I'm Sorry: Parenting in the Time of Global Despair

“The lake feels like lotion!” the little boy shouted to his friends, treading water at the base of the ladder, “so smooth and refreshing.” I lay on the other side of the dock, my head propped up with a life jacket, reading my book, Love Becomes Us by Amy Bloom. It was hot, hotter than it had ever been in the Pacific Northwest where I live.

My family had been lucky. We escaped to this mountain lake on a planned trip with my brother-in-law and his kids. Instead of 108 degrees, it was only 99 and we could hang out in this cold glacial lake all day long.

The little boy shouting was eight or nine years old, skinny and tan, happy and energized. He jumped off the dock over and over, laughing with pleasure every time. I remember the days when my daughter had that kind of ease, that kind of access to simple pleasures.

These days are complicated. The world feels like it is ending. There was the pandemic, over a year of lockdown seeped with fear and longing. And now this heat, record-breaking, devastating —to  people, animals, and nature. This heat is preparing our region for fires that will destroy more land, more humans and wildlife, more homes, more trees. Like last summer, we will be stuffed into our homes, windows sealed, hiding from the smoke outside.

When I was eight or nine I didn’t think about the earth. We never talked about it. I remember waiting in line for gas at the Shell station on 54th street with my mom. I remember her explaining that Jimmy Carter was rationing gas because there was an oil crisis. I lived a life, essentially into my twenties with the ignorant luxury of not worrying about our dying planet. Back then we didn’t talk about climate change or global warming. I wish we had. Maybe if we had things would be different now. The planet I am leaving my daughter wouldn’t be so hot and angry and scary.

My daughter is sixteen now. When she was eight she knew things about the earth. In third grade, she raised money to support people who lost everything in the Japanese Tsunami. She’s always known how to recycle and compost. She grew up with Hybrid cars and conversations about red meat at dinner. She is keenly aware of the crisis our Earth is experiencing.

And, she is becoming an adult during this crisis. Like Elizabeth, the protagonist in Bloom’s, Love Becomes Us, my daughter is traversing the complicated emotional landscape that comes with adolescence. Elizabeth is wise beyond her years. She can see the hypocrisy of her parents and the other adults around her. Like most teens, Elizabeth is struggling in her own way to just get through the painful, confusing adolescent years.