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How to Survive Life With an Earth Day Tyrant

My daughter was 9 when we took her to a monster truck rally. The rest of us were having a great time, but she sat there sullen and disgusted. Then, amid whoops and hollers from inside baseball caps and Wranglers, she yelled: "I DO NOT LIKE THE CARBON FOOTPRINT HERE!"

Some of the fans around us began to stare. I said, "Let's go."

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Earth Day at our house is second only to Christmas. The first thing my daughter does when she wakes up is start unplugging things. This includes— but is not limited to—lamps, clocks, computers, beauty tools, kitchen appliances and the entertainment system.

Every Earth Day, her elementary school gives the kids a list of what they can do to help the environment. Not content with one or two of these things, she does ALL of the things.

And more.

We have no light on Earth Day, except what the Good Lord has granted us. We get dressed in the dark, eat in the dark and do homework in the dark. We don't use candles because smoke is bad.

My son even gives up video games for the day. She is just that irritating to be around.

As I know it will be an internet-free day, I make sure all bills are paid and any correspondence is caught up.

We walk to and from school. It's not very close, but the bus is banned. She goes to class with wet hair (turning off the water while soaping up), mismatched socks and a lunch made in the dark that could well turn out to be a Ritz-cracker-and-jelly-bean sandwich with soy sauce packets on the side.

I've convinced her to let me keep the fridge plugged in by showing her the week's grocery bill and threatening to deduct the cost from her savings. And during Earth Day week, we buy only organic, which means big bucks.

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I could cheat while she's at school, but I can't bring myself to do it. First, I'm afraid I will leave evidence—forget to turn off a switch or something. Second, I can't handle the guilt. It's just one day, I tell myself. I concentrate my tasks on those that can be done near windows.

If I discover a spider or other bug, it does not get smashed. There is no killing on Earth Day.

At night, we sit in complete darkness and silence (except for conversation) and eat our mystery sandwiches for dinner.

My son even gives up video games for the day. She is just that irritating to be around.

I keep hoping she'll grow out of this extreme interpretation of Earth Day. But it's been three years and there have been no changes.

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I suppose I could strong-arm her and demand some modern conveniences, but despite the hell that is Earth Day each year, I secretly kind of enjoy how much she loves her natural world. She wants to take care of it, keep it healthy and beautiful. That seems like a good thing to encourage.

It's quite lovely, actually, to feel that connected with nature.

Earth Day has also spilled into other days. We make sure that our lights are turned off if we're not using them, our plants are watered, our unnecessary appliances unplugged, our heating and cooling set to what we can just tolerate, our cars kept maintained.

Living with the Earth Day Tyrant has actually helped instilled these habits within our family year-round.

Added bonus: Our bills are much lower.

She's also helped us to better appreciate the outdoors. We go on walks, birdwatch, look for life in ponds, examine interesting plants. She knows which mushrooms are poisonous. She can spot an owl from a moving car. She uses twigs to move snakes to the side of the path. She uses leaves to help crayfish swim upstream.

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It's quite lovely, actually, to feel that connected with nature. It's even nice on Earth Day to experience silence, natural light and conversation.

But I'm still glad Extreme Earth Day comes only once per year, because her miniscule carbon footprint is a major ordeal for the rest of us.

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Image by Laurel Dalrymple

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