Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The water was hot, the shower steamy. I rubbed the shampoo bar across my hair and scrubbed it into frothy bubbles. I sniffed. The air was a bit pungent so I repeated and rinsed again.

Drying off, I gave wide berth to the reeking green cape and stinking spandex littering the bathroom floor. It had been an fetid day in the phone booth.

Why is it that The Bulk gets a phone call to sit on clean, quiet Home Owners Association committee while my call is to rake rotting compost around an edible garden at my son's school?

The truth, though, was that I didn't mind working in the garden, accompanied by six other caped individuals. I quite liked what we shared: the political jokes, the dream for a school garden that would feed our children snack daily, ideas for greening the school's cleaning supplies, information about how our children were doing or who had a crush on whom. In fact, I'm not sure that my garden work day was heroic at all.

If you look it without the green colored glasses, it was a purely selfish act. An investment - one that I expect will pay out far more valuable dividends than you find on Wall Street.

I was making an investment in my community.

If the Dow Jones continues to tantrum, gasoline supplies dwindle, the ballot measure to provide schools funds fails, community is where the value will be, from whence repayment will come.
And that repayment comes when you least expect it and most need it.

Last week, I suddenly lost the preschool placement for my youngest. Every preschool around has wait lists a year long. An email to my oldest's school listserv yielded dozens of leads and one open spot - bypassing the wait list - at my preschool of choice.

Most of those people don't know me. But they know, by virtue of my son's placement at the school (a parent participation charter school), that I am willing to don a cape daily to help the community. Maybe I worked with their son on math or taught their daughter cooking. Maybe I gave their neighbor's son a ride to school when his mom had surgery or I worked alongside their friend, scrubbing cubbies the day before school started.

I've made all those investments. And they've made similar ones. We've worked together to create an economy that depends not on dollars and cents but on effort and support.

Scrubbing, shoveling compost, teaching first graders yoga poses, or volunteering for lice check duty. We are part of a community. One that will pull together and keep our children learning even if, God forbid, that ballot measure doesn't pass. One that will plant an edible garden to feed our children, that will provide parent volunteers to cut afterschool care costs. One that will organize carpools and walking school buses to reduce emissions.

As I gingerly retrieve my malodorous costume, I remember what they say about payback. They are wrong, though.

Payback is beautiful.


Mon said...

Oh I would MUCH rather do the composting thing than the committee thing, lol.
I'm passionate about community support - bartering, trading, doing, sharing, giving, exchanging, somehow keeping cash out if as much as possible (freecycle style). And the bonds, friends, sense of well-being-unity that is created has no price.

ruchi aka arduous said...

The difference between investing in Wall Street versus investing in your community is that investing in Wall Street means that the money compounds to you. Whereas investing in your community means that the 'interest' compounds to EVERYONE. So in a sense, we can look at it as a much better investment! :)

Burbanmom said...

A wise investment, indeed! And that smell? It's not the compost. It's the sweet smell of success!

And maybe a little underarm funk.

Great post, GB!

Joyce said...

GB, the garden sounds fun, but will you have any trouble with food safety rules if you feed the produce to the kids? I'm speaking as a former "lunchroom lady" here. Seems like we had all kinds of silly rules that would have said we couldn't do that. I hope ou can, though!

The Purloined Letter said...

I love how community is clearly both the way to fix things and the ultimate reward. Beautiful post.

Thanks to Arduous for that excellent analysis of investing, too. I'd never quite thought of the words to express it!

JessTrev said...

Wow...I love this. Especially the sense of how woven into your community you are. Our little neighborhood has that feel and I love it - in fact, when I passed on a lot of hand me downs recently I asked for payment in the form of continuing to ask my kids how their day was -- I do think it's a tangibly valuable thing, to have people of all ages engaging in community efforts. Beautifully written!

jenni at 'My Web of Life' said...

I love this post!
My 6-year-old recently joined the Environmental Club at her school and has become passionate about composting (although I can't seem to get her to take it out here at home)! It is fantastic that schools are beginning to see that there are other facets to education other than reading and math. It truly is the biggest investment we all can make!

