Our grandsons are coming! 

The words promise exciting times ahead. With five grandsons, summer is prime time for family visits. The oldest is 17 (already!), and we’ve shifted from making plans for living room forts and sidewalk chalk to different activities. As they grow, I want to leave them with some lessons they can carry home. So, this summer, I want to focus on environmental sensitivity in the midst of our summer fun.  

Even though they’ve grown out of some activities, they still enjoy digging in the beach sand. Over the years, I hope each boy has learned to tread lightly on Planet Earth. After all, environmental sensitivity begins with something as simple as paying attention to where you leave your mark. This summer, I want to expand those lessons. I want to alert them to becoming more aware right here in the neighborhood, so I’ll start with our morning walk to the fitness center.   

So, before the boys arrive, I’ll jot down some ideas on a sticky note to be prepared for the teachable moments.  

Will you join me and my grandsons for a day on summer vacation? 

This will be an easy day to focus on earth-friendly activities: the streets are lined with blue recycle bins and garbage cans as a built-in reminder. Soon the city trucks will start clunking down the street.   

Teachable Moment: Keep your eyes open for bits of litter. And if any aluminum cans are poking out of the trash can, pull them out for recycling.   

I’m always surprised at the number of cars parked at the gym. I’ve never quite figured out why neighbors drive to the fitness center, only to walk miles on a treadmill. Of course, if the weather is hot when the boys arrive, they’ll ask to drive instead of walking to the basketball court at the gym. Boys are competitive. Maybe I can challenge them; if I can walk there, surely you can, too?!? 

Teachable Moment: As they say, there is no bad weather, just bad clothes. I’ll make sure we are all prepared for walking in hot weather by scouring the closets for caps and buying sunscreen. Discuss with them the energy needs of a car vs. a human and how conserving that energy for the car can help the environment.  

Walking past numerous driveways, I see an increasing number of clean energy cars. Although hybrid and electric vehicles are readily available, we’ll delay a purchase until the car my husband and I share is ready to replace. At 77,000 miles, we’re still counting. 

Teachable Moment: Talk with the boys about clean energy purchases and the decision we are making to keep our car until it needs to be replaced, to save it from ending up in a landfill. 

Clunk. I knew the blue truck would be coming soon. Our recycle bin is almost filled to the top again.  Glass bottles made the bin heavy this week. The more we recycle, the less that goes in the trash and the area landfill. 

Teachable Moment: Remind our voracious guests that recycling is more than just putting items in a bin. It is also important to keep food out of the landfill. So, help them to serve themselves what they will actually eat. We don’t want energy to land in the garbage! All five are accustomed to using reusable stainless-steel bottles at home, so they’ll bring them on the flight here. Plus, the boys already use cloth napkins at home, so that’s a familiar routine. Spend a minute to applaud their efforts and discuss how much waste they are saving with their choices.  

Returning from the gym, I wonder how often the kids will need reminders to “Close the refrigerator” and “Turn off the light when you leave.” I remember from previous visits that they tend to leave their phones plugged in, even after being fully charged. If we add energy-saving habits to their days here, perhaps they will continue the same pattern at home.  

Teachable Moment: Explain the whole process of getting energy to the home and how plugged-in items and lights use that energy, even when it isn’t needed.  

A noisy, red-shouldered hawk that’s been flying low over the marshy area by our house just circled above. “Kee-aah, kee-aah,” it calls. I wonder if it’s nesting nearby, and the bird is feeling threatened. At least it won’t collide with a power line, as lines in the community are buried. 

Teachable Moment: Have the boys stay alert for the sound of the woodpecker that has feasted on the multitude of insects in our back tree. Perhaps hearing the “rat-a-tat” will remind them of the many creatures that find a habitat in a “typical” neighborhood like this. Each of the animals and birds needs space to live and grow. But if that skinny black snake slithers onto the back porch again, this time the boys can remove it. Actually, they might think that is the high point of their visit! 

Sometimes I take the boys shopping when they visit. This might provide a good opportunity for a discussion on sustainable purchases, packaging, and to focus on items we need vs. want.  

Teachable Moment: Recognize that less is more, and your purchases can have long-term impacts. Think about three things: 1) Where did the item come from? Was it made in an environmentally friendly way? 2) How is the item packaged? Will this produce a lot of excess waste? 3) What will I do with this when I’m finished? Will it end up in a landfill in a few months?  

Adopting earth-sensitive behaviors during the summer doesn’t seem all that difficult when starting on familiar streets with familiar activities. Becoming sustainability literate can happen right here in this space. 

My level of climate-friendly awareness won’t make the neighborhood bulletin board this summer. It might not even generate a “Good job, mom” from our daughter. But that’s okay. The only positive reinforcement I’d like is for the boys to understand the power they have to make a difference with small choices. When they were young, I could have told them they were becoming Planet Earth heroes. Now, I’ll probably have to settle for just using teachable moments to grow their environmental knowledge and habits. But, as a grandma, that’s enough for me. That would be a legacy worth leaving.