Day to day I don’t always notice the ways that my kids have integrated the values they have learned from me into their lives, but every now and then something happens and I get to see real evidence that the lessons I have taught my children have gotten through. It is in these brief moments, that I see the fruits of my labor and I find peace knowing that I have done something right.
I was lucky enough to have just such an experience last month.
Let me preface this by saying that along with all the typical values and morals I have tried to impart to my children: honesty, kindness, independence, thoughtfulness, resilience, courage, diligence, perseverance, I have also spent a great deal of time trying to teach them to care for and protect our natural environment.
It started in infancy with bedtime readings of the Lorax, then toddler bug investigations in the backyard. In preschool days we spent afternoons in our vegetable garden- seeing the magic of putting a tiny seed into the dirt and then harvesting a spicy, red, round radish just 30 days later. As my kids grew, we embarked on hiking and camping adventures and learned the principle of “Leave no trace”. All along, I have tried to show my kids the wonder and beauty of nature and surround them with other adults who helped them learn to appreciate and protect the environment.
My kids have been lucky enough to participate in so many fantastic, fun, engaging, hands-on FOR education programs: summer camps, field trips, and outdoor labs. (I really can not explain in words just how incredibly awesome and creative our FOR education team is.) We always say that our education efforts are creating the next generation of Rappahannock River Stewards. I can attest that these efforts have succeeded.
April 3, 2022: a chilly, windy Sunday afternoon. My 15-year-old daughter and I were running a quick errand to a cell phone store in a busy strip mall. As we drove into the parking lot, we were confronted with trash. Not just a few pieces, but an entire trashcan’s worth. Paper napkins, facemasks, plastic bags, and fast food cups were blowing all over. My daughter, who like most typical teenagers, has a messy room- where her gray shag carpet is barely visible beneath the piles of papers and clothes, looked at me and said, “Mom, there is so much trash! Ugh! What are we going to do?” At this point, I was laser-focused on getting to the store before it closed and didn’t fully allow myself to appreciate the fact that my teenage daughter wanted to take action. It wasn’t until we were in the store waiting in line that my mind started truly processing this moment. My daughter was looking out the window, “Mom, you know all this trash is going to end up in the river and then in the bay, and if we don’t pick it up no one else will.” I looked down at my clothes: I was wearing heels and a cream-colored coat. We didn’t have work gloves or litter grabbers or even a trash bag. But at this moment, none of that mattered. We walked out of the store and found a large blue plastic shopping bag floating along the sidewalk- this was our make-shift trash bag. We found a few smaller bags to serve as our gloves and we got to work chasing cup lids and receipts and crumpled wads of paper and collecting them in our bag. One of us watched for traffic while the other one grabbed trash from between parked cars. It was gross and embarrassing to be chasing around bits of litter in a busy shopping center, but we did it.
When we had filled our trash bag. We looked around the cleaner parking lot and we both felt better. She felt better because keeping our Rappahannock free of pollution is important to her and she knew that what we had done was going to help keep the river and its inhabitants healthy. I felt better because I realized that I am raising a child who will take responsibility and make a difference in the world.
It takes a village to raise a child. I am so grateful that my village includes river-loving educators and advocates who are helping me raise kids who will take care of their mother…earth.
Written by Katie Pomeroy, Membership Coordinator