My Intrepid Five-Year-Old

Amie asked me the other day what would happen if no more electricity came out of the walls. The context was simple: she was upset that it took so long to recharge the batteries of her toy hamster. The fact that the possibility occurred to her shows, I believe, some of her Mama’s influence. And that she asked the question so matter-of-factly, so undaunted, just shows that she is the intrepid  five-year-old.

And there you have the essence of this post in a nutshell. But let me elaborate.

So, well, I was stumped for a second. I was torn as usual between my we-‘ll-make-it-work attitude and the oh-uh-zombie-hordes panic.

Amie was again ahead of me, proclaiming, “That would be just a problem, right, Mama? Not a predicament.”

Yes, my 5-year-old knows that difference (a predicament is a problem that cannot be solved, we can only manage our response to it – a different thing altogether).

I said, “Well, we could learn to live without electricity, couldn’t we?”

That was acceptable to her, and the world inhaled and got going again.


What Amie already knows are a few principles we live by. We respect nature and others, we should not waste, we share what we can, pollution hurts the Earth and the beings on it, if we can do something ourselves, we should do it ourselves, and there is a difference between what we want and what we need. I keep it positive, can-do and will-do. I am working on the foundation, handing her principles and skills that will allow her to adapt to different times, encouraging her to be just, responsible and forward-thinking, and giving her the tools to think critically.

In other words, I have not discussed with her climate change and its eco-victims and refugees, the precariousness of our food system, the price of oil, my fear of food riots, cholera, farming in 120F, or zombie-hordes. She’s five, and she gets upset when the hairy Barbapapa gets shaved by accident!

But one day, probably sooner rather than late, the future will be on the table. She‘ll put it there. That’s my Amie, who already knows about the possibility of predicaments.


And she is the one whose future is at stake. The predicament is hers. Of course, as you know if you’ve read this blog a bit, I believe the future will get here in my own lifetime. But I’m her mother, and so what this will do to me won’t matter in the face of what it will do to her. Also, it will have been me who screwed it all up in the first fifteen years of my adult life, and even now, in these five or so years since my realization, with all these half-baked lifestyle changes. By the time she becomes responsible, the culpability for our predicament will be a moot point (an academic issue).

Let this, especially, be remembered.


I hope one thing, that when she requests to know all the hard facts, and what we’re doing about it, and why we aren’t doing enough, or even anything — I hope that I will speak truthfully about climate change, peak everything, economic collapse, and human greed, ignorance, laziness, much of it my own.

The child can sniff a lie, and I hope I will be able  to pass that test.  Of course her dad – who is a techno-fix optimist – will be there too, with his own opinions, and I hope we’ll have our usual passionate discussion, the three of us this time, and she can make up her own mind.


So what with all this on my mind I was happy to stumble upon Robyn’s post on the Adapting In Place Blog (via Sharon’s mention of it on Casaubon’s Book). Robyn writes about the challenges of teaching environmentalism to children and concludes that teaching it doesn’t work. She writes:

I have found, for myself, that when I’m considering lifestyle changes for environmental purposes, I like to put them through the 5-year-old test. I imagine explaining what I think of as the problem to a 5-year-old and trying to imagine what she would reply. […] I try explaining to the 5-year-old in my head what my solution is, to see how it fares. I suggest this method for everyone.

Children are the fastest path to learning to live within our limits, but only if we let them. If we listen, if we give them access to real information, and then take their responses to it seriously, we can see through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been fully indoctrinated into our culture. They don’t know how things “should” be, so they can tell us how things “could” be. If we stop trying to teach them, they can teach us a great deal.

So true. Even though I won’t be sitting down with Amie to discuss the practicalities of what to do when the electricity, the water, the money goes, she is there whenever I think of these issues. I look at my garden and see that I neglected it and imagine her asking why I did that, why we’re not growing more of our own food. I look at the beehive and see her smiling approvingly. I looked at the store-bought loaf the other day through her eyes and thought, why can’t I bake the bread myself? If we can do it ourselves, we should do it ourselves!

Thank you, Mieke, for keeping me honest.

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