Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Recent Interview with My Five-Month-Old Daughter

Me: Your mom and I have been having a hard time balancing childcare, work, and taking care of ourselves. I feel like I’m failing.

My Baby: Daddy, you’re not alone. The problem is structural, not one of your own personal failure. Capitalism has turned time into a series of opportunity cost calculations. You and Mommy have to “spend” time on me by not making money through market labor. Mainstream economic models assume that any time “spent” outside the market is leisure. Although I know that you enjoy my cuddly goodness, much of the childcare you and mommy do is not leisure. It is unpaid and unvalued work.

Me: This is exactly what your mommy and I were afraid of. That you will think we always want to be doing something else besides taking care of you and that you have to compete for attention.

My Baby: Don’t worry so much, it’s probably good for me to have the need to compete for attention hardwired into my brain. Odds are that the world I have to navigate on my own will be at least as competitive as the world is right now. Our society and economic system take unpaid, caring labor for granted. We’re supposed to believe the market will magically solve every social problem, but what’s really going on is that women are expected to do childcare, breastfeeding, eldercare, housework, and civic work. Since you’re committed to sharing responsibilities with Mommy and you want Mommy to contribute to the family income, you’re getting a taste of what working women have experienced for decades. The double shift. Watching you and Mommy struggle is a good education for me.

Me: Where are you getting this from?

My Baby: You know how you like to use me as a book holder? Do you think I’m just looking at my chin or something?

Me: Oh baby, my moochie foochie poo, you can’t take what those books say as statements of immutable facts. If I knew you were reading them, I would have talked to you about why I read depressing things. Writers try to document problems so that we can work for change. You’ll see when you get older, all the knowledge you develop will help you effect change. Government policies can change. Social norms can change. The structure of the family and whole communities can change.

My Baby: You’re such an idealist Daddy. I love you.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Natural, Homemade Diaper Wipes

One day a couple months before BabyG was born I was driving down the road with a couple bunches of Chinese prefold diapers (which aren't really prefolded) that I'd picked up at our favorite used baby/kid store, Young and Restless. At a random red light I was thinking about how no matter what everybody else was saying, it was impossible for a baby to pop out of my body, and even more impossible for that baby to have a bottom that pooed and peed. Which is when it hit me that I had no idea what people who use cloth diapers do to wipe their babies' poo and pee from their sweet patooties. The ladies in the store hadn't mentioned anything. Nobody I knew who used cloth diapers had mentioned anything.

Fearing it was another case of an obvious answer that would make me look stupid if I asked friends, I jumped on the net and surfed around. People who use cloth diapers: 1) use disposable, expensive, toxic smelling diaper wipes that you get in the store; 2) use expensive, disposable natural baby store diaper wipes; 3)use homemade disposable, inexpensive wipes; 4) use homemade, super inexpensive nondisposable wipes; or 5) use leaves and flowers that they then throw in the compost pile since breastfed baby poop is organic.

Okay, not really on number five, but that IS what the camp counsellors told us to do in Girl Scouts, when we forgot tp, and it seems to me somebody has probably tried it on their baby. If they have, nobody has written about it online.

Since we're not into toxins, and are already washing our own diapers, I figured we may as well wash the diaper wipes. (People who don't, but make their own wipes get those blue towels from the mechanics, and soak them in their homemade baby wipe sauce.)

Thine Own Baby Wipes

Liquid Ingredients
1/2 c Aloe Vera Juice (soother)
15 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract (which kills bacteria)**
5 drops of Grapefruit Essential Oil (or any flavor you like)
Enough boiling water to fill a thermos

Other Materials
2 or 3 receiving blankets you hate the most (or old t shirts, whatever)
1 Thermos
1 Rectangular casserole dish
1 Bowl

1. I cut all the receiving blankets into a pile of wipes that are bigger than a matchbook, but smaller than a piece of toast.
2. I pour all the liquids into my thermos
3.I place the thermos inside the casserole dish, with the little bowl under the spout. The bowl catches any spills, and the the casserole dish aids in this endeavor by keeping bowl and thermos close enough together.
4. I wait for BabyG to go potty in her potty (or, if we miss, her diaper).
5. I grab a cloth wipe, squirt water on it, and then clean whatever needs cleaning.
6. I throw the wipe into the little bin we use to hold the diapers
7. Voila!

