Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Birthdays

Earth Day always lurks on my calendar, ready to jump out with a big “Boo! Did you save the Earth this year?” 

It’s not like we could forget about it at my house: Earth Day is my birthday.  What’s more, the day right before it is my daughter’s birthday, providing me ample opportunity to offer up unwanted birthday party themes like “Clean Up the Beach” or “Let’s Carpool to the Nearest Park for Organic, Wholegrain Cake and Unwrapped, Recycled Gifts.”  Poor thing, she wouldn’t mind some plastic toys and shiny new wrapping paper once in a while.

Being saddled with an eco-obsessed mother, now, that might actually be a bit of a real burden.  Because I’m the type of mom who finishes a sentence with the word “burden” and immediately starts thinking about the concept of “body burden” and our toxic world, and how quickly we are making it more toxic*, and then I start to feel guilty for how much I drive my car and so I snap at the kids for letting the water run too long while they are brushing their teeth.

Yes, I drive too much, so they should remember to turn off the water.  What?  It makes sense to me, um, sort of, in a twisted kind of way.

Then I feel bad for being a grouchy mom, so I let them stay up past bedtime for extra reading and cuddling, but then I feel ashamed for having left so many of the lights on while I was doing aforementioned reading, and then…well, it basically never ends.  How’s a bright-eyed five-year-old supposed to deal with so much maternal neurosis?

Or, for that matter, so much cultural neurosis? It seems like the consensus out there, by now, is pretty much “Let’s do it! Let’s save the planet!”—and then we all go on with our over-consumption and “just this once” justifications.  I know I do, even though I swear I try, fishing my bamboo spoon out of my purse at the ice cream store that only offers plastic ones, signing email petitions daily, organizing parties to spread the word about how insane we are for continuing development of the Canadian Tar Sands.  Printing out infographics linking extreme weather to climate change and bringing them to potlucks.  People see me coming and start to blurt out their latest green triumph.  “I told my favorite restaurant to stop using plastic to-go containers.”  “I explained to my neighbor how to use the recycle bin.”  “I remembered my bags!” 

We report these tiny successes to each other as a way of warding off the demons of our larger failures.  “I didn’t manage to get the Supreme Court to reverse the Citizen’s United decision.”  “I haven’t been able to ban mountaintop removal coal mining.”  “I didn’t even convince my city council that expanding inane consumption by building even more big box stores is a bad idea.”  But hey, we did carpool to work, right?  Right?  Doesn’t that count?

Mostly, I don’t feel like it counts.  The problems are so large, and I’m so small.  And it’s pretty darn easy to turn all my worries about what kind of world my children will inherit into a deep and real case of depression, so I toil away at not just retreating with them under the covers, cuddling and reading into the night, electric use be damned.  It takes all my grown-up discipline, but I’m working to remember that birthdays are not about what you’ve done so far; birthdays are about blowing out the candles and wishing for the future. 

Cultural problems, like this climate mess we are in, require cultural solutions, so I’m not going to be able to fix it all by myself.  But if I look back over the past year, I can find all sorts of good news reflected in those small self-reports of righteousness: We are seeing, more and more, how many ways we could do better.  Our culture is actually shifting—maybe not as quickly as I’d like, maybe not even as quickly as it would have to for my kids to have a liveable planet—but change is happening.

So, when Earth Day interrogates me this year, I’ll just say, “Look, I’m really doing my best here.  Whether it’s good enough doesn’t matter, because it really is my best, and my best keeps getting better.”  Then I’ll blow out the candles, hoping.

* Read just about anything ever written by Sandra Steingraber if you want a more scientific approach than my “Yikes, we’re all poisoning ourselves!” panic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cleanliness is next to… dirt.

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

I’m sure it drives my ex insane: during the four days that the kids are with me each week, they are as likely to take a mud bath as they are to take a shower.  But hey, since I’ve been the steward of my backyard mudpit for the last decade, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there (um, microbe-rich, pesticide-free mud).  Which is more than I can say about most soaps and shampoos.  So who’s to say what’s “cleaner” anyway.

Well, there are scientists who study this stuff, and they probably could tell me, if I knew any of them.  Fortunately, lots of them work with and for Environmental Working Group, and they keep these massive searchable databases about what’s in a vast range of the products that line up on the edge of the tub.  Their Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database, which it would not immediately occur to me to search, since as a letting-myself-go middle-aged earth-mama type, I don’t really think of myself as using “cosmetics,” provides anyone with internet access with more information than we ever wanted to have about soaps, shampoos, sunscreens, and lots of other things we put on our kids.

The pervasiveness of not-entirely-safe ingredients in our body-cleaning products begs the question of whether “healthy” and “clean” correlate as closely as we like to think.  As a nurse, I do a heck of a lot of hand-washing, and I do honestly believe in it as a way of preventing the spread of disease.  I take quite seriously my responsibility in not transferring germs from one patient to another.  But as a mom, I let my kids spend a lot of time in dirt, and don’t worry too much about how much of it gets in their mouths.  And although I believe in handwashing, I’m completely and totally opposed to anti-bacterial soaps (for all those of us who are lucky enough not have an immune-suppressed family member).  Plain soap with minimal additives, plus water and friction, never ever contributed to the evolution of a super-bug, as far as I know. 

I was once told by a friend, quite earnestly, that I was “not clean enough” to become a nurse.  And if you looked at my kids’ fingernails, you might well agree.  As for me, I do occasionally cringe when I notice those half-moons of black as they climb out of the car to go to school.  But then I relax, remembering that they got that way out in our very own organic garden.  So I just call it good clean dirt.  Which is clean enough for me.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
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