Fireworks, Balance, and Struggling to Save the World Children

I had a dream-perfect Fourth of July (well, technically, Sixth of July).

We went as a family to watch fireworks. We set up a blanket and some chairs on a field along with many other families, I watched my children play and make new friends, we had food and drink, and we relaxed and lounged.

Then, when the sky finally darkened, my 3 year old daughter lay back from my lap into my chest, and we shared her first fireworks experience. Magical.

But…right alongside this, my 10 year old son watched the fireworks and expressed (repeatedly) his concern for the carbon dioxide pollution being released with the show. Oh boy. What have I created?

I’ve noticed my son taking more interest in social and environmental causes, lately. He called me out just a few weeks ago: I’d forgotten about our metal straws at a restaurant and had started using a plastic one, and he chastised me, “Hey Dad…I thought we were Struggling to Save the World together.” Burn.

I worry, though, that maybe he has taken things to heart a little too much. I don’t want him to be anxious and unable to enjoy life due to stress and anxiety about our environmental footprint. I don’t think he’s quite there, yet: I suspect some of that fireworks concern was more theatrical than genuine.

Still, this presented an opportunity to have some real discussion with my son about the real challenges we face, what we can do to really have the most impact on them, and also about having balance in our lives (and to not sweat the small stuff).

We looked up the real impact of fireworks. Carbon-wise, it’s not great, but our back of the envelope math showed that it is only a tiny fraction (hundredths or thousands) of our family footprint. Some of the other ingredients raining down from fireworks have bad environmental effects, though, and so we definitely support efforts to find substitutes and minimize our own individual use.

We talked about the big impact areas of our lives (e.g., what we eat and let go to waste, our home energy use, what we drive and where we go). We talked about small changes we could make to have an impact (as of the last week, he’s declared himself mostly vegetarian, but we’re still working on him to turn off the lights and ceiling fan behind him). And, we talked about how we could advocate for structural changes that could have even bigger impacts.

We also talked about the need for balance. That’s something that I have to remind myself of, too. We should all strive to create a better world for ourselves, our fellow beings, and our descendants. But, we should also allow ourselves the latitude to enjoy our lives. If we focus on making the bigger impact changes, we can relax a bit and forgive ourselves for the smaller transgressions.

I am proud that I am raising a son that cares about the world in which he lives. My hope for him is that he will continue his passion for doing good, and that he will cultivate his own healthy balance as he, too, struggles to save the world.

Welcome to the struggle, son.

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