Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baby Steps to Green Parenting

After dinner last night, BabyG walked for the first time. That is, in my opinion, she walked for the first time. It has been a longer process for her than for her toddler friends. She has taken steps before. She has pushed her stroller for blocks. She has traversed without assistance the distance between the couches, but that’s not “walking for the first time.” We always had to get her started and encourage her. This evening I took BabyG to the Rothko Chapel. There’s a large paved area between the Broken Obelisk and the chapel itself. At first, I held BabyG’s hand as we walked around this area together, but then she let go of her own accord. She walked towards the pool around the obelisk. When she fell and whined, I offered my hand and she said, “No!” Then she got up, brought her feet closer together, and began walking again. She fell and raised herself up. She walked for some twenty minutes occasionally asking to rest on a bench. A couple of time, I took off her shoes and let her dangle her feet in the pool.

I feel hugely relieved that she's walking. It's one of those montage moments in a syrupy movie, flashy through scenes from the beginning - MaGreen moaning in the delivery room, BabyG rolling over in her Grandpa's house, BabyG learning to toss her wrist from Uncle Chuck...Who was I two years before BabyG was born, back when we started this blog? I'm astonished by how much we've changed. Astonished, and a little self-congratulatory. Also, I recently read Christine Gardner's post called Baby Steps to Green Parenting on Gristmill, which got me thinking about making a list of steps. So here we go. In honor of BabyG's steps, I offer five baby steps to Green Parenting.

1) Seek Complementarity

Consider what ideals or principles you have besides environmentalism. For us, gender equality in our own household over the long term is a must. So is living joyful, creative, and expressive lives. That means for everyone – MaGreen, BabyG, and me. Amartya Sen’s capability approach and Martha Nussbaum’s working list of core capabilities helped me think more completely about just what our goals are. Then, when we considered our lifestyle and our choices as parents, we looked for things that matched up with all our hopes, i.e. complementarity. For example, buying our food at the local co-op and at nearby farmers’ markets means tastier and cheaper food, a stronger sense of community with our neighbors, and a lower impact on the environment. If you find yourself consistently using words like “trade-off” or “sacrifice,” you may not be on the right track. I think looking for complementarity is the best way to begin.

2) Baby Proof Grandma Style

Every handbook on parenting says that you should go through your house and lock up your poisonous cleaning supplies. Why just lock up your poisons? Why are there poisons in our houses at all? The more MaGreen read up on what our cleaning supplies were made of, the more horrified she was. Then she started to have fun making cleaning supplies from vinegar and baking soda like her Grandma used to. I’ve learned from MaGreen’s playful experimentation. I never thought cleaning supplies could take on so much meaning. Check out MaGreen’s guide to cleaning supplies. I think this is another good example of complementarity. Your wallet wins, the health of your whole family wins, the environment wins, and you don’t have to commit much more time than “non-Green Parents” do to baby-proofing.

3) Celebrate Often

Every day I hear about some innovative way to celebrate holidays, birthdays, achievements, recoveries, or whatever else in environmentally and socially responsible ways. The reason I think that celebrating is central to Green Parenting is that it can build communities of love and support around you, it can reaffirm your identities, and it can transform your lifestyle, all while you enjoy yourself. For example, check out our gift giving guide and MaGreen’s compilation of 1st-year birthday cake recipes.

4) Try Lazy Composting and Incompetent Gardening

One of my favorite schools of environmentalist thought is permaculture. I’ve never read a permaculture book, attended a permaculture class, or joined a permaculture society, but I think I understand its central tenet – tap into the ecological systems around you. What I like is that it sounds like an advanced form of laziness and stinginess to me. For example, when we wanted to compost, we didn’t buy an $80 bin from Home Depot. We just started to bury our peelings in the backyard. I found digging the little holes strangely satisfying. Then we became more confident, so we leaned some shipping pallets we found in a lot against each other and we piled all our yard waste, along with our peelings, in this make-shift bin. The compost didn’t get hot. No teaming masses of red worms. We didn’t even turn it regularly. But just about anywhere except the desert, if you leave out a pile of clippings and peelings, it turns to black gold in a few months.

Once you have compost, no reason not to start gardening. I didn’t have any experience gardening, so I really messed up most of my plantings. But the few plants that have defied my incompetence gave us wonderful food and an intense feeling of satisfaction. Between the decay of composting and the birth of gardening, there’s a good chance you might find what you need as an overburdened parent. I hope you can hear complementarity bells ringing. If you want to read more, check out our collection of writing on composting and gardening.

5) Join Collective Actions

Hate to say it, but your own actions and those of your family will not save us from environmental collapse or propel us into a utopic world of social justice. One of the main reasons to systematically green your lifestyle is that your choices connect you with other people. Half the friends we have, we met through activism. And networks of individuals can change social norms. We can, as groups, force governments and multi-national institutions to change the rules of production, trade, consumption, and waste. Sierra Club and online petitions count, but a meeting in the park with your neighbors who support light rail is better. Avoid caustic activists, but don’t give up on activism.

These five points are not exhaustive, of course. I’m just suggesting some initial steps. Start with what’s easiest and most obvious, then go step by step. I’m completely amazed by how much we have changed since MaGreen became pregnant. BabyG has motivated us – not to “sacrifice” or “give up luxuries” – but to actually pay attention to our well-being. We haven't arrived, but we're walking.

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