Rebecca’s Earth Day Sins, Confessed

I credit a long-ago Earth Day television special to introducing me to the fast-paced world of reusing and recycling.  Now I try hard to do what’s best for our environment, but I don’t always live up to my ideals.  Here are my top five eco-sins, confessed.

  1. I take long, hot showers.  I know, I know.  I should get a solar heater and bathe in harvested rainwater from our rooftop.  This is an especially heinous sin considering how often I’ve bragged about limiting my daughter’s bath time fun.
  2. I don’t always buy organic produce.  I’m cheap.  I’m trying to get over it.
  3. I don’t always buy local produce.  Buying local produce as a “green” action was something I hadn’t even considered until a couple years ago.  But even after educating myself a bit on the subject and reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’m still not a locavore.
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Handkerchiefs vs. Recycled Tissues in the Battle Against Endless Toddler Mucous

handkerchief-baby1.jpgWhether he officially has a cold or not, Roscoe seems to always have a slight glaze on the narrow space between his nose and mouth.  Since traditional tissues use only virgin forests to create their products and recommend against recycling after use, we wanted to find a greener option.  The recycled tissue products on the market cost just a few cents more than mainstream brands, but I was seeking out the eco-friendliest (and thriftiest) option. hankerchief-baby-and-mom.jpg

The answer came from my friend Valerie, who used lacy cloth handkerchiefs with her one-year-old daughter’s frequent colds.  To keep track of the tissue while her toddler busily explored her world, Valerie tucked the hanky into the back of her daughter’s waistband so that it fluttered off behind her like a quarterback on the field. 

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Cutting Down on Plastic Toys, Gizmos, and Doodads

I have to admit that my first concern with plastic is not toxins and off-gassing and all the possible health risks I mentioned here.  Of course I’m not happy that some plastics are bad for us, but I’d been avoiding them long before I ever heard the terms “phthalate” or “BPA.”  Plastic takes hundreds and hundreds of years to break down in a landfill.  Why buy a child a toy he’ll enjoy for three months, only to have it last for all eternity?  Sure, we can pass the toys on to other children, but after a while, plastic tends to look grubby.  Because it’s cheap, it’s often uncared for.
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Downsizing Domestic Dreams: How Much House Does Baby Need?

When winter hit this year, the walls of our small house seemed to close in with the darkness and cold.  Listening to updates about lowering interest rates and the drop in housing prices, I was suddenly hit by a wave of cramped angst.  Should we consider searching for a larger house before our family grows beyond our square footage?  The thought of going to open houses with a precocious toddler in tow was enough to make me nauseous. (And no, I’m not pregnant.) Below, Roscoe contemplates a new home and the concept of snow.

baby-and-snow.jpgSo I started to evaluate why we were thinking about purchasing another home.  My first reaction was that our son needed more room.  Together my husband and I wrote a list of all the things we would love in a future house.  We imagined a living room and a family room for Roscoe to play in with an ultra-efficient gas fireplace.  I envisioned a kitchen full of windows and long countertops to undertake summer canning events and large homemade meals. A huge row of solar panels and a solar hot water heater would be the icing on our dream-house cake. 

Then it dawned on us–-only one of the items on our list really involved our son-and to be honest, he has no idea that we’re missing a family room.  All the other details on the list were our housing fantasies.  Was it possible that we were inadvertently giving into social pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” by moving up into another house?  After all, Roscoe seems to be perfectly content with our home.  He especially enjoys the bathtub. 

bath-baby.jpgCoral Serene Anderson’s article “Towards the Ecology of the Home,” posted here on our site, helped put things into perspective. Her family of three happily contemplated moving into a home with just 400-some square feet. Hmm… All of a sudden our living space of around 1,000 square feet became rather luxurious. Then I looked into how house sizes have changed over the last fifty years, and was astonished (and validated) by the data.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, in 1950 the average new single-family home was just 953 square feet.  AND family sizes were larger than they are today!  By 1970 it had jumped to 1500 square feet and by 1990 it had made it just over 2,000 square feet. The NPR article on the exploding increase in home sizes has some excellent information.   Although we didn’t intentionally think about our carbon footprint when purchasing our small and affordable home, the limited square footage has also shrunken our annual emissions and kept our utility bills low.  We need less than half the energy to heat and light our home than the average 2349 square foot American house.  In the summer we’re shaded by a giant maple tree that provides all our air conditioning.   A small, enclosed entryway provides solar heat in the spring and fall and keeps the warm air inside during the winter. 

Because we opted for a small house, we can afford to live in an area that is within walking distance to shopping and parks–and my husband can bike to work for more than half of the year.  The cost savings in taxes, commuting, energy consumption, and house payments has provided us with the freedom to cut back on our work hours to spend valuable time with our baby. 

dad-and-baby-read1.jpgOur cozy home has kept our family quite comfortable-even with all the gear that a new baby brings to the picture.  In fact, our limited space is a great consideration when it comes to accumulating baby paraphernalia.  We don’t buy it unless we’re willing to trip over it. There’s no need for gates simply because Roscoe isn’t ever far enough away to get into too much trouble. (Well, most of the time!)

