I completely, and inadvertently, embarrassed my nine-year-old son recently. The infraction wasn’t kissing him and saying “I love you” at school drop-off (that happened last week). Nor was it wearing my skiing polar bear pajama bottoms when he had a friend over (that was last weekend). This infraction involved embarrassing him in front of the cool kid at school.
Each day after school, the surrounding streets and parking lots get insane with parents, older siblings, grandparents, and caregivers waiting to pick up their elementary-aged kiddos. Every day, this black-SUV-driving-mom parks next to an ad hoc entrance that’s been trampled down through the bushes as a shortcut. And every day, her car sits there running, regardless of the weather. Sometimes she’ll have the window down and will be talking to another mom; all the while, the car is running.
On the day of major embarrassment, I began walking through the shortcut with two of my kids in tow, only to spy the SUV, idling as usual, at the end of the shortcut. Without thinking, I said to my son, “She’s such a jerk! There are kids here breathing that crap from her car. I wish she’d turn her stupid car OFF!”
That’s about the point where I made eye contact with SUV-Mom and realized her window was open and she’d heard everything I’d said. And it gets worse: her son, a super cool sixth grader my son admires, was right behind us. Open mouth. Insert foot.
While I had definitely embarrassed myself and my son, I was speaking the truth. Idling cars produce harmful tailpipe emissions that create smog, which worsens air quality in our beautiful city and affects our children’s health. Children are particularly at risk from the health impacts of air pollution because their lungs are still developing – that’s why recess was canceled days on end due to the poor air quality after the Rim Fire. Sadly, Washoe County has received a “C” from the American Lung Association for its air quality.
Furthermore, CO2, the heat-trapping gas that causes climate change, also comes from car and bus tailpipes. More C02 in the environment creates a hotter, drier place for those of us in Washoe County, increasing the risk of heat waves, droughts, and wildfires. If those reasons aren’t enough, think about saving money! Idling wastes gas, and with these gas prices, who wants to waste money like that?
It’s simple, really. When you’re waiting in your car, turn it off.
While I’m not as adamant as some (see this cute PSA with actress Rachelle Lefevre), I do believe in the small changes we can make that affect our children in a large way. If this is something you agree with, consider signing this online petition created by GREENevada, a local coalition helping to save the environment in Northern Nevada through comprehensive sustainability education and leadership in schools. This coalition hopes to garner enough community support to make a real difference and has amazing help from local high school students who will be physically counting idling cars and giving prizes to drivers who turn their cars off during school pick-up.
So, how did the embarrassing event end? Although I desperately wanted to keep walking and hide in shame, I also wanted to lead by example; I apologized to SUV-Mom as soon as I’d realized she’d heard me. Thankfully, she apologized, too, and said I was right. I haven’t seen her since then, but hopefully wherever she’s been parking, she’s been turning her car off and doing her bit to help. As for me? I’m going to make sure my inner monologue really does stay internal and do my best to avoid embarrassing my son for at least the next week.