Have I focused too much on plastic-reduced parenting?

Over the last month, I’ve had two posts dedicated to reducing plastic use in our household. I’ve got one more for ya—but this will be the last for a while (seriously, keep reading to find out why).

One of the motherhood bloggers I follow (@mamademics) recently posted on Instagram how she pissed off a bunch of White women when she said she didn’t want to ban plastic straws. I admit, I felt a little ashamed—was I one of those White women that was focusing so much on plastic as a way to feel like I did something social justice-y rather than focus on the more challenging issues like Black and Brown individuals being murdered by the police? By poisoned water in Flint? By the lack of employment opportunities that give any capacity to sustain a family? On top of that, @mamademics linked an article that talked about how plastic straws are very crucial for some disabled people to be able to drink. The author of the article talks about moving to an ‘opt-in’ system (no one gets plastic straws unless they specifically request) instead of a total ban. @Mamademics’s post was a two-fer: calling out an excessive focus on plastic straws at the expense of racial justice AND the able-bodied privilege unrecognized . She’s awesome—go click on all the ads on her page to get her some of that money.

If I’m being fair to myself (should I defend myself? Is that the typical white feminist defensiveness we see everywhere else?), I’m not focusing on banning plastic straws. I never focused on straws or a total ban, though I do talk about single-use plastic and one of those is plastic straws. I do think reducing waste is an important activity, as does @mamademics (it seems—I don’t want to talk for her). But I didn’t contextualize my blog posts in how my privilege shapes my ability to reduce our plastic use. This blog is written by a privileged mother, so almost all of its content focuses on how to channel that privilege towards socially just ends. Part of that means I need to be explicit about when my privilege is shaping my actions—like my focus on reducing single-use plastic.

Also, if I’m being honest, it did feel good to be able to focus on plastic and give myself a day’s pass on thinking about the torture and death of Black and Brown babies. I’m embarrassed to say it but it’s true. And I thank @mamademics for doing that emotional labor to educate me (I went to her page and pay-paled her a donation to thank her #paywomenofcolorfortheirlabor).

So, yes I am going to continue to reduce our plastic use as a family. I’m going to continue to get excited when corporations and nations talk seriously about how to reduce single-use plastic (as long as its not at the expense of access for individuals who are disabled). But I do not judge those who do not have the emotional energy or financial resources dedicated to the same goals that I have. And I will not let these plastic-reducing activities distract me from racial justice issues.

Plastic-reduced parenting, one month later…

Last month, I made a modest goal to reduce single-use plastic in our grocery shopping/food habits and in our bathroom habits. I’ve successfully stopped using most plastic bags & produce bags, tried to find produce that is not wrapped in plastics, etc. I even shopped at the farmers’ market (since farmers’ markets tend to have less plastic wrapping than grocery stores), though the one near our house is so damn expensive it’s hard to commit to shopping there long-term. I also made a goal of reduced bathroom plastic, and while I haven’t needed to repurchase anything for A or myself yet, I have chosen where I will buy my next package-free options (LUSH seems to have what I need, honestly).

As we transition to plastic-reduced lives, I think we need to put a lot of conscious thought and energy into it. Once living plastic-reduced/plastic-free becomes a habit, it can fade into the background and not require so much thought and planning. But right now, during the transition, it should. And the goals I set last month have already faded into the background, so I think it’s time for the next push. Once something gets easy, it’s time to make it hard again. This month, I’m doing that through ‘no-buy July.’

My husband and I have committed to ‘no-buy July’, where we limit our frivolous spending (obviously necessities are allowed, but no extra toys/clothes/eating out, etc.). Trying these two big goals (plastic-reduced and no-buy July) at the same time may seem like I’m spreading myself too thin, but in reality, they are mutually supportive. When you don’t buy as much, you don’t use as much single-use plastic. Funny how that works. Consumerism is the motivation behind single-use plastic. So reducing consumerist tendencies reduces our plastic use. There are other benefits to no-buy July as well (I hope! Only six days in at this point…), but even reducing our eating out means that we are less likely to get takeaway and therefore less likely to use plastic utensils and to-go food containers.