Grasshoppers: do not confuse the Grapefruit Seed Extract with Grapefruit Seed Essential Oils, as I once did. It won't protect your babies' bottoms from shit. Literally. In fact, the original recipe I read didn't mention adding any essential oils. I never would have known my mistake, but I shared the recipe with my friend Kay, who came to my house and kept saying, "Wow! Your wipes smell so good! How come my wipes don't smell so good?" Turns out Grapefruit Seed Extract doesn't smell.

When I finally figured out what I was doing wrong, I began using the Grapefruit Seed Extract, but I kept the essential oil in the recipe. BabyG and Kay's son C. have the sweetest smelling, bacteria-free, green stamped derriers in Texas.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

motherhood, d'oh

last week was tough for me, which came as a huge shock.

people say having a baby is hard, and i hear that, and in the back of my head i say yes, having a baby is hard IF the mother has to have a c-section or IF the baby has colic or IF the baby is not healthy or IF the mom has problems breastfeeding or IF the spouse gets jealous of the baby or IF the mom can't stay home with the baby at least a few months or IF neither parent can stay home or IF the mother is doing it on her own or IF one of the parents is very young or IF there are two moms or two dads (so it's frowned upon by society) or IF the mom gets depressed and can't get out of it or IF one of the parents didn't want the baby at all or IF it's the second or tenth baby or IF there isn't medical help available or IF there isn't water to drink nearby or IF bombs are always dropping or IF ...IF you're not me, basically, who has it really easy because my baby is so sweet spirited and lovely and healthy and I am middle-class and in school and so get to stay home and try to raise the baby the way I always imagined I would.

whenever people ask me how its going i say: perfectly. i love it. because babyg is perfect and i love her. because greendady is a terrific, loving, supportive father. i deny being tired, i deny feeling overwhelemed, because i feel like i oughtn't feel any of these things.

so last week, when i was so sad and i felt so isolated, i couldn't figure out what was going on. because i love being babyg's mom and i love her smile and i feel so lucky, i couldn't figure out why i was so sad. and it turns out, i think, that it's simple. it really is hard being a mother. and really, being a mother is half being a mother and then half still being the you that was always a pain in the ass to be to begin with.

i feel a little like a person in aa: my name is magreen, and it is hard to be a mother. even though it could be harder doesn't mean it isn't hard. maybe just admitting it is important? maybe admitting it makes it easier because it takes so much energy denying that it's hard?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Miscegenation Smiscegenation – Are There Gods for Mix-breeds?

Before Miah and I married, a number of people in my family had said to me, “Look, when you are young and you fall in love, your differences do not seem to matter. But when you get older and life’s troubles come your way, when death is nearer, people go back to the religion they were raised with. So you should think twice about marrying a Christian.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Miah wasn’t raised as a church-going Christian. I care more about the Bible than she does. If someone takes our kid to church, it’s going to be me.”

But I decided to act on my family's concerns and I asked Miah to sit down with me to talk about religion. I dug up an old pamphlet someone gave me in college that explained basic Hindu beliefs and we read it together. It was written by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, who I imagined, by virtue of the number of letters in his name, to be as authentic a guru as is possible. The pamphlet claimed that all Hindus – every single one of the billion Hindus – believe in these principles paraphrased below:

1) One Supreme Being, both immanent and transcendent, Creator and Unmanifest Reality, pervades the universe and can take innumerable forms. By worshipping these forms, we can have communion with the Supreme Being.

2) The soul reincarnates, progressing, and developing toward union with the divine universe.

3) Karma is the law of cause and effect by which individual navigates his/her own destiny by his/her thoughts, words, and deeds. Dharma is the set of duties that guide us along the moral path.

