Now that the next generation is staring you in the face, you’d think that you would start doing a better job of making sure the world you’re leaving it will remain somewhat habitable. Sure, Kristen and I have been slowly shrinking our carbon footprint for years: Walking wherever we can, gardening, shopping for cars based solely on how many miles they get to the gallon, etc. But becoming parents has actually made things harder in this department, not easier. The problem is that the primary tool needed to enact real and lasting lifestyle change – time – is the exact thing that new parents are in increasingly short supply of.
Diapers. We thought about cloth diapers. We registered for cloth diapers. We even received cloth diapers at the baby shower. Cooper just turned ten months old and he has not once had his nether regions cradled by a cloth diaper. We use them as burp cloths and snot rags, and not just for Cooper. They are, after all, highly absorbent.
But we quickly realized that they are not practical for us. We can barely keep up with the increase in laundry as it is; if we had added ten cloth diapers a day to that we would soon have literally been buried alive in poop. Yes, I realize that some of you reading this actually use cloth diapers and can pull it off, just like some of you can slam dunk or play Chopin’s “Nocturne in B Major,” or parallel park. That doesn’t make it any less incomprehensible to me.
We compromise by using the eco-friendly disposable diapers that biodegrade faster and don’t have as many chemicals or something. To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly they do that makes them better for the environment, because the only time I’ve looked at the package is while tearing it open and yelling “HOLD IT IN FOR ONE MORE MINUTE, DADDY’S COMING!”
And then there is the dishwasher.
It’s always on those “Moronically Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Planet” lists: Only run the dishwasher at night, and only when it’s full. I did this for years because I love our dishwasher and wanted to use it in the most efficient way possible. As someone who lived in New York City for ten years, I do not take the existence of our dishwasher for granted. Sometimes I would run a load of bubble bath and rose petals so that it can relax and know that I appreciate everything it does for us.
Other than those times I “gave it the night off,” my old method of using the dishwasher was to stuff it so full I had to duct tape forks to the inner walls. Those days are over. Now that Cooper is eating solid food, and we are making all of his food from scratch, we are at war with the relentless onslaught of dirty dishes. Cooper will go through five spoons, three bowls, two cups, a wire whisk (don’t ask), two rubber spatulas (seriously, don’t) and his high chair tray at every single meal. I do not wait around for another batch of dirty dishes to come down the pipeline. I put that sucker to work. If I wait until the next meal and the next batch of dishes, then there’s too much to fit into the dishwasher at once and then there is overflow and overflow is the enemy. Keep the line moving. The enemy is everywhere. The enemy never sleeps.
I don’t let this keep me up at night. Then again, I don’t let anything except Cooper keep me up at night these days (including my alarm clock, unfortunately). I remind myself that living in an environmentally friendly way is best viewed as a sport: Keep practicing, you’ll get better. And I remind myself that the most important thing we can do is to try and pass these ideals, imperfect as they may be, to the next generation. I think about this whenever we take Cooper outside and his face lights up as he rolls around in the grass, playing with leaves and watching ravens take flight into the twilight. I know that we are showing him the things that matter, the things that are worth saving, the things we have to honor and protect. I am looking forward to when he’s old enough to help us honor and protect them, but for now we roll around in the grass with him, with gratitude and reverence.
Although, the sooner we can get him to start using the toilet, the better. Those diapers are really piling up.
Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin live in Beacon with their four cats, and their son Cooper James Cronin. View more of their photos at www.flickr.com/teammoonshine.