Mama said...

Teaching our children to invest in their community will be the single greatest lesson we have taught them. They will inherit a whole host of problems when they are ready to accept the baton, and community service will prepare them for the challenge. Thanks for the post!

Daphne said...

I think you got the better deal. Shoveling compost is so much more fun than sitting on a committee. But that is just me I know. I'd pick being outside to being inside anyday. Loved your post.

Theresa said...

Great post! Payback, and payforward, are beautiful. And a little baking soda will help with that funky smell ;)

Jennifer said...

I would MUCH rather shovel compost! Give me dirt anyday.

Green Bean said...

Mon: Shhhh! Me too. And you are so right. The things we create when we work toward a community are priceless.

Ruchi: Hear, hear! Great explanation of the difference.

Burbs: Ahhh. That's me breathing in the sweet smell of success.

Joyce: Well, I know they've fed the kids from the fruit trees around the school and there is that whole edible schoolyard movement by Alice Waters. I would think that because it is produce, it would be okay. I'll have to look into it, though.

The Purloined Letter: So true. I don't think we go wrong by investing in our communities - no matter what happens.

JessTrev: How wonderful to live in a neighborhood like that! That was one of the big perks of my son's school - the built in community. I'm sure you find that in a lot of schools but when parents are required to donate a certain number of hours, I think it amplifies the bond.

Jenni: That's wonderful about your 6 year old! Math and reading are just the beginning. I'm so excited, this year, to work with teachers and parents who are busy teaching children about so many other things - including the environment. Nothing wrong with being well rounded.

Mama: So true. I think that community is the answer to almost everything that plagues us. And if we are used to volunteering and working within our community, it will make the upcoming crises of Climate Change, depletion, Peak Oil, etc. all the more manageable.

Daphne: I think I got the better deal too. ;-)

Theresa: Sweet!! Where is that baking soda.

Jennifer: Great capes think alike. :)

CindyW said...

Raking stinky compost is so much fun :)

Your investment is also the children having the community and composting as a part of their lives. I had never heard of composting until a few years ago. The kids in your community? being green is just a part of growing up, like playing in the playground. Okay, maybe not. Like doing homework? :)

lauren said...

I haven't loved the current form of Green Phone Booth. First, I must say, I loved each of the bloggers on this site as individual bloggers, and I applaud the decision to form a group blog to lessen the blogging burden.

However, of the first three substantive posts, two of them have laid the superhero metaphors on a bit too thickly. If it continues, I'm afraid it will be tiresome to read. The gimmicky references to capes and emergency calls do not compel me to keep reading.

That said, I'm all for not taking ourselves and this mission to live more lightly too seriously. Unfortunately, I miss the unique writerly voice each of you (namely Green Bean and Burban mom who have posted most recently) brought to your former blogs.

I would like to start reading and have a sense of who is contributing before I get to the tagline at the bottom. As it stands the last two entries are a let down, because although the topics are interesting, the style appears formulaic.

I will continue to read as a fan, but I please lose the gimmicks!

The Purloined Letter said...

Lauren--I'm not sure what other people are thinking, but in my head I was imagining that we would play with the theme in our first official posts and then not necessarily address it much in the future. Thanks for your feedback and please keep letting us know what you think!

Green Bean said...

Cindy: Absolutely. Growing green kids is huge.

Lauren: I appreciate the feedback. We never discussed anything about doing a superhero theme initially but I will second what The Purloined Letter said. I think it just sort of happened as it was our initial post. For instance, my planned post for next week has no reference whatsoever to superheroes. I do hope that you continue to bear with us as the blog gets underway. I have a feeling that at least a couple of us would not be blogging at all but for this team blog. For us, it is a way to continue writing and to stay active in the blogosphere when committments and burnout take us else where. Thank you again for your input.

Mindful Momma said...

Such a beautiful post! Especially your comment that community will ultimatly be the source of value and repayment. So, so true. Take your eyes off Wall Street and get to work in the community garden!


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