I have a secret that I am about to share with the whole freaking Internet. I have no idea why I would use my hobby and my free time to share this secret, except that there is a part of me that hopes someone out there may commiserate or at least nod in some sort of recognition. Better yet, maybe my confession will be the necessary impetus to shift my behavior and alter my worldview.
Before I let my secret out, I have a few caveats.
1. I am grateful for Mother Earth and all she has done for me.
2. While I am by no means an "outdoorsy" person, I do appreciate the unspoiled beauty of our national parks and I do treasure fresh air, and open spaces, both urban and rural.
3. I believe in global warming, and I believe that as a planet we should probably all get pretty serious about how we treat all of our natural resources.
4. I am generally very liberal politically.
5. I spent some time back in 2010 trying to convince Jeff that we should use cloth diapers for Simon, but I withdrew my petition when I searched my heart (and my history) for evidence that I had the environmental chops to undertake the commitment to cloth diapers. (Though I swear if I have a third child, I will do cloth diapers, but that is, in part, because the diaper covers come in some really cute patterns.)
6. I am honestly working on reducing my consumption of material goods.
In light of the foregoing caveats, I still have an inexplicable burning desire to say that I hate recycling. It's awful to say. It's awful that I really mean it. But I do. I have sort of always thought that it was simple laziness on my part, which is pretty damning considering that recycling is generally not that difficult. Haven't I done much harder things on a daily basis? Yes, though none come readily to mind.
I have tried everything to embrace recycling in a deep and meaningful way. The click of my whole being positioning for the commitment eludes me. My efforts in this area have been sporadic and willy nilly at best. And that's part of the problem. I now have a trail of failed promises and motivations littering my path. For example, sometimes I try to think about the state of the planet and what I want for Sadie and Simon and their kids. Do I want them to all have to picnic on top of disposable diapers? No. Do I want the taste of a delicious, tree-ripe apple to cost them a week's salary? No. Do I want them to have to wear those oxygen mask thingys to bed because the air is so polluted they all suffer from chronic asthma? No.
Of course not. What is probably obvious from this line of thinking is that I don't really know much about science. I don't understand how it all works, and frankly, it feels too damn late to learn. I was busy learning about the rule against perpetuities and the mailbox rule to also take science classes at night. (Ok, I never did learn the rule against perpetuities, but that sort of suggests that taking on science would have been a bad idea.)
I imagine that one does not have to be a scientist to understand why recycling is a good idea. The waste that my family alone generates does make me feel sick inside. Everyday. For goodness sake, I have two kids in diapers. Disposable diapers. And, while I am not the greatest about PROMPTLY changing those diapers, they still add up. Imagine how much worse my footprint would be if I changed those kids regularly?
When I think about the waste and the state of the planet two things happen to me. First, I get so overwhelmed and so shame-filled about all the packaging and paper sitting in my bathroom wastebasket alone that I want to give up altogether. I feel responsible. And guess what happens next? Yep, if I am responsible for the whole damn planet, that forget it, get out your handbasket and meet me in hell. I have never been much for this so-called "gray area" that people talk about, so I can't imagine that putting my card board in one trash can would do any good for anyone while my other trash can is full of non-recyclables. Then I feel shame because I have anything in my non-recyclable trash can. What kind of person who cares about the planet would buy something that isn't recyclable?
These internal, secret debates came to a head in November when a friend and I shared a conversation about recycling. It went something like this: "Christie, you would be the perfect person if you would only recycle."
It was one of those crystallizing moments that I was grateful for. She is right! I should get it together and recycle. How hard can this be? We have two Simple Human trash cans. Jeff and I made a commitment in the car on the way home from the dinner where that conversation took place. I was initially frustrated because I was never sure what could be recycled. Jeff printed out a chart from the City of Chicago website. Right outside my garage there is a blue trash can that the City gave us to help make this as easy as possible. What more do I want? Someone to come and go through my trash and sort it for me? (Actually, yes, but it's not in the budget this year.)
It started to work. I was getting the hang of it. I felt proud and happy when I would find myself pausing at the trash can: the banana peel in the can on the left, the empty cereal box on the right.
"Look at me! I am recycling! I am a friend of Mother Earth! I am not as lazy as I thought! I care! The National Parks will live forever! Where can I get a worm composting bin?"
Nothing like a little internal self-dialogue to cheer me forth.
