My First Wish for President Obama
A Minute to Myself (137)

Day of Service; or Yes, I am a Bag Lady

On Monday morning (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) I took my younger daughter and her BFF to a “Day of Service” activity that Michelle Obama personally invited me to participate in. (“Personally” meaning I got an email from her and since she asked and it did not involve my donating $25 to the election, the inauguration, or saving the banks, I agreed.) Anyway, they—I was expressly told that I was unwelcome—were going to clean up a park alongside the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia (which is opposite Washington, DC, where I did not go to watch the inauguration because it was too cold and the closures of roads and metro stations, and the expected traffic and parking issues was just too daunting to try to overcome).

We got there at about 9:15 (fifteen minutes late because I was stuck behind a sand truck that was dumping sand on the road because there was the barest of indicators of snow flying through the air). By the time we got there the garbage picker-upper sticks had been picked up by other volunteers (my daughter was so disappointed, she was really looking forward to using one). My daughter and her friend picked up the last two garbage bags. Oh, well.

I walked off in the opposite direction that they went so I wouldn’t be publicly chastised for being within a mile of them and thus infringing on their freedom and ability to pretend that they are mature while swinging their pony tails from side to side as they giggle at the silliness of everyone else while cleaning up a park. When I was far enough away from them I looked at the frozen Potomac and the gulls flying and the geese waddling on the ice, and thought of how momentous the inauguration will be: momentous because Bush will be not be able to inflict any more of his pain upon us and the world any more (okay, he will from all of the rules and laws and judges he has put into place, but at least he will finally be stopped from doing more), and momentous because Obama will become the President of the United States—both him as an individual and him as embodying the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King himself.

I wandered back towards the sign-up desk and saw that a few people were heading out to clean up the park with supermarket bags. At that moment I realized that I can save the day, YES! I have a bag of bags in my car, ready to shove into the recycle container at the supermarket at any time (that is if I remember to take it out of the car). I raced off to my car and picked up the bag of bags which now did not look so much like garbage in the back seat of my car, but a way to save the world. Yes, those bags were greeted with enthusiasm by the volunteers. I took a newspaper bag, and wandered off to clean the park, pleased with myself and my saving ways.

And thus we spent about two hours. My daughter and her friend ended up in bottle alley (a part of the park, right along the shore, where there were enough bottles and cans to fill supersize garbage bag upon supersize garbage bag). And I mulled the need to require all smokers to at least ten hours of community service a year to pick up a portion of the cigarette butts that they toss out of their cars and from their hands as if they were as biodegradable as the air we breathe.

People hold onto your bottles and butts until you get to a garbage can. If we all just took responsibility for our own things there would not be a need for thousands of volunteers across the country to pick up trash. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have spent that time improving the park by adding to it, and not getting it to be the way it should be?


Renee Khan

What a great post. I loved it and I especially loved that you had to kick it in a different direction from your daughter (I've been there). Loved the pony-tails and I would have been bragging how I saved the day with my garbage bags to my daughter and her BFF.




I think that I'm always trying to figure out the BIG things I can do to help. But I think we can all make a big impact if we would all just do the little things. However, if I could save the day by producing garbage bags for trash pick up day like you did, that would totally rock.

Small Footprints

Wonderful post! And I totally agree ... I don't understand why people think it's OK to toss their garbage onto the ground. I wonder if they do the same thing in their own yards or homes.

It's great that you and your daughter (and her friend) did this. There are so many ways that we can make the world better.

Small Footprints

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Renee, I didn't brag about saving the day in order to save myself from adding "the simultaneous eye roll of two thirteen-year-olds."

Dingo, we shall not be mocked for saving garbage bags or for taking a reuseable bag into the supermarket or for saying NO to a bag for the milk! Yes, we can!

Small Footprints, well, they did need some community service hours, but it certainly was a good project. There were so mnay people there of different ages; that part was especially lovely, all of us doing our part for the common good.


I like the end of your post best; if each person took responsibility to clean up after themselves then others who wish to do something constructive could use their time making a park nicer or working a soup kitchen line or tutoring a child...
Perhaps with this new administration will come a renewal of personal responsibility and personal pride.
Great post! (I love how you go out of your way to honor your daughter's wishes at this difficult stage in her life. Hang on, soon she will want to include you! It's amazing what a difference a few years can make.)

jessica bern

oh it makes me soooo mad when I see someone litter. One time in NYC, a man threw his cigarette box out of his window. He was at a red light. I went, picked it up and brought it over to him and said:

"Here, you dropped this." for one second he was actually embarrassed.


If we each do something, even the smallest things, we will make a difference. It never ceases to amaze me that people still litter. As Small Footprints said, do litterbugs litter their own houses? How would they feel if we dumped our trash on their lawns?

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

rockync, I never could fathom how people can litter. Maybe people just don't get the connection between themselves and their world, and personal responsibility.

Regarding my daughter, I try to remember how I felt when I was her age and how my mother respected my need to lash out and go out, alone.

jessica bern, WooHoo! I had the "you never know who has a gun or who is psycho" mantra running in my head in NY, I never would have tried that there--but bigtime kudus for you.

JC, I think the problem is that some people only care about their things or their little space in the world, as if it is really theirs and as if you can separate mine from yours in the air we breathe and the streets we walk.


You think the littering would be harmless but it does pile up. And hey, since the first lady asked and no money was involved, why not do this. I applaud you and your kids.

Side note: I'm sick of saving banks.

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