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Green Mom on the Ropes

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This time last year I was so proud of the changes I was making in the name of Mother Earth: my baby’s bum wrapped in a cloth diaper, the cloth shopping bags I carried to Publix, the old T-shirts cut into squares I used to clean the house, along with vinegar and other natural cleaning products.


I was energized to do as much as I could for the environment and to keep my daughter safe.


This year, instead of feeling uplifted, I’m grouchy about the green movement. It’s too consumer-oriented, too confusing, and just plain annoying.


I wince at the buy, buy, buy aspect of green living, now that it has become a trend companies use to market their wares. On the plus side, notes Christopher Gavigan, author of Healthy Child, Healthy World, green products are widely available. Even Clorox, once a name to be avoided, has come out with supposedly “natural” cleaning agents. I’ll stick with brands that have a track record, but the more people who use kinder products, the better. I agree it’s good to see this stuff accessible.


However, the idea that we can spend our way to an Earth-conscious way of life is pathetic. Treading lightly on our overtaxed planet is about buying less stuff. Less packaging. Less junk in the landfill. Less profit for companies that exploit overseas labor. Less money in the pockets of CEOs who care not a whit about the shrinking polar ice cap.


I get peeved when I see these expensive bags with sayings on them: “Look at me, I’m not using plastic bags at the grocery store!” I found a dozen tote bags buried in closets. No need to buy any.


When it’s time to buy something I need, my head is spinning from conflicting information.  I tried to find a safe mosquito repellant for my child. Some of the products labeled “safe” don’t repel bugs. I have spent so much time on the Internet only to acquire a drawer full of stuff that doesn’t work. Hello landfill! I’m going to try Bite Blocker, a product Christopher recommends.


The conundrum over plastics has caused me more headaches than toxic paint fumes. I don’t want them coming into my house when there is an alternative. My child wanted a ball. I shopped unsuccessfully for one labeled toxin-free, before relenting. Fabric balls don’t bounce.


I wanted to buy her a sandbox, and I found some affordable wooden ones on the market. Unfortunately they are three times the size as the plastic ones and the cost of carcinogen-free sand is out of my budget. No sandbox for Celia. We’ll go to the beach.


We’re in a drought in Georgia, but I couldn’t buy a straight answer about whether curbing indoor water use helps our plight. I abandoned cloth diapers because so much water was required to wash them. Finally, I found a conservation expert in Massachusetts with no ties to Georgia politics. She told me the water used in washing machines is minimal, and cloth is still the better choice.


The number of green-living Web sites has exploded, yet it’s still hard to get an answer about how to grill without polluting the air. One site says always use gas instead of charcoal, while another says it’s okay to use wood charcoal if you use a chimney. Sorta sucks the fun out of the afternoon barbecue.


And that’s the difference between my attitude last year and now. Last year, I was having so much fun setting up my compost tumbler and buying produce at the farmers’ market. Focusing on green living gave the sometimes isolated life of motherhood more substance.


To get back on track, I talked to Jen Boulden, whose site Ideal Bite uses humor, not guilt, to tap into the addictive nature of going green. “Isn’t taking a small step better than no step?” she says. “Once you take that small step, you think, ‘oh, that felt good,’ and you try something else.”


It’s true that many of the changes I made felt good: walking more, eating unprocessed foods, buying most of Celia’s clothes and toys used, and finally finding a recycling center that accepts #4 plastics. I’m proud that the lone garbage bag I send to the landfill each week is rarely full.

Little steps do add up, despite the frustrations. Going into my second year as a green mom, I’ll try to keep that in mind.

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