It’s difficult to live plastic-reduced as a parent. We’re tired and don’t always have the energy to do the slightly harder (but less-plastic) option. We feel poorer and don’t always want to buy the slightly more expensive (but less-plastic) option. We’re marketed to like crazy, which means we buy toys/clothes/convenience food wrapped in plastic. That’s why our family has chosen to set incremental goals, instead of going cold turkey. It makes a radical lifestyle change something that seems doable. A isn’t old enough to talk about plastic-reduced living yet, but I hope he sees the precedent we are trying to set for him. We are doing it imperfectly but trying nonetheless!

Joy, pt. 4: Vacation!

A and I went on vacation this week with my family. We went to Cape Ann in Massachusetts (a place I have been going my whole life and my mother before me). Unfortunately, my husband had to work, but A had aunts, grandparents, and extended family to keep him occupied. He got to ride on a boat. He got to swim in the sea. But his most favoritest-favorite thing to do was throw rocks into the water. He could sit there for hours and throw rocks, just to watch them splash and hear them go ‘plop.’ So, amidst all the horror of the world, this week, I present to you: A on his first boat ride. IMG_7193.JPG

Happy wiping,

Olivia

“What would you do if you had to choose between watching your kids die & crossing an invisible line on a map?”

*Edit: Since writing this post Wednesday morning, Trump signed an executive order to stop the policy of separating families. A problem that he created.

As Matt Cameron, an immigration attorney and author of this viral Facebook post wrote: “What would you do if you had to choose between watching your kids die & crossing an invisible line on a map?” Stop separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. These are asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing violence. These are children (and parents) who will suffer from life-long psychological damage. While Obama did not handle the problem of undocumented immigrants well, the policy of separating children from asylum-seekers is 100% the Trump administration.

If I’m being honest, it’s hard to keep up with the news when you are taking care of a young child. At the end of the day, it’s easy to feel burnt out. While self-care is important in building sustainable social justice work (and parenting and when you are trying to do both simultaneously), we cannot retreat into our privilege in moments like this. If I find myself retreating into ignorance, I think about everything I would do to keep A safe and know that these parents are doing the exact same thing. While I don’t have legal skills to donate, I do have money. The internet is ripe with suggestions of where to donate financially to organizations advocating against this practice. Our family has donated to:

It’s not enough, but it’s something. Stay awake. Donate money and time when you can (and most of us can.). Don’t retreat.

Solidarity and love,

Olivia.

What to do with Dr. Seuss?

When I was reading to A before bed a few nights ago, every book he pulled out was Dr. Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the HatOh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Fox in Socks are among the favorites in our house. It always surprises me how much he reaches for Dr. Seuss. We didn’t particularly push them on him, but there is something in them that A just gravitates towards. Something completely fun and flamboyant.

Completely timeless, though, Dr. Seuss’s books are not. Dr. Seuss is a product of his time, and I notice that in how he treats female characters and characters of color. In Cat in the Hat, for example, Sally never speaks nor has much agency in story. In And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street (admittedly one of his earliest and more notorious works), his portrayal of Asian characters is undeniably stereotypical. In Oh, the Places You’ll Go (one of my favorite books of all time, kid book or not!), there is a weird, racialized exoticization of turban-wearing people.  And I haven’t found a Dr. Seuss book with a human character that looks African American.

Despite that, I can’t abandon Dr. Seuss. I can’t completely censor unfair and unjust images out of A’s life, no matter how much I want to. First, I think that would breed resentment in A—when he sees his friends are able to watch certain TV shows but we don’t let him, he won’t understand and may start to look for opportunities to engage in that content outside of our supervision. Second, explicitly discussing how race and gender are represented in books and movies makes it clear to A our perspective. Color-blind parenting assumes that kids will unconsciously pick-up the messages of tolerance when we put them in diverse environments or expose them to diverse children’s literature. In reality, kids are likely picking up the unconscious biases and unfair treatment of some of their friends or some of the characters in their books. In order to counter that, parents need to have conscious, explicit conversations with kids. Because many parts of Dr. Seuss books are so great and relatively non-problematic, his books provide an opportunity to engage in such conscious parenting, without being overwhelmed by such problematic images with every turn of the page.

