We are honestly striving in this household to be energy conscious. We heat with a wood stove, car-pool, insulate, and wash in cold water. We are saving energy! Meanwhile, our children have enough energy in their battery-operated toys to light the whole town.
My son spends his day chasing a battery-operated, four-wheel-drive vehicle that climbs walls, and has me doing likewise. My daughter follows her ''Baby Crawl Around'' doll about the house, losing her regularly and dissolving into tears.
We have trucks that do everything from dump, honk, reload, and stall to asking for lead-free gasoline. My daughter has dolls that eat, sleep, wet, whine , and scream hysterically, and a toy juicer-blender that needs only four ''D'' batteries to hummmmmmm along for two hours nonstop. Our latest energy eater is a cow that actually produces a white liquid, and moos through flared nostrils. Most of these prizes have come from well-meaning friends and relatives. Myself, I have come to suspect a coloring book of needing batteries. I look suspiciously for that famous line ''Battery Not Included.''
Battery-operated toys have become an accepted way of life for small children. I have watched my three-year-old son tie four ''D'' batteries to a most ordinary chair, and sit in it patiently, holding his ever present flashlight, waiting for the chair to do something - anything!
We have spent a fortune on batteries, because, fun as it may be to turn on all these self-propelled toys and gadgets, it seems beyond comprehension to turn them off. It used to be when we left for an outing I would hear, ''Did you turn off the iron? Unplug the coffee pot? Turn down the heat?'' But now - ''Ben, did you turn off your car? How about your radio? Janey, did you leave your baby crying? Hey, did anyone turn off the cow?''
A fireside chat was provoked one evening when my husband needed a flashlight and his batteries were in ''Baby Crawl Around,'' who had long since burned out under the sofa in mid-stride. It was a family decision that the children should start being energy conscious, and also responsible for earning the money to energize their paraphernalia.
''We will save aluminum cans,'' my husband said with authority. ''And the money we earn will be used to buy batteries.''
''Brilliant. Brilliant!'' I applauded.
The kids were excited. We would go to the park and watch our children run directly past the swings and slides to delve into trash cans. ''There is money to be made here. And we have cars, flashlights, radios, computers, blenders, and whiny babies to support,'' we imagined them saying.
We saved for nearly three months. The house gradually became quieter as our battery brigade lost steam. Ben learned to make a putt-putt noise when pushing cars, and Janey came to enjoy the thrill of a happy baby. But a deal is a deal. We went to the store to turn in our cans.
''One dollar and fifty-six cents,'' said the man in the orange apron at our grocery store.
We took our dollar and the fifty-six cents and somehow managed to spend $2.94 on four generic ''D'' batteries and four ''AA'' batteries.
My son chose to recharge his radio, and Janey couldn't wait to hear the wails of a hungry baby again.
And so, it is nap time at our house this very moment. Janey is cuddled up with her dollies, her thumb, and her blankie. One doll (the big one on the left) is sobbing loudly. The others, Raggedy Ann, Baby Beans, and my old Tiny Tears lie in silence. I reach over my warm bundle surrounded by these blank stares and turn off the ''cry baby.''
Ben is curled up with his blankie and the static-struck radio supported by the four new ''AA'' batteries. His fingers, still rolled in baby fat, are not nimble enough to find KUBC, Channel 98 on your dial. No matter, that grating static must have some soothing effect, he looks so peaceful. I turn off the static, and he opens one sleepy eye. ''Are we saving energy?''
''Yes,'' I say softly.
'Good,'' he whispers.