomorrow morning? Well, that remains to be seen. But, at least it’s in his head now.

These teaching moments with my boys are sacred to me. I appreciate when I’m handed the opportunity to remind them how lucky we are and how precious our planet is. When possible, I try to steer our car conversations so they become thought provoking ones. I regularly tell Joe and Luke that they need to be thinking about creating alternative energy sources, cleaning up the gyres in the ocean, and finding new means of getting people clean water because, unfortunately, we still need solutions to the problems that generations before theirs have created and perpetuated yet have not been able to fix. I remind them that they’re the future of the planet.

I won’t lie. I’ve also told them that there will be oodles of money for the inventors, scientists, and business people who come up with and market the solutions to these problems. I like to keep them motivated. Even if my smart kids aren’t the ones who will solve the world’s problems someday, I hope that talking to them now about these things might just make them more planet-responsible adults. And, heaven knows, this planet could use more of those. Maybe I’ve been watching too many socially pointed animated features, but I really don’t want to end up like the critters in the waterless town of Dirt in Rango…dancing in the town center and singing an old Hank Williams tune about “cool, clear water.”