Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (repeat): Channeling Anna Oh


Yesterday, LL was cleaning up his room and putting the laundry in the hamper when he picked up the diaper Cool J had worn to bed the previous night. “This doesn’t go into the hamper!” LL declared, laughing hysterically at his almost-action of throwing in the diaper with the PJs. I laughed with him. Then he stopped laughing. He turned to face me. His concerned, inquisitive 5.5-year-old eyes bored into mine. “Why don’t we wash diapers? Why do they get used once and thrown away? Mama, that’s a waste.”

I know why we have children. Pun unavoidable, children are born to make their mothers feel like crap. I know because I do it to my mother all the time (“Are you seriously wearing that shirt?” “What happened to your hair?”). Why don’t I buy cloth diapers? I’m pretty sure there’s an answer here: I don’t really feel like scrubbing poo on a daily basis. What I mean is, I don’t feel like scrubbing more poo. I already clean poo off Baby MoFo, sometimes all the way up to his neck, off of his shirts and pants, and on an exciting day, his socks. And Cool J is only toilet-trained insofar as he can go to the toilet by himself (in the daytime, anyway), but when it comes to wiping, the 3-year-old tyrant’s demand can be heard echoing throughout the house: “COME! WIPE! MY! BUM!” When I go into the bathroom, there he is, in downward-facing dog, dirty stinky bum high in the air, waiting for his chamber-pot maid (I would include a picture, but that seems cruel to both him and you).

Of course, the question of why I don’t use cloth diapers is related to the question of why I don’t compost (is “Worms are icky” an acceptable answer?) and why don’t I have a wonderful family tradition of re-sending the same birthday card for decades? (I’m way too lazy to send cards? On the other hand, e-cards don’t use any paper!).

“Anna Oh”—pretty close to her real name—is a friend of mine who was born about 20 minutes south of where I live today, but is on the other side of the continent now, and not likely to visit soon since one flight is probably worse than owning a Hummer (although somehow not as bad as owning a toy Hummer—can you imagine what lessons this toy teaches your kids:


Anna Oh is the Queen of Hippy Chic. She wraps herself in flowing organic cotton from a local overpriced good-to-the-earth designer and a baby or a toddler or a child and ornaments herself in chunky ethnic jewelry. She devotes herself to scrubbing poo from cloth diapers, making granola (the crunchy kind), and flying a carbon-dioxide-free helicopter over her children at all times to ensure that no white devil is trying to get near her children (by which I mean sugar—she’s generally OK with white people).

She’s also an engineer.

Anna Oh is the kind of person I would want to be if I had endless time, endless energy, a garden, and the sneakiness to wait until after my children are in bed to bake and devour chocolate molten lava cakes (made with organic, fair-trade chocolate, of course).

Anna Oh is like my parents: she needs less stuff. And she is inventive as only my parents are—for entirely and fundamentally different reasons. At first glance, this comparison is implausible. My parents’ attitude toward environmentalism is this: the earth is fine now, global warming means more time to swim, and if our grandchildren inherit a lousy place to live in, they should fix it themselves (after all, everything we have we earned for ourselves). Anna’s is something like this: I have a car, but it’s as fuel efficient as a car that can seat three children could be and I’m mortified that I own it and ride my bike or cross-country ski everywhere I can, and most of my possessions are made out of bamboo because it can be harvested within 5 years and re-grows on the same plant over and over again. But their point of intersection lies in their abilities to have little and do much. My parents do so because they can’t understand why anyone would buy paper towels and coffee filters when one could easily substitute for the other (Anna, of course, would buy neither, as reusable filters and a shmata—definitely not her word!—would do), or who would actually spend money on garbage bags when plastic