Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting Started Pt. 1: The Green Baby?

One of the first adjustments we had to make involved space. Stella herself is tiny; as noted she was just a touch over seven pounds at birth. But her trail of stuff was, right from the start, enormous.

Which brings up a larger issue: the green baby. By this I don’t mean a baby that due to merconium a baby has a greenish tint to their skin (as Stella, in fact, had at birth), but rather the conundrum of how to square living, or trying to live, in many ways, a “green” life with having and raising a child. Let’s face it; short of mowing down a few acres of virgin rain forest to get some kindling there’s little any of us will ever due that will consume more resources than having a child. And the enlarged carbon footprint isn’t just for one generation, but for all the generations to follow, should we be so lucky as to ever see grandkids. (God, I sound like an old yenta already! Stella, no pressure on the grandkids front, okay? How about you, say, learn how to talk first?)

But, it’s a real issue. Randi and I try to keep our carbon footprint, by American standards at least, pretty low. We put a brick in our toilet bowl in order to use less water. We only use our air conditioner if we have to, and then we set it on the energy saving mode. We live in New York City so we take public transportation all the time. Or at least I do; Randi’s basically been apartment bound since the baby’s been born, poor thing. We recycle everything, which makes our kitchen look kind of messy sometimes, but we feel it’s worth it. We switched out our light bulbs for those fluorescent jobs that kind of resemble soft-serve ice cream. True we switched some of those bulbs back because the incandescent light is so much better, but we try! We turn off lights when we leave rooms, turn off the faucet when we brush our teeth, and so on.

I mean, we’re not perfect, on this front. I often forget to bring my own bag to the supermarket, and as a consequence we have a collection of plastic bags that we may or may not re-use. We have a car these days, so we sometimes use it, consuming gas. We eat meat, which consumes way, way more energy than vegetarian dishes. This is doubly bad because we actually love to eat light when we can, as we feel better. But often the meat thing is kind of a crutch, there out of habit and convenience.

But there is almost no true environmentally friendly way to have a baby. Let’s face it, there just isn’t. You can do everything you please to reduce the impact your baby makes, but there are several factors working against you. For starters, the entire baby-industrial complex.

That’s my name for the infant care and products industry: the baby industrial complex.

Because as the parents out there probably know, the minute you have a kid you feel like you’ve been sucked into a whole ‘nother rabbit hole of mass and conspicuous consumption, or at least that’s the ongoing pressure around you.

This, by the way, isn’t a terribly different feeling than what we around here call the wedding-industrial complex, whereby a perfectly normal couple learns that the napkins they want for their wedding now cost four times as much as they should, because they are for nuptials. And that everything costs four times as much as it should, when it comes to weddings. And the evil bride magazines that make young, beautiful women feel fat and poor, no matter how hard they try to ignore the consumerist drumbeat. Well, in many cases even if the brides-to-be don’t start out poor and fat they sure end up poor, because everything for a wedding is as expensive as they can make it. Like, seriously, $1000 for a shitty-tasting wedding cake? Really?

So then you do what society tells you to do, and get married, and have children as a result, like we did. And our reward? More useless crap in our lives than I could ever, ever imagine.
The first culprit/moral dilemma, of course, is diapers.

We decided that we wanted to use cloth diapers, because it would be better for the environment. But not initially because we felt it would just be too hard in the first few months of Stella’s life, what with us never having been parents before. So we got what they call “swaddlers” from Target, which are just really small diapers with pictures of the characters from Sesame Street on them. So our daughter can pee and poo on a drawing of Ernie or Big Bird, which I’m sure means a lot to her. They’re not the adult characters either, by the way, but the baby versions of those characters. As if the adult version of, say, the Cookie Monster, is just way too in your face for the average newborn. The average newborn that can barely see, that is. Well, anyway, I go on.

The thing about the diapers is not just that they will sit in a landfill until, literally, we are all buried in the next Ice Age/flooded by global warming. But that we go through so many of them. I never knew that a healthy kid will poo sometimes ten times a day. I mean, I should be so lucky, right? I go, depending on my coffee intake, well, a lot less than that.

And Stella, you see, is kind of a prima-donna when it comes to new diapers. No sooner have we clothed her rear in them then she’s ready to christen them. Here’s an example from two nights ago, to illustrate the point.

She awoke at 4:00 a.m., crying. Randi checked her diaper, and found, lo and behold, that it had some poopy in it. Dad to the rescue. I changed the diaper. Then, seconds after I changed it, Stella got a funny look on her face on the changing table, and blammo!, made more poo. I changed the diaper again. She did it again! I changed it again, she did it again! Now clean, I put her in her bassinet. She did it again! Randi changed her diaper … you can guess what happened next.

This girl loves the feeling of new diapers when it comes time for her to poo. It’s like nothing less will do.

And the diaper bag starts filling. Every day there is a new, filled bag of diapers waiting. Some are heavy with pee. Some are heavy with poop and pee. Some are actually kind of light, because Stella just had a little bit to excrete. You get the picture, I’m sure. I’m now a connoisseur of baby poo and diapers, by the way. I will even open up a used one if Randi thinks it’s worth taking a look at. Hmm, does it have the suitably right, yellow color? Better yet are there mustard seeds in it? Judges, I give this poo an 8.9!

But our environmentalist dilemma doesn’t end there.

Why, oh why, is everything made for babies absolutely enormous, and made out of plastic?

Here are just the things we either bought new for the baby, or received as presents. Our baby bath is a blue monstrosity about the size of a little car. It’s plastic, with plastic toys. For sponge baths we put her on a foam thing roughly in the shape of a bear. Our car safety seat is a large plastic shell that clips into another plastic shell. These, the manufacturers say, should never be re-used. So that’s going into a landfill some day. Our stroller is plastic, and sits in our front landing area. We have a little jungle gym that unfolds onto the floor that is, at least partly, made of plastic. After we received it we realized our landlords had one that we could’ve used anyway. And that’s just stuff we received new. True, we also took as much used stuff as we could, but now it’s our job to either landfill this stuff when we’re done, or pass it along.

The true bane of my existence, though, is plastic baby chairs. Stella is now perfectly happy to spend hours at a time sucking on Randi’s boob. In fact often it’s the only thing that makes her happy. So why do we have two different folding plastic chairs for her for when she sits at the table? One of them is a folding high seat, and, I must say, I have come to loath this thing. I got it from my sister, and was happy enough to have it. But it’s enormous, awkward, heavy, and made in such a way that it almost constantly wants to unfold automatically and snap into readiness. For our little apartment it is way too big, and when I put it in the hallway, it blocked the walkway and became a fire hazard. Over and over again I tried to find new, innovative ways to store it—with it opening on me over and over again—until I finally gave up and just threw it in the basement.

There’s also a booster seat of some kind. I don’t even know what it does, but my sister offered it, and I took it. This too is made of plastic.

Then there’s our bassinet, which, although it isn’t made out of plastic—it's metal tubing—has an absurdly wide stance, taking up, it seems, like 20% of our bedroom. Seriously, the bed area, where the baby actually sleeps, is like one foot wide. But the wheels are about two and a half feet apart, which gives it an absurdly wide profile--like a Camero for babies--and makes it hard to wheel around, as it gets caught on everything.

And we are literally just getting started, I know. Stella will grow, and outgrow these plastic things. Meaning that there will be new plastic things on our horizon. Some of which will be hand-me-downs, but a lot of it will be new, because people like to buy toys for children they love, most of which, it must be said, are also plastic. After all, who wants old, crummy toys? And thus the cycle continues.

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