When the Rubber Hits the Road
Yesterday, I was thinking bananas. No, I was not going bananas. Well, in all truth, I probably was. But I was thinking about actual, physical bananas too. Let me explain.
I am a person of many ideals. I care about keeping our world beautiful, about doing the right thing and being honest, about raising children who consider others but value themselves. I want to model doing the right thing, not the cheap, fast, ‘n’ lazy thing. When I had no children and some semblance of disposable income, I had all these ideas about how I was going to live out my ideals.
You probably can guess where this is going. I have struggled along trying to keep hold of some of those ideals. And many more have since ended up discarded like a dirty diaper in a Walmart parking lot. I commonly carry a warm feeling of guilt in my heart instead of excellence. And sometimes I don’t even feel guilty, because I’m too tired.
Some of the problem is that I have many ideals, and I can’t save the world. And some of the problem is that children are like small ecoterrorists, driven by a desire to use up as many resources as they can as quickly as they are able. I suspect that if my children could personally raze a rainforest in order to make more room for fast-food beef, they would.
Another major problem is that I cannot afford to follow all of my ideals to the extent that I would like to. So I’m trying to find some kind of crazy balancing routine that works.
I think everyone has some issues that are close to their hearts.Mine might sound a little funny to you. But here’s how I’m doing on just a couple.
I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she attempts to educate the American public on our outlandishly bad food industry (I do recommend it, by the way). After reading it, I grew much more passionate about buying in-season, local produce for a variety of reasons. Between that and becoming educated about all of the human rights violations that go along with our insatiable demand for the nutritionally blah fruit, I stopped wanting to buy bananas. (The short version: corporations have been accused of hiring people to murder and intimidate labor organizers and more.)
However, my children would all be happy to never eat anything but bananas again. I want zero bananas. They want many hundreds of bananas. My spouse has historically landed more toward their end of the spectrum as well.
So sometimes I don’t buy bananas. And sometimes I do, and I feel really grumbly about it because they are more expensive, and my budget is limited. But I only buy fair trade bananas, since they are less likely to actively lead to environmental and human welfare problems.
And this is really my balancing act for all food. I want to give my kids cheap, nutritious, local, tasty, well-balanced food that is free of hormones, additives, and poison. And that’s not entirely possible in a realistic, working-mom, non-homesteading kind of life. So I try to just minimize the damage by varying what I buy. Organic milk one day, cheap milk the next. No bananas one day, expensive bananas the next. Sometimes I just go ahead and buy Monsanto’s artificially flavored, body-killing candy. I mean, what am I supposed to do, never eat Swedish Fish again??
Supporting Good Businesses
We’re all really sad that there basically aren’t bookstores anymore, aren’t we? I spent countless hours in a musty bookshop in Moss Landing when I was a child, searching for old books I loved, and countless more hours having coffee with people at Borders. I love books. I like to touch them, pick them up, see them, smell their papery scent, and maybe impulse-purchase them.
But I don’t get to do that so often anymore.
Well, there’s a reason bookstores are an endangered species. It’s because we didn’t value something that we valued. We wanted Amazon’s discount and Super Saver shipping. I did.
Disappearing bookstores are a mixture of not supporting small businesses and not supporting brick and mortar businesses. I wish we had all shopped at Mom and Pop’s corner bookstore and just ordered the merchandise that cost $2 more. Maybe even $8 more. Sometimes doing the right thing costs more–in the moment. But having successful, healthy businesses in the community is actually cheaper. We’re not paying for the unemployment or the bankruptcy. And we don’t have to add $8 in shipping to just buy a pair of underpants.
Don’t get me wrong: I can’t pay top dollar for things either. So I’m trying to buy fewer things at all. I want to support the economy. But often I can’t, not in the right way. Sometimes the best I can do is not support the enemy if I can’t support the friend.
And to be honest: sometimes I just don’t want to know if more places I want to shop are bad.