4) Spiritually awakened gurus help devotees with personal discipline, good conduct, purification, self-inquiry, and meditation.

5) All life is sacred and should be loved and revered, leading to ahinsa or the practice of non-violence.

6) The universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution.

7) No religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others.

When Miah and I finished reading the list, we talked about whether we agreed with each principle or not. It turned out I was skeptical of almost all of them. I was taught all these principles as a child and they shaped who I am, and they continue to shape me, as do the sacraments, songs, mantras, and books that I was exposed to. But now, as an adult, I question these principles. Since there is a four-thousand-year-old history of atheism and agnosticism within the Hindu tradition, I do not see myself as an ex-Hindu, a jack-Hindu, or a lapsed Hindu.

The weird thing was that Miah agreed with almost all of the principles. According to the pamphlet, she’s more of a Hindu than I am. So there! If our baby believes in reincarnation, it’s going to be because of Miah not me. To top things off, while writing this entry I found out that Sivaya Subramuniyaswami was a white, American man born in Oakland, California! There is no pure, stable Hinduism (or Christianity) that we can fail to raise our daughter in.

I'm not saying my family members are flat wrong. Marriages across religions often don't work. I've seen it happen – closet Christians, Moslems, and Hindus suddenly demanding that their partner and their children adopt a particular set of religious views. All I am saying is that I think Miah, I, and our baby will be fine regarding gods, goddesses, and the monistic all-pervasive manifest and unmanifest that each of us may or may not believe in.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

No Shit Toxicity

In late January my paternal parents came to visit the baby for the first time, and we all had a marvelous romp together. On their way out of town they bequeathed our little family with a number of the sort of odd little items I have come to expect from a couple of aging, well-meaning alcoholics: a six pack of ginger ale, half a bottle of wine, Thai food left over from the restaurant next to their hotel, a dress my stepmother never liked and so gave to me, several pairs of black nylons, and a bottle of "odor neutralizing" spray. This post is the chronicle of the life of this last item, which was specifically Renuzit Odor Neutralizer.

For a little historical background, I'll note that I grew up loving the smell of these deoderizers. The cinammon fall blends, the summery citrus, the spring time BabyGc. I associate them with vacations because my parents have reverently saturated every hotel room they've ever stayed in with products akin to the Renuzit, since I can remember. Of course, I can't tell you who they think they're fooling when they try to conceal the Jim Beam/boxed wine/generic cigarette smells (me? the maid? themselves?)...but the consistent insistence that they CAN cover said smells with scented petrochemicals is nonetheless remarkable.

Before today I've written about how a) no matter how foolish I know it is I believe things ought to "smell" clean (foolish because if something were really clean it wouldn't be saturated in a smell); and b) that I dumped out all the family's toxic products last fall JUST IN CASE it might protect BabyG, not because I really believed the chemicals were harmful. Which is to say, I want to be a good mom by creating a safe environment for my child, even as its very difficult for me to believe products I've used all my life are really all that bad.

When my parents came to town and left the Renuzit Odor Neutralizer, then, it wasn't hard to convince myself to ignore all I've learned about toxic chemicals and to decide that using the rest of the bottle of Renuzit wouldn't be such a big deal. It looks environmentally friendly's not even an aerosol can. It's a spray. Ozone friendly is a good thing, right? I decided that I had been acting irrationally when pregnant, and surely odor neutralizer was harmless.

Well after dying my couch with beet juice, it smelled for a few days. I decided to neutralize the odor by spraying it with the Renuzit. No sooner was it sprayed than: 1)I got a tiny, annoying headache; 2) cat started meowing insistently about needing to immediately vacate the premises; 3) baby started crying; 4) most interestingly to me, I could detect the petro-y part of the fumes. And I guess, also, just I noticed for the first time in my life that it was a sweet fume. It didn't smell like I neutralized anything.

This is interesting to me because as I've noted, my family used this crap all my life and I really used to believe it masked smells. Maybe I was so used to chemical smells that I didn't notice them as being noxious? Took them as par for the course?