 So, have I become proud of my tiny house?  A little.  Also, I’ve learned that with some bundling we can easily get beyond these walls and spend time outside, with friends, or touring the supermarket on toddling legs. And while we’re here, I appreciate the fact that I’m never more than a few feet away from my favorite people. 

Phthalates in Baby Care Products: How to Avoid Toxins without Losing Your Mind

When you have a baby, you’re always hearing about the latest hidden dangers and toxins lurking in almost everything you own.  Since my baby was born, I’ve been learning more and more about harmful chemicals in plastics.  The most recent panic-inducing study, published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, proves that using baby bath products increases the amount of phthalates in babies’ urine.  Phthalates, found in many plastics, can affect reproductive development and play a role in allergies, runny noses, eczema, and even the concentrations of your baby’s hormones.

Baby bath
Was I just awash in toxic chemicals?

Yikes!  This information is enough to cause even the most laid-back parent to freak out.  (MSN’s headline, “Babies Awash in Toxic Chemicals,” didn’t help.)  You may have been lathering the baby up with baby wash and sprinkling him with powder since day one.  Now what?  According to uwnews.org, “Parents who want to decrease their baby’s exposure to phthalates should limit the amount of baby care products used on the infant, and apply lotions or powders only if medically indicated.”  I have decided not to freak out over the possible phthalate exposure of the past–instead, I’ll just work on limiting possible future exposure.
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Green Mom Guilt

Motherhood has moved my capacity for guilt to a whole new level—and I was pretty advanced to begin with. The guilt-rants that occur in my brain are often totally illogical (due to sleep deprivation) but it’s amazing how powerful they can become.  Here is a sample of a sudden guilt gush: “Why didn’t I bring mittens to the park? Now he’ll probably get frostbite and never be able to pursue his dream of professional fiddling!”

 

O.K. It doesn’t always get that bad, but it is hard to feel as though the entire well-being of another tiny soul rests on my shoulders.   So when I throw the health of the planet into the mix, I can occasionally become overwhelmed.  As I’m wheeling my son through the grocery store (and sensing an impending fit) it’s tough to make quick decisions about green packaging, organic products, and price—all while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and planning a diaper change in a public restroom.

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Natural Teething Solutions to Soothe Gnawing Worries

Our 16-month-old notifies me that he’s teething by forcefully biting my finger or clamping down while breastfeeding (SO painful!).  He also produces loads of saliva to be used for slimy kisses or casual drooling. On a late night trip to the local drug store in search of a teething solution, I found that the only teething items on the mainstream market are all different shapes, sizes and colors of plastic.

 

While I hated using plastic because of its impact on the planet, I didn’t initially know about the health concerns. If you haven’t yet heard the recent news reports, here’s the update in a nutshell: Certain plastics leach carcinogens and toxins that could affect your baby’s development and/or reproductive health.  Ack! You say, my baby is chewing on a large hunk of plastic as I read this!  Luckily, there is a wonderful website, www.tinyfootprint.com, that will send you a wallet-sized card to help you select safer plastic products for your child.  The site also has excellent information on green cleaning,  green baby showers, and many other topics.

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Eco-Friendly Daycare Exists!

The memory of dropping my five-month-old son off at daycare for the first time on that winter morning still takes my breath away.  As I walked the long gray hallway, I wasn’t sure my arms would be able to surrender him to anyone else.   It felt as if handing this soft-cheeked child off to a stranger would be like cleaving off a part of my body.

When I was eight months pregnant and everything was hypothetical (including the love I’d feel for my newborn), it seemed like a perfectly logical arrangement.  The daycare facility was close to my work, recommended by other families, and certified at all the right levels.  I hadn’t even thought to ask whether they would be willing to use organic food or work with cloth diapers. (To find out why I later decided to use organic food, watch for my upcoming blog “Organic Baby Food on The Cheap”)

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Baby Rules I Violate in order to Save the Planet

There are some mothers who are up-to-date on all the latest recommendations in pregnancy and child development. These women avoid caffeine and soft cheeses during pregnancy and compliment their child in five different languages when he reaches a new milestone (five months ahead of his peers, no doubt). On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the parents who, through lack of education and resources, remain ignorant of all the expert opinions in child-minding.

And then there are the parents like me. Parents who know all about the baby rules and regulations touted by medical and safety authorities and blatantly disregard them! Why do I do it? I guess I’m just a renegade, a rebel, a rule-breaker in general. Or . . . maybe I am just lazy. Or . . . I am doing it to save the world! Here are just some of the rules I break out of eco-consciousness:
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