Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Eco Green Natural Gift Ideas for Baby Showers and Holidays

MaGreen and I both try to avoid obsessive and arguably immoral consumerism. We know we will not become ideal parents by buying expensive, new things. We frequent a local second-hand baby shop and are grateful for hand-me-downs. However, expecting parents and newborns do receive many gifts. Gifts are an expression of the givers’ love (or at least their sense of duty and obligation). And new parents do need lots of equipment and clothing. I hope this list is useful to new parents, friends, and family. In making our choices, we sought out organic and fair trade items when possible and reasonable. In some instances, however, we believe plastic makes sense or is unavoidable. Unfortunately it can be difficult to create a baby registry for these types of gifts. We’ve had some success with felicity.com. Please feel free to make suggested additions or critiques through the comments option. Note the prices are approximations in US dollars and we don’t receive any advertising money.

Baby Clothing, Receiving Blankets, and Sheets

Baggie/Gown Organic -- $21.99
Bummis Sleeveless Bib -- $9.25
Organic Kimono, snap wrap style -- $14.99
Zutano Complete Outfit (cotton and colorful, but not organic) -- $29.95
Sckoon Organic Cotton Baby Underwear -- $13
Sckoon Organic Cotton Wrap-me Body -- $24
Organic Cotton Cap (many options available) -- $9
Organic Sheets -- $150

Cloth Diapering, Diaper Services, and “Diaper Free” Supplies
Google Diaper Services Directory

Infant Potty Training by Laurie Boucke -- $19.50
Daytime Diaper Cover: Bummis Prints -- $10
Nighttime Diaper Cover: Stacinator Deluxe Fleece Prints -- $17.50
Snap Pants -- $14.03
Fuzzi Bunz Micro Terry Inserts -- $5.50
Fuzzi Bunz Stay-Dry Changing Pad -- $14.95
FUZZI BUNZ system (see fuzzibunz.com/care.htm) -- $14.95
Happy Pants, Small 8 – 14 lbs. -- $12.00
Hemp/Cotton Fleece Doublers -- $2.33
Imse Vimse Swim Diaper -- $11.95
Infant 4x6x4 Chinese Prefold - $1.50


TV-B-Gone (keychain remote that can turn off televisions) -- $19.99


Organic, Fair Trade Teddy Bear -- $29
Aubrey Organics Baby Shampoo -- $7.95
Case of 10 Fair Trade Green & Black's Chocolate Bars -- $35
Receiving Blanket Organic -- $22

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Green Parenting Starts in Bed

Beds in the United States are soaked in flame retardant chemicals called PBDE's, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Studies have shown that these chemicals build up in people’s bodies and are found in breastmilk. Baby mice that are exposed to PBDE’s suffer from disrupted brain activity, memory, hearing, and learning ability. Even low doses cause higher rates of hyperactivity in the mice. The European Union has banned some PBDE’s, but the United States has not. Here are a couple of articles on the subject: mindfully.org and LA Times repost.

After MaGreen found out how toxic regular beds in the US are, she started looking for alternatives. Our mattress was already old – I bought it when I was in college – and giving us back aches so it needed to be replaced anyway. You can find all kinds of alternatives if you do an internet search under “natural beds” or “eco beds”. However, we didn’t have a huge budget. Some of these natural beds go for over $2000. Initially, we decided to go with the nicest foam bed from IKEA, which at least meets the European standards on chemicals, but when we got to the store we found out Hurricane Katrina destroyed their bed warehouse.

Then MaGreen found a deal on eBay for a natural latex foam North Star mattress that was used for a few months as a display by The Savvy Sleeper. It was made by Amish people in Ohio. Here are the links about the process: treehugger.com and northstarbed.com. Basically, someone who lives near the equator collects sap from rubber trees. The Amish people froth it up and pour it over a mould. We bought a frame with wooden slats from IKEA to support the mattress.

Sorry this information isn’t as sexy as the title and picture suggest, but I think it’s a good example of complementarity. The bed is not toxic, less devastating to the environment than a regular bed, not made by anonymous workers in sweatshop conditions, and…hopefully a place where we will enjoy love and passion.

Principles of Green Parenting – Complementarity

Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote in his book Development as Freedom about how capabilities often reinforce each other. When he uses the word capabilities, he’s talking about what a person can be or do, like have bodily health, earn a decent income, and be able to participate effectively in politics. Sen gives a number of excellent examples of capabilities complementing each other. For example, if a person has a decent income, she will be better able to make healthy choices and buy medicines. If a person has bodily health, she will better able to earn a decent income.

I’m trying to think about Green Parenting in terms of complementarity too. Green Parenting, for MaGreen and I, has been and will be the intersection of several efforts: detoxifying our home; creating a family life that is environmentally friendly; working towards gender equity through pregnancy, birth, and childcare; making socially responsible choices as consumers; and living playfully and joyfully. An example of complementarity in Green Parenting would be that cooking fresh organic food cuts toxic pesticides out of our diets; helps the environment; improves working conditions for farm workers; and tastes good. If we have a healthy, well-adjusted daughter, there's a whole host of other capabilities that will be enhanced for her, MaGreen, and me.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Unborn Daughter's Desire

I have a friend who, when he found out from the ultrasound technician that his wife was carrying a girl, immediately began to worry about boys asking his daughter out to the high school prom. Even now when he talks about it, he runs his hands through his hair and rubs his forehead.