But, here's where it breaks down. When Jeff goes out of town several times per month, I have the good fortune and immense pleasure of doing our evening routine by myself. That consists of making dinner for Sadie and a different dinner for Simon; then I feed Simon, while letting Sadie play horsey on my leg; then, I try to scrounge up something for me to eat; then there may be baths, diaper changes, pajamas, last-minute snacks before bed, more diapers, medicine, and then mommy collapses in a pool of drool. In this harried time, I am always doing at least 3 things, like feeding Simon, trying to see if it's Sadie's diaper that smells like a rotting squirrel corpse, and heat up some noodles. Trash is generated. By me and by the kids. In the middle of this the mail comes. Maybe there is a package for Sadie to open from her Grandmother. Now there is bubble wrap (is that recyclable? How the hell should I know?) and wrapping crap all over the kitchen. I can't leave it laying around because I don't want Simon to suffocate or Sadie to eat it. (Not a fictitious scenario; Sadie still eats EVERYTHING.) Now I am holding Simon, who is covered in pureed sweet potato and yogurt about to blow out of his diaper and I am holding the trash.
It's these moments when I think that I just can't do it. I feels urgent that I just need to get the trash out of my face, because between my children and the trash, it's really just the trash I can get rid of without facing criminal charges. I don't have a free hand to check which part is recyclable. I don't even know if I would check if I could. Ok, I know there is a 87% change that would NOT check. Now, at least I just have to hose off my children and carry the shame that I just marred Mother Earth.
There are other scenarios. There are times when I am willing to sort every last drip of trash and I have Simon on my hip and Sadie screaming at me to get her some more olives and the trash is delicately pre-sorted and perched in my hands as I dash to the pantry to do God's work.
The recycling can is full to the brim. It's actually overflowing. There is a milk carton and a Raisin Brand (all organic, of course) box sitting on top. It won't open. I am now holding wet and nasty trash that I really want to let go of. Again, it's the trash or Simon and I have 4 other things that need my attention so there isn't room in my energy field to stop and take out the trash. It's January in Chicago. It's fourteen degrees. I have two toddlers and I am not able to just dash around outside taking on the trash.
So, of course I just dump it in the NON-recyclable bin. Two more shots of shame for knowing better but being unable to do it. I start to wonder if single parents recycle? It seems like you just have to have two parents to make this work.
Yes, it all falls apart during those frantic three hours on the days that Jeff is out of town. I would say I am a mediocre to decent recycler on the other days. This struggle makes me hate the whole damn thing. And it sounds really lame when the state of the planet is on the line. It actually is really lame.
The other day my friend Mary told me that she fixed her daughter a bowl of cereal to take in the car. On the way to the car, her daughter predictably spilled over half the cereal on the way to the car. Mary said she really only had herself to blame because she gave her 3-year-old an open bowl because she was trying to be "Recycle Mom," by saving a plastic bag.
Here's another great example. I bought every snack trap I could find so that Sadie could have a reusable snack container and save the plastic bags. Every single time she opened up the top and spilled her snack. I tried everything to keep her from spilling and it's just not possible. She's 2. So now I try to save her plastic bags. But it creates a considerable amount of stress to follow a 2-year-old around to see if she is done with her pretzels so I can take her bag back and use it again. I can almost picture the short story that Sadie will write one day about her crazy mother who used to recycle her snack bags but throw perfectly recyclable cardboard in the wrong bin.
The larger issue is that I put so much pressure on myself to do it all: cook great, nutritious organic meals; play and be present with both kids; nurse Simon until he weans himself; be more conscious about spending and consumption; set a good example for my kids for balance, nutrition, self-care and social consciousness; spent some time being an energized and dedicated legal writing teacher; exercise; go to therapy; read books; have a life outside of these 4 walls.
So yes, recycling stresses me out. If given the choice between picking the right bin and having a smidgen more fun with my kids at night, I am going to choose my kids. There will be a shame backlash, but I am going to choose them. That's the right choice for me. If I stick with recycling maybe it will get easier and it won't seem so perilous to throw something away. Maybe if I stop being so codependent with Mother Earth we can have a better relationship that isn't enfused with all my resentment, misunderstanding and overly-inflated sense of responsibility.
I know some mothers can do this easily. It's like second nature to wear the clogs, find all the great organic snacks and get the trash where it's supposed to go. I can't. Why I can only seem to find Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and pretzels for snacks is beyond me, but that's how it is. I am willing. I am willing to do some things more imperfectly than others. Recycling is one of them. It is, however, out of my comfort zone to do something all the time without any certainty that I am doing it right or that it makes a difference. I will do it anyway because I guess I do believe in it more than I knew. Maybe it's also good to show my children that it's good to stick with projects even if they are hard or frustrating.
I feel much better now. Maybe I will look on-line to see if I can find a number to call to get rid of some of my junk mail.
Baby steps. I hope it's enough for Mother Earth.