I went for a walk with BabyG, and was still blown away by the slight scent of orange scented gasoline when I came back in the house after the walk. Of course, after discovering the no-shit toxicity of the Renuzit, I of course threw the stuff away.


I hid the bottle on a shelf is what I did. Because in my head still was this idea: I should save it to use for POWERFUL odors. Despite the cat and my head's insistence about the poisonous nature of my "neutralizer," a much older part of me said: "Stupid girl. The cat wanted outside because he always wants outside. And you got a headache because you went to yoga and pulled something. It smells bad because you've brainwashed yourself into thinking it SHOULD. But one day you will have an odor so bad that you will NEED this deodorizer. It smells powerful because it is."

So last week we had a party. Somebody threw something in the trash can and a few days later it smelled like a colony of rats had died in it.

I did not run for my all-powerful peppermint or eucalyptus essential oils. And I did settle for one or two cautious squirts of Renuzit. I let out six or seven cautious squirts of Renushit into the can.

And my head nearly blew up with pain, my throat ached, my cat's meows to escape the house were immediate and nearly convulsive. I left the door open and left for an hour. Still, this week, if I open the top of the can I am greeted with the slightest, yet most persistent tinge of petrochemicheadache.


Morals? Getting rid of all the chemicals in your house makes you more susceptible to noticing and feeling ill because of said chemicals. So on one hand, since this is a world filled with these sorts of smells and cleaners, maybe we’d be better off getting used to the smell, like I used to be. On the other hand, do I want the little red flag in my head that detects poisonous sludge fooled with? Can’t help remembering about how American housewives, who spend their days inside their own not-very-well-ventilated houses, have much higher cancer rates than American women working outside the home.

For me, the second, unfooled hand wins mostly because even as I write this I find the degree of ickiness in that spray shocking. I know for a fact I used it not even a year ago, at my parents’ house, and thought it did its job very nicely. It’s spooky that just eight months into a less toxic filled home environment, my senses have changed so much.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Natural Cleaning Products Update/Product Review

Perhaps it is too far back to remember, but last September I wrote about dumping and/or giving away all our commercial cleaning and deodorizing products. It was really, really hard for me to get rid of the products I'd grown up using. I felt ridiculous and wasteful: I'm fine and I grew up soaking myself with Ajax and Windex. Still. Just in case...I wanted to save BabyG from inhaling indoor petrochemically-based, toxic fumes throughout her youth and from accidentally ingesting some toxic substance, like dishwasher soap, which, as I've mentioned in past posts, is a leading cause of toddler deaths in the United States.

Since that time, I have had to buy Clorox bleach when we had a mold problem, and every couple of months or so I use a tablespoon's worth of the leftover bleach on BG's diapers. Other than that, I've stuck to my guns about keeping the house free of toxins.

For some things we've bought pricey, non-toxic products. For example, my dishwasher isn't powerful enough to use a borax/baking soda cleaner without leaving residue, so I use the Seventh Generation dishwashing stuff. I also decided against making shampoos or toothpastes, which seems way too time consuming, so I buy lauryl sulfate free brands from the Whole Foods nearby...I like Jason's toothpastes and haven't found an ideal shampoo, really.

We use the nontoxic Bon Ami and Barkeeper's Friend scouring powders, as well. I've recently started using Charlie's Soap for laundry, and I love it. It actually does make my clothes feel soft.

For most all other cleaning supplies...Windex equivalents, All Purpose Cleaners, floor cleaners etc...I really did convert to mixes of vinegar, cheap olive oils, baking soda, and borax...and I haven't been disappointed...though I did mix them with lots of essential oils in order to make sure the house SMELLED as clean as it looked. In fact, my friends come over and can tell I've deep cleaned because the house smells like pine needles, eucalyptis, or pepperment.

It is true that you have to scrub more with these products than with toxic equivalents. But I don't have to scrub very much more. Also, as a new mom who can't excercize as frequently as she'd like with baby in tow, I gotta say that any increased physical activity I get, I can use.