When MaGreen and I found out we are having a girl, I didn’t quite have that reaction. But I am worried. If I try to raise a daughter who doesn’t want a Barbie doll, I know the first birthday gift she’ll ask for will be a Barbie. I don’t want to try to control my daughter’s desire. But I don’t think it’s wise for me to ignore desire either, fooling myself that I don’t play any role. I don’t want to leave the formation of her desires to the shallow and commodified notion of sexuality that permeates our culture.

I have this other friend who tried to convince me that walking around the house naked and taking showers with my daughter is the key to life without shame. I just don’t think it is that simple. Pretending to live without any boundaries could be as bad as erecting big, puritanical walls. Something has to be mysterious and out of bounds. Doesn’t desire begin with transgression? with curiosity? She should feel safe at home, aware of all the violence in the world, and in charge of her body.

Here is a poem I wrote in which I try to imagine what I should do as a father, at least metaphorically…

My Unborn Daughter’s Desire

The top dresser drawer
will be hard for her to reach
and I will stuff it with objects
she should not see.
I will fill the drawer with stones
from the beds of great rivers,
postcards from Khajuraho,
bangles and payal made of 22 karat gold,
verses of Sappho embroidered on satin,
a biography of Phoolan Devi,
and a book on Mayan astronomy

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Never a Net Loss in Love

I was at a conference in Oxford where a woman presented a true-cost accounting model for the global trade in caring labor. Let’s say a poor woman from India leaves her children with their grandmother and moves to Dubai to help a rich woman there take care of her kids. She sends money back to India, the grandmother does the unpaid labor of raising her grandkids, and maybe the mother in Dubai works for a real estate agency. Lots of clear economic questions to consider. When the presenter got to the question of love – the love and affection the children in India did not receive – she said, “I didn’t need to include love in the model because there was no net loss in love.” The children in India, she argued, were loved by their grandmother like they would have been by their mother.

Many people at the conference were outraged. The No Net Loss in Love theory was widely discussed at the cafeteria tables in the lunch hall. How dare she! Love isn’t a commodity like shoes or oranges that you can model with supply and demand curves. Love is the stuff of poetry. Unmeasurable.

I think the presenter was brave enough to at least try to talk about the global trade in caring labor. The LA Times ran a story November 3, 2005 about an Salvadoran woman who leaves her kids with a neighbor everyday so that she can help a rich Anglo woman take care of her kids on the other side of town. She’s one of an estimated 62,000 Latina nannies in LA County alone. These stories of poor mothers having to leave their children behind, like Nuris who we met when we staid with the Navas family in Panama, are heartbreaking. I know I don’t want to be at the demand end of this trade in love. It’s immoral. Like buying baby shoes made by children in sweat shops. I talked to my friend Ruben and he said, “when we have a baby, it’s going to be raised by family.” But you know, my mom hired daytime nannies -- white women in Mobile -- to help take care of me so that she could work. Dorothy was so nurturing to me and having a career was good for my mom, my family, and for me as a child. So I'm already a benficiary in the unequal trade of caring labor and I experienced a net gain in love.

I just want there to be another way where we think differently about how we live in our communities, where extended families are reimagined, where poor women don't have to leave their kids behind to take care of rich kids, where the state helps, and where men and women have more flexibility to leave and enter the world of paid work.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mr. Feminist

When we found out that our baby was going to be a girl, one of my colleagues at work said, “Oh good, you can raise a little feminist.” Then she looked at me, paused, and added, “not that you couldn’t raise a boy to be a feminist as well.”

I work for an academic journal called Feminist Economics. People are often surprised that I can, as a male, even work for a feminist publication. They imagine that feminists always want women-only spaces. Then people ask what feminist economics is. A feminist stance on reproductive rights or domestic abuse, a feminist reading of a novel, or a feminist critique of magazine advertisements – people are accustomed to these sorts of feminism. But feminist economics, why would feminism matter in a world of graphs, charts, and statistical models?

Feminist economists look at all kinds of issues like women’s participation in the labor force, pay gaps, wealth gaps, marriage law, inheritance law, unpaid work, childcare, eldercare, and informal labor that are often ignored by mainstream economics. They question mainstream assumptions which are collectively termed homo economicus or the economic man. They contribute to groundbreaking models for understanding poverty, globalization, diseases, and trade. And they try to use this understanding to improve the lives of men, women, and children through public policy efforts like gender mainstreaming.

I’m not a feminist economist myself, I work on the publishing side in the editorial office. The first issue of the journal that I helped edit was a special issue on lone mothers. The cross-country comparisons were the most eye-opening. Once you see how much state support can help parents and children, the situation in the US seems immoral. The numbers are really compelling. Access to childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave, and welfare can mean the difference between well-being and poverty. Yet generous state-mandated maternity leave, like in Scandinavia, can lead to really low rates of working women and discriminatory hiring practices. That issue taught me how profoundly parenting is shaped by social norms and laws.

What I have noticed in many of the parenting magazines and parenting books is that they focus exclusively on how to raise a healthy baby. The parents’ well-being is usually in terms of the baby. You need to take care of yourself to take good care of the baby. Yeah, MaGreen and I are consumed by the desire to raise our baby well in a nontoxic environment. But I want to be vigilant about falling into patriarchal traps. Being stuck at home without the engagement and financial security of work can be bad for mothers. Working all the time and becoming emotionally distant isn’t great for partners either. I don’t want to be trapped into the male-breadwinner, female-caregiver model. And I don't want to be trapped in the relentless life of the two-income, baby-raised-by-a-nanny-from-Panama-whose-own-children-are-growing-up-without-a-mother model either. I have hope, but I'm not sure what we will do.