05/13/2006 12:14 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sex, Drugs and Catastrophes of the 21st Century

What is a modern mother to do?

When it comes to life lesson discussions with my kids, Sex, with God being a close runner up, was my most challenging subject. Despite my best efforts to be prepared, and yes, mature, when my three children lobbed their first sexual queries at me (usually from the back seat of the car while I was caught unaware maneuvering through traffic) they were usually so specific and involved ME personally, that I couldn't help but blush and stammer. I have gotten better. I now know that if I scream out "sperm/egg/penis/vagina" in any combination, I'm.. met with a silence that usually buys me a few days before I need to come up with good, solid and thoughtful answers.

But having just finished James Kunstler's book THE LONG EMERGENCY: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change and Other Converging CATASTROPHES of the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY, I feel I have a new discussion topic to tackle, and frankly, I don't know where to begin. I don't expect my kids to broach the subject of our depleted natural resources anytime soon. My children's social consciousness, unlike their sexual development, hasn't seemed to throw me any curve balls yet, and I haven't found a tidy time line for it in any of my parenting books to tell me when and how it might rear it's demanding head. But now that I have the information I do, don't I have a certain responsibility to tell? And what do I tell? And when do I tell it?

Kunstler's book was shockingly readable and engaging for this lay person. He covers a vast array of topics, and having finished it on a cross country plane ride last week, I felt like I'd taken a crash course on Big Oil, Global Warming, Geopolitics just to name a few. It was a bumpy ride, to say the least. As it's subtitle implies - the book does suggest "survival" in our future. But if you ask Kunstler, it isn't going to be pretty. He doesn't mince words here; According to his well researched tome, we WILL run out of oil, we most likely WON'T come up with viable alternative energy sources, we WILL watch our economy crumble, temperatures WILL continue to rise, we WILL have resource wars and so on and so on. Granted, there are those who strongly disagree with Kunstler (I did dig up a few of his critics on the web). But much of the information I took in - whether I choose to believe all of it or not - gave me reason to pause and fear gravely for the future.

Kunstler wonders aloud in his book about how we can be so close to catastrophe yet so many of us are severely uninformed about it. Part of the explanation for this, he claims, is that politicians don't want to tell voters that the American Dream has been cancelled for lack of energy resources. Well, this parent doesn't want to tell her children that either. This parent doesn't want to talk about the American Dream being cancelled for anything. But I also don't want to be perpetuate the denial that led my generation, raised on the happy notion of suburbs and SUVs, to conspicuously consume without much thought of the consequences -- To remain in what Kunstler's book calls a "consensus trance."

My husband - who had to talk me down after I read this book - reminds me that yes, we have a responsibility to educate our children and do our best to help reinforce their burgeoning social consciousness. I am grateful that we are in sync on raising good little citizens. He also reminds me however, that our kids, at least the two under 10 are very literal creatures. If I start nattering on about how we are going to run out of gas (aka oil), then my 8-year old daughter is going to wonder if the car is going to make it to get her to school on time. Or worst case, if I'm going to be there to pick her up at all.

The problem with the abundant bad news is that the future as Kunstler sees it is all doom and gloom. He doesn't see through a glass darkly, he sees through a glass broken. And to make matters worse, the glass is broken beyond repair. If he'd thrown in some answers, even difficult ones to swallow, I wouldn't, for the first time, be so worried about the world in which my kids are growing up. But perhaps he's scared some sense into me.

I'm not going to share my fear with my children. I feel quite self-righteous in keeping this to myself. I will however, as I did (and continue to do) in discussions about sexuality and other more delicate matters, dole out information on the sorry state of our planet AND what we can do to affect change, small as it may be, in age-appropriate doses. I can just hear myself, when the time is right, having to fess up, "There is no Santa Claus, there is no Easter Bunny and there is no oil."

I guess for now, I can simply be a good role model. I can rant, rave, protest, march, fundraise and write about the causes I care deeply about. Conserving energy can help so I can continue to cut down on oil consumption by carpooling even when my kids can't stand the other kids on our route. I can educate and inform my children about the perils of our planet (when I'm assured the information won't give them reoccurring nightmares) and hope that they will learn to be active in their own rescue.

As a mother, that's the best I can hope for.