Complete censorship for kids is not always the best option. Dr. Seuss is not perfect but rather a product of his time. We can recognize and enjoy the parts of his canon that are absolutely amazing/hilarious/whimsical, while using other parts of his books opportunities to engage in color-conscious and gender-conscious conversations with kids.

P.S. For someone doing a way better job at deconstructing Dr. Seuss than me, look here.

Plastic-free Parenting (or at least, my bad attempts at it…)

One of the mama instagrammers that I follow (@mamalinauk) recently posted a ‘plastic-free parenting’ challenge for the month of June. Each week, she recommends focusing on reducing plastic use in certain areas of our parenting lives.

  • Week 1: Mealtime (plastic wrapped produce, lunches out-and-about, and saran wrap)
  • Week 2: Bath time (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and body wash)
  • Week 3: Toilet time (diapers, wipes, toilet paper)
  • Week 4: Play time (arts and crafts, plastic toys and batteries, baking)

I have been thinking about how to reduce single-use plastic for a month or two now. I would say that our house has pretty typical middle-class American consumerist patterns: despite my hatred of clutter, we do end up buying way too much shit and a lot of that comes with single use plastic (via plastic bags, packaging, the object itself, etc).

In the last month, I’ve made a concerted effort to not use produce bags at the grocery store and to bring our cloth grocery bags. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here—on the contrary, this seems like responsible 21st century living 101-type stuff that I should’ve been doing years ago. India is the latest country (as of the day I’m writing this!) to pledge to ban single-use plastic as a country. With our current federal government, I can’t imagine making such a radical commitment, but that doesn’t mean that we as individuals can’t try.

Despite my attention to our single-use plastic at grocery stores, I never really thought about reducing single-use plastic as a parent. But @mamalinauk’s challenge has started to make my brain wheels turn: where are other places in my parenting life that I can reduce waste in general (and single-use plastic specifically)? There was a brief moment while I was pregnant that my husband and I talked about cloth diapers, but (and I’m totally calling him out on this, LOVE YOU), he was really against the idea. I’m sure if I had been more opinionated, my husband would have at least considered it.

In fact, my husband overall doesn’t feel he has the emotional energy left over from his job (he works a TON, and if I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t either) to dedicate mental energy or time to this issue at this point in our lives. So, I told him I would try to do it for us. While we may not be willing to make the switch to cloth diapers yet, there are other areas where I will focus on plastic-free (or plastic-reduced?) parenting for the next month:

  • Grocery shopping and food–My older sister is awesome at sewing and has made us reusable produce bags and snack pouches that I will integrate more fully into our day to day lives. Next step is using the farmers market more, because even though I try to not use produce bags, SO much produce comes wrapped in plastic! I didn’t notice it before my grocery shop last week! Oh, and I won’t get plastic straws when I’m eating out.
  • Bath hygiene—after we finish with A’s current toothbrush, we will either buy him bamboo ones or an electric one that will last much longer. I will also try to find soap/hygiene products at the local farmers market that does not come in plastic bottles.

Good luck and happy wiping (with reuseable wipes?),

O.

‘Wishes for my sons’ by Lucille Clifton

‘Wishes for my sons’ by Lucille Clifton (1987)
i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn’t believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

************************************************************************************
I haven’t read a huge amount of poetry about parenthood, but this is one of my absolute favorites. In fact, it was one of the inspirations for this blog. Late one summer evening in 2017, my dad and I were sitting in my living room. I mentioned that I had been thinking about starting a blog about social justice and parenting. He (someone who actually didn’t raise any sons!) immediately thought of this poem and showed it to me. Lucille Clifton gave words to what it means to raise a feminist son. To raise an empathetic son. To raise a son who understands the anatomy of a body with a different reproductive system than his. To raise a son who does not approach the world with arrogance but with a humble curiosity and humor.

