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Editor’s Note: This series, titled Everyday Sustainability, came from the author’s experience of becoming a parent for the first time. While the author imagines that tips and insights may be found in this series, the larger goal is to explore the choices we make and why we make them when it comes to trying to live a “sustainable life.”
Last year, Generocity.org was kind enough to allow me to begin a monthly column loosely focused on that oftentimes broad, and sometimes nebulous, concept of sustainability. I had free range to talk about all things sustainable— the initiatives I found compelling, the concepts I found challenging and the way one incorporates sustainability into his or her life.
It was this last part of incorporation that I found the most interesting, so much so that the first essay I wrote for the series was a piece on finding sustainability in the 40-hour work week. Many readers responded with their own take on the challenge of trying to make good choices for themselves and the planet when time is limited and energy is fleeting—i.e. it’s not easy to come home at 8 p.m. from a long workday and find the stamina to can vegetables.
Since that initial article, I’ve continued to search for that work/life balance, especially as the work week stretched from 40 to 50 hours, and sometimes beyond. But three months ago my life took a new turn that rendered the act of counting hours of work futile. My wife and I had our first child.
As habitual readers of Generocity.org may have noticed, it’s been three months since I’ve written an article (I actually finished my last article from the hospital while my wife and baby were sleeping). So it’s fair to say that it has taken a bit of recalibration to get my head and schedule in sync with the constant attention of parenting.
But the focus of this series is not to point out the obvious fact that I have less time to labor over whether each choice I make is sustainable or not. It’s not even to point out that having child creates an even more powerful incentive to make the planet more sustainable. What has been weighing on me since the birth of my son is the tremendous responsibility of making decisions for another human life.
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I’ve found out — as I’m sure many parents know — the most important concept a parent can grasp is compromise.
Although compromise can be looked at as a virtue, I feel that it can sometimes be construed as a dirty word in the sustainability world, on the same level as rationalization and justification. As Mark Twain once said, “The greatest thing about being a rational being is that we can rationalize anything to ourselves.” But as I have learned through my three short months as a parent, the responsibility of ensuring the survival of this little person trumps almost all ideals, including sustainability. My wife and I found this out before our son even saw the light of day.
After a nearly eventless pregnancy that included homeopathic pre-natal care and many cups of herbal infusions to prepare my wife’s body for delivery, we planned to have the child at a birth center with a midwife. But due to a complication during the delivery that put us on a timeline that needed to get the child out in the fastest and safest way possible,we needed to at the behest of the birth center go to the hospital.
Even though we ended up delivering a healthy baby, and the staff at the hospital and the midwife that accompanied us were incredible, I’ll never forget those initial feelings of frustration and worry as our entire plan changed. Yet, I was still under the delusion that once we got home to the haven of our homestead, we’d be clear to get back on the sustainable path we planned for our little guy. But again, that was not the case.
After all of the meconium1 was out, we went straight to our predetermined plan of using cloth diapers. But once again, our plans were trumped. A few weeks into using cloth, our son developed a rash that had the texture of a rawhide leather strap. After clearing it up with some cream and talking to some cloth diaper experts, we learned that the combination of a non-air conditioned Philly row home and cloth fabric was leading to the rashes. So we had to temporarily switch to disposable. Even though we buy 7th generation diapers that use “chlorine free wood pulp fluff” (according to their website) to make their diaper material, they still have the toxic absorbent sodium polyacrylate (derived from petroleum) and they still cost money. We plan to go back to cloth this fall, but for now, we are glad to have a happy baby with no butt rash.
I’m sure that I’ll be writing more about the transition back to cloth. But for now, the mission of keeping my kid happy, healthy and safe has shown me an even greater point about sustainability, which I hope to further explore through this series. Sustainability is not a contest or a competition. It’s a way of life where you try to make the best choices, everyday, for you, your family and the planet. I know this sounds simple and obvious, but it’s hard to see when you feel like the choices you are making are being compromised.
As I said, in the short three months of parenthood I’ve learned there is no greater situation for compromise than being a parent. It’s a job that changes everyday. But what I hope to contribute with this series are the everyday lessons and successes of trying to live a sustainable life within that compromise.
1 Meconium is the earliest stool of a newborn infant, which the infant has been building up the entire time in the womb. When it comes out, it looks somewhere between used motor oil and hot fudge.
Nic Esposito is a writer, novelist, urban farmer and founder of The Head & The Hand Press. His forthcoming book of essays Kensington Homestead is due out November 2014.-30-
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