So my final result is kind of random. I won’t patronize Chik-fil-A (disappointing, but equal rights), Walmart (don’t get me STARTED on Walmart, but I am paying taxes to support their underpaid workers while they push small farmers off their land and support subpar labor conditions in India and Bangladesh), or Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic (also supremely disappointing, but it’s about Bangladesh labor conditions again). I just can’t knowingly add to a cycle of harm. But I also have my suspicions about a lot of my favorite stores, burger joints, etc., and I kind of…don’t want to know. I try to order my cat food at the Honest Dog instead of PetCo, but I buy my dog food at Costco. I have been trying to buy more second-hand clothes, but that doesn’t work so well for items like the tank tops I live in daily. I keep thinking I will go to H&M to buy more, but it’s far away, and if they don’t have them, then I have to try to find a plan B. And I don’t really have time for that s$%*. I try to buy books from Better World Books instead of Amazon. (And they always have free shipping!) But…gulp…I have a Kindle. So guess where I have to buy books for it. Bingo.
This is another doozy. Maybe one of the biggest doozies. When you are a parent, you want to avoid, you know, using up all of the resources that your great-grandkids will want to eat, drink, and live among one day. You do, right? But you are also in charge of small beings who get dirty (really, really dirty), whom you can’t force to eat food they don’t want, and who will socially benefit from being shuttled around to a multitude of birthday parties, to which everyone else will tote pink, lead-painted, plastic toys imported from China. They are often safer in cars that get .14 miles to the gallon. Parents are told it’s safer to buy a new, giant, plastic car seat for each child rather than use hand-me-downs that will otherwise go into the landfill. Parents are told it is now illegal to donate or sell their child’s drop-side crib, and that their friends really ought to buy a new one.
I breastfed my children. Until it wasn’t working anymore. And then, since two of them weren’t quite one, I used…meep!…formula.
I used cloth diapers. Except my spouse hated them. And babysitters were perplexed by them. And then there was the time I opened the diaper pail and found…never mind. I won’t tell you what I found. Suffice it to say it was bad. And though I don’t have the strongest stomach in the world, the feeling of virtue I got whenever I washed them and hung them to dry was worth it. But with each successive child, I have been more and more likely to rely on disposable diapers. They’re expensive, they just can’t be that comfortable, and they are basically made out of straight petroleum. And yet they are handy.
I try not to buy things that seem ridiculous to me, like disposable, pre-soaped washcloths or individually wrapped prunes. But sometimes, when I’m going on a car trip, I just want a bunch of those applesauces with the sippy tops, which won’t spill applesauce all over my car. (Oh yeah, and when I was 23, my future children were never going to eat in my car–ha!!!) I have made a lot of babyfood in the course of having three babies–and I also got really sucked in by the disposable packets with sippy tops like the applesauce tops, because the baby food didn’t have to go all over the baby’s entire body.
I will go to crazy lengths to save water (let’s just say there’s a bucket in my shower to save the water that would be wasted before it is warm), but I also let my kids play in the sprinklers when the lawn doesn’t need water and fill paddling pools and bowls of water for the baby to play with/dump all over the kitchen. I reuse and recycle, and yet let my kids rip brown paper bags and other items into 100,000 little pieces in the name of creativity and to keep them out of my hair.
I could probably go on and on. I could tell you all the ways I am a really good citizen, and all the ways I’m a really bad one. These are just a few of the many, many ways I’m trying to live up to my ideals while betraying them all in the same day. But maybe that can be a longer-term conversation for us. How are you managing the ideals balancing act?
Coming soon: a post more tailored to the ways I’m trying to raise my children to be good people while barking at them unnecessarily and feeling the urge to take things that aren’t really mine.
This is pretty much exactly how I feel. All these choices about what is best and the guilt inside, worrying I’m not making the best/right choices.
Excellent essay. I’m totally there–some same issues, some different ones…had a funny conversation during my vacation, while at the home of one of the many people I visited to whom I’m related to by marriage or blood. It went sort of like this: naptimes, breastfeeding toddler, vegan substitutes for meat or dairy products, how so-called natural flavors are derived from rodent glands. Then I asked if I could do some laundry. Oh, of course you may. We use only red wine vinegar to wash our clothes, though–sensitive skin issues. *insert tire screech noise/needle skidding on a record* Me: [long pause] OK, no, I’m gonna need some surfectants up in here.
Ahahaha!! Yeah, like I need to add “smelling like vinegar” to my list of oddities. (Great description, by the way.) I also do things like wear makeup and perfume. You gotta draw the line somewhere.
You mean your kids haven’t discovered what happens when they violently squeeze those applesauce packets? Lucky!