Today, I’m going to let Lucille speak for me. She does it so much better!

Strollers as a class symbol

Cars are the classic class symbol: when you see someone driving around in a BMW, Audi, or Range Rover, you know they have a certain amount of money. Yes, they are luxury cars and, with that, comes a nicer ride. But they also signify to those around that you come from a *certain* socioeconomic class. I’m not @-ing people who do have luxury cars—just recognizing that their consumer choices have social ramifications.

Well, when you enter into parenthood, strollers do that same thing. Strollers signify to those around your class status.

First, you have the Uppababy and Stokke class of strollers. These can be reaching the $1,000 mark or higher. But even beyond the price tag, these strollers signal a certain *fanciness* (if you will, lol). These strollers are all bougie, all day—you can’t deny it. Don’t get me wrong though: I’ve pushed a few Uppababies in my day, and damn, do they do feel nice. There’s just something that’s smoother about the ride.
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Maybe I think they feel so nice because the stroller we have falls into the ‘bougie-but-pretending-not-to-be’ category of class status. We have the Baby Jogger City Mini GT. Now, if you don’t have a kid, you have no idea what I’m talking about. But once you know this stroller, you will see it everywhere. It’s in the $300-$400 range, which is NOT nothing. We justified it by claiming that we walk the dogs everyday with A, so he’ll spend a lot of time in the stroller. Which is true! But now, almost two years in, I’ve started nitpicking the stroller (he can’t sit up straight enough!), which is ridiculous and I recognize that. Still, it’s a really nice ride and says to the people around us that we have some money/will probably make more money in the future/but try to pretend we don’t care about class status. Lol. (can you tell I’m trying to be self-deprecating here!?)

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Then, we have the good, old umbrella strollers. Classic. What most of us grew up with probably. This says, I’m just getting what is practical (both financially and otherwise). They can range from $20 up (though some of the fancy brands have umbrella strollers for $200—this isn’t what I’m talking about).

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Now, of course, there are things that fall in between these *very rough* categories. But, like I said earlier, I’m trying to light-heartedly call attention to the fact that parenting is a political, social and economic endeavor—and that the purchases we make as parents can perpetuate things like class status in the world. I don’t know if we would make a different choice if we did it all again, but at the very least, it’s worth recognizing.

My Miscarriage Stories

My first miscarriage was in September 2015. The first month we started trying to get pregnant, we got pregnant! I felt so lucky and a little nervous, but mostly lucky. We told our family the day we tested positive. It was so exciting! I still have the videos of telling our family. Around 5 and half weeks, I noticed some brown stuff in my underwear. I remember exactly where I was–in the powder room of the house where I babysat. I immediately called my husband. That first day and a half, there wasn’t enough bleeding to be sure of anything. Lots of women spot during their first trimester, they say. I didn’t know if I was letting my anxious mind get away from me or I really was miscarrying…

I knew so little then. I didn’t even know if it was a miscarriage or a chemical pregnancy I was experiencing. I didn’t seek any medical supervision, because I don’t know why…I just didn’t.

There was a day and a half of mental torture—I would check my underpants obsessively for any brown or red discharge. No, I’m not! Yes, I am! After about 2 days, the spotting got heavy enough that I was sure I was miscarrying. It took me about a day of intense grieving—just lying in bed and being sad. The next night, I had the most intense pain of my life. Then after those days, it felt just a like a period but a little weepier.

