June 12, 2011

American Mom.

I’m a normal American Mom. I drop my son at school, hurry to yoga class, swap kids stories with the bank teller, and destroy the Earth.

I wait in the school pick up line with the A/C running. I rest my head and close my eyes and an image comes to mind.  It’s been haunting me, accompanying me wherever I go. It’s a bird, oil covered and struggling in the surf.  The waves crash over him, his tar soaked wings are powerless. He suffocates.  I open my eyes and shake the image away.

The Yoga Sutras say the most difficult task is training the mind. Yoga teaches us to observe thoughts, note if they serve us, and release them. But as much as I try, I can’t release this haunting imagery.

My son jumps into the back seat and tells me about his day on our drive to the grocery store. I search the trunk for my re-useable bags, wipe down my shopping cart until it is 99.9% germ free, and roll into the produce section.

There was a time when I took pride in shopping with my little boy. He flirted with the female employees and snacked on pretzels blissfully unaware that SpongeBob and Tony the Tiger existed. But recently, he started watching television and has been transformed by the all-powerful Commercial. “Hey, I saw that on TV!” is his new catchphrase and I cringe if anyone can overhear.

By the time we get to the cereal aisle I’ve repeated “No honey, that’s junk” five times. I realize how confusing it is for him. The television advises that if he doesn’t eat it, own it or wear it, he isn’t worthy, yet his Mama, who loves him, says no.  Again, I repeat the junk mantra as we pass the monster trucks at the end of the aisle.

Finally, I agree to ice cream. A voice in my head prompts me to buy the organic, locally made from grass fed cows, low sugar ice cream. Abruptly, an image of a dolphin, stranded, on oil-smudged sand, enters my mind. His eyes bleeding and his mouth agape. My son drops the pint of chocolate ice cream into the cart and the clatter awakens me from the spell.

Conveniently located at children’s eye level is a tempting display of sparkly, plastic, ice cream scoopers. “Mom, can I please have that?  It’s not a toy and its not junk food”. I relent. I can’t say no again.  “Yeah” he cheers and tosses it on the top of the groceries, like a cherry on a Sundae.

This time, my unwelcome traveler shows up, in the checkout line. I imagine a pelican mired in a pool of oil, his eyes glazed. I feel anxious and struggle for a deep breath. I pick up the scooper, glittering on the top of my grocery pile. “Sweetie, we are not going to get this. We can scoop with a spoon. Let’s be grateful for the ice cream and let that be our special treat. The more I think about it, the more I know we need to put this back.”

“Well” he responds, “I know what to do Mom. Just stop thinking”.

Stop thinking, this is what we do. If we don’t like the news we change the channel or close the window on the desktop. We stop thinking because the alternative is to take responsibility for our choices and see our role in last year’s gulf disaster.

We are overwhelmed with labels to read, precautions to take and problems in the world. We stop thinking and convince ourselves that the government wouldn’t put it on the shelves if it were unsafe. This assumption that someone else’s choices are good for us requires less effort. We don’t care where or how things are made and disposed of. We only look to our immediate gratification and this lack of awareness has created a cheap, disposable society.

Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff project explains how this attitude was deliberately designed for us.   During the Depression era, President Eisenhower enacted a strategy called “planned obsolesce” to stimulate the economy.

Things were purposefully manufactured to last only long enough for us not to loose faith in the company.  This combined with perceived obsolescence, rapidly changing trends in appearance, fashion and electronics, created a wasteful attitude, furthered by the media and advertisements.

Leonard brilliantly points out, “After 9/11, when the country was in shock, our president didn’t advise us to grieve, pray or hope but instead told us to shop.”

Victor Lebow a retail analyst during Eisenhower’s presidency said; “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever accelerating rate.”

Little more than a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Scientists are still studying the effects of the toxic dispersants that were injected and the troubling photographs are no longer splashed across our televisions and Internet screens.

We don’t know what is happening below the surface and how our ocean has been altered.  The question is: Has it altered you?

The devastation in the Gulf can serve as our wake up call. Let the images serve us and teach us that every choice has a consequence. If we develop a consciousness about our choices and our consumption, we honor the finite resources of our planet and all the living things.

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Other pieces by Marylee:  The Princess Of Garbage DaySing Out, Clara, and Letter From A Bully.

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