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Mom keeps fears in check

Life with children
by: COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT WIDESCREEN COLLECTION, Starring Jane Alexander and a young Lukas Haas, 1983’s “Testament” sure could scare a kid growing up in the Cold War era.

Here are the subjects of some of the e-mails I've gotten over the past few weeks:

Children exposed to lead!!

Low Carbon Diet and Earth Day

A lifetime of healthy eating begins with baby pajama's (sic)

Organicgreenmommy.com is born

It's Earth Day today, if you haven't guessed, and I'm not exactly sure how to celebrate.

Is it even something to celebrate? It seems that rather than a day of 'Isn't the Earth cool?' and 'Hey, we're still here,' Earth Day is more of a day to bemoan all the various threats facing Mother Earth: global warming, shrinking food supply, diminishing rain forests. Or a day to use as a promotional tie-in for some vaguely Earth-friendly product or another.

While I try to pay attention to our family's carbon footprint (and by that I mean basic things: We recycle, buy as locally as possible, try to remember to bring our own bags to the store, ride bikes when we can), I'm mindful of not creating a culture of fear around these issues.

Does anyone else remember the movie 'Testament'? I must have been about 15 when I watched it, sitting on my parents' couch one summer afternoon. I have no idea why I would have rented a nuclear holocaust movie - maybe I thought it would be like 'Red Dawn,' which I found embarrassingly thrilling - but I can vividly recall the experience.

Starring the incredible Jane Alexander, the movie tells the tale of a family in a small town in Northern California. There's some sort of nuclear explosion - it's never exactly clear what's happened - and despite the overtly normal scene, radiation poisoning begins to sicken and kill the town's youngest and oldest members.

Alexander's kindergarten-age son is one of the first to die. That was horrible, but the scene that forever stuck with me was a tear-jerker between Alexander and her preteen daughter in which the dying girl wants her mom to explain intimate adult love, since she won't get to experience it. I dissolved into those wracking sobs for which teenage girls are so famous.

I have no idea if the movie was any good by critical standards, but it devastated me. I couldn't understand how grown-ups, politicians - Ronald Reagan, in particular - could know that such awful things could happen and still compete in the arms race.

I understand now, of course, that reality was a bit more complex. But I hope, perhaps foolishly, that I can spare my sons my childhood sense of fear and hopelessness.

I'm not really sure how to go about that, though. People talk about how kids these days are too adult, that they have too much exposure to the media and violence.

My older son Luke, at 8, certainly knows a lot more about the world than I did at his age. One recent morning, for example, Luke glanced at the cover of The New York Times and asked, 'Is he dead?'

The picture showed an injured Palestinian in the wake of an Israeli bombing.

'No,' I said, thankfully.

His next question - 'Is he a bad guy?' - was harder to answer.

Luke worries about the turtles caught in fishing nets, hormones in milk, flooding. And obviously he gets much of that from me. In general I err on the side of trying to explain these issues while keeping open the hope that there are ways to make a difference.

So back to Earth Day.

I want Luke, and Theo when he's old enough, to embrace a lifestyle that involves recycling, reusing and reducing consumption, but I don't want them to worry that Nana's beach cabin will end up underwater one day because the ice caps are going to melt.

And I think that in general the modern sustainability movement does a good job giving consumers of all ages the belief that they can make a positive contribution and tools to help them do it. I wish some of these tools weren't quite so commercial (organic cotton pajamas decorated with fruits and vegetables lead to healthy eating? C'mon), but feeling like you can do something is at least a better feeling than the concern I had that some anonymous guy with a finger looming over a red button held the power to destroy everything I cared about.

If you're looking for a positive, proactive way to celebrate Earth Day, check out Kids in the Pearl on Saturday. Several family-friendly businesses will offer activities to help raise awareness about protecting the planet. And you don't even have to buy anything!

At Little Urbanites, children can personalize a reusable tote bag. At Sip and Kranz, they can learn to make coffee-ground 'fossils.' Posh Boutique will host a planting project. Other participants include Green Frog Toys, Ben and Jerry's, Cool Moon Ice Cream, Cupcake Jones and Pop Culture Frozen Yogurt.

For information and a list of activities, visit www.kidsinthepearl.com.

This column appears weekly in the Portland Tribune. If you have suggestions for topics or your own essays on parenthood to submit, send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..