That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about miscarriages, I think. Before I had my own, I thought they were these surprise, acute events and were over in a few hours. I didn’t realize they would happen (both physically and emotionally) over days, weeks, or even months. It can take over a month for a woman’s body to heal from a miscarriage. My body took six weeks. Emotionally, it can take longer. The longest emotional symptom I had was anxiety.  When I got pregnant with A, I was extremely anxious. Every single time I went to the bathroom for the three weeks between my positive home pregnancy test and my ultrasound, I checked for spotting. Luckily, it all worked out and I ended up with the sweetie little, hyper, happy boy we have today.

Flash forward to a April 2018. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called ‘Joy, pt. 3’ and said that some things happened in our house and I needed to find the joy in motherhood. The main thing that happened that week was my second miscarriage. It’s almost an identical story to my first miscarriage. First month we were trying. Six weeks along. Spotting. Uncertainty (and that mental bargaining with grief) for a few days. Then finally, confirmation.

Again, I remember where I was vividly when I first saw spotting (something about the intensity of that emotion must cement the memory). I was peeing before my regular Monday yoga class, when I noticed just a little redness on the toilet paper. My yoga instructor, who I have known for years and went to prenatal yoga with while pregnant with A, asked if I was okay (my emotions must have been showing on my face). I cried during yoga class that day, and afterwards, cried to my yoga instructor.

The second time, I did get medical supervision, because I have a relationship with my OB (the same one that delivered A). Blood work and an ultrasound confirmed I was miscarrying on a Tuesday. I was by myself in the doctor’s office. Got a lot of hugs from the ultrasound tech, who said she’d had two miscarriages herself. Freaked out the Phlebotomist by crying when she asked me my birthday.  The only thing different between this miscarriage and my first is I didn’t have the intense pain, just a boat load (the *official* medical term, btw) of blood and clots. It’s only been a few weeks, so that intense pain could still come. This time, there was definitely grief. Not as intense as last time—since I had A, I’m just more distracted and can’t focus on it as much. There was more disbelief though—‘Is this really happening a second time?’ I said multiple times to my husband. Sometimes I’d laugh when I said it. Sometimes, I’d be serious.

Miscarriages suck. They are emotionally and physically tough, and often women have to go about their lives and pretend like everything is normal to their coworkers, friends, and family. I know I needed to talk about it to process it, and there were times I felt like people thought I was over-reacting or talking about it too much. Yes, lots of women experience them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suck. Many women have a miscarriage story or two. These are mine.

Tickling and consent

I hated being tickled as a kid (and as an adult now!), as I’m sure many others do. I always lived by the belief that you shouldn’t really tickle kids. In all my interactions with toddlers and elementary aged kids, I tended to follow that rule.

But A seems to love being tickled. And I don’t mean, ‘he laughs when we tickle him so that shows us he loves it.’ Everyone laughs when they get tickled, whether they like it or not. It’s an uncontrollable reaction. When I say A loves getting tickled, I mean he ASKS to be tickled. With a cute little grin as he anticipates it, he says ‘more tickle? More tickle?’.

So given his enjoyment of it, we do tickle A—but only in some circumstances. I’m not the first to write about this, and I don’t pretend this is my idea. But I will reiterate it in brief and clear terms: tickling can help introduce children to the idea of consent. In the current reckoning of rape culture going on (#metoo), teaching my son what consent is from an early age is important. Of course, I’m not going to talk about sex and rape to my one and half year old, but I can teach him that when someone doesn’t want to be touched (or tickled), you stop.

This goes two ways during our tickle-times. First, I proactively ask him if he wants to be tickled before I start. Second, if he says ‘no’ or ‘stop’, then I stop immediately. Both actions show him that he has control over what happens to his body and that I will respect those boundaries. I am modeling for him behavior that I expect from him.

I think the major criticism of this is that it takes the organic playfulness out of tickling. For a kid who—at least most of the time—wants to be tickled, stopping to ask before you start EVERY time might seem like a lot. It doesn’t have to be an overly serious conversation though. Last night, I just said ‘can I tickle you?’ and he grinned and said ‘Yeah’ in that adorable way that he does. So, I tickled him. And we played. And maybe, unconsciously, he filed away in his mind something about consent.