Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Wish I Was An Earth-friendly Mom by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

I have always revered the earth, which over the years became a conscious decision to make good choices for the environment. When I lived in New York City, I composted, recycled and bought food with very little packaging. I was also single and lived alone. I always felt good that I usually only had one small grocery bag of garbage once every week or so.

Contrast that to now: I am married with one child. We have the largest recycling container, (the size of a large square rolling garbage can). We also have the same size garbage can. Because we live at a park my husband is actually the one who takes our “curbside” recycling to a city recycling dumpster where it gets picked up. The city garbage truck comes to us and empties the park dumpster which includes our garbage as well.

Regularly, when I deal with garbage and recycling, I have a pang of remorse for what we generate. Since I am not the person in charge of shopping and because my husband does not share my views, we generate more garbage and recycling than I care to admit. The reason this is sad for me—beyond the obvious desire to do right by the environment—is that some of the convenience that my husband has insisted upon directly impacts my life. Paper plates, paper towels, paper napkins, floor mop wipes, cleaning wipes, garbage bags, disposable dusters, precooked meals and single serving food are all conveniences that make my life easier. I fight against this convenience in small ways insisting on cloth napkins and china dishes most nights. I usually grab a dish towel for cleaning up spills.

But here’s the drag: when I am tired or the day is especially full of activity (which can be once or twice a week) convenience wins. Open up the prepackaged lasagna that I can cook in the microwave. Sink full of dirty dishes I have not had a moment to wash, grab the paper plates. Laundry’s not done, use the paper napkins. Company's coming, spot mop with the “wet mopping refills” followed by a quick touch up with the cleaning wipes in the bathroom. All these products add up to garbage and help maintain the illusion that I can do it all: work, take care of my family, cook, clean and generally maintain the lifestyle of an overworked mother.

I know there are mothers who have made lifestyle choices that mean they are doing a great deal to keep their garbage to a minimum and have implemented other earth-friendly choices in their life, but what gets to me, is how much prepackaged, disposable products are targeted at mothers and how much those products directly impact mothers’ lives.

From my viewpoint, being a better environmentalist really means changing my lifestyle and slowing down. My husband jokes that I am usually “trying to pack tens pounds of stuff into a five pound bag.” That is my life now, right this minute...we are heading to a birthday party; I am writing this post; I have to get ready myself; and I will be opening the instant oatmeal packet for my daughter’s breakfast before heading out the door in an hour.

It’s hard to see when, where and how I will change, but change is definitely what I want to do. Oh and did mention how little my husband helps with all the mundaneness of making “our” life go. My life looks like most mothers: overfull. I wish I wasn't in conflict with mother earth, but rather in harmony with her. Really we are in the same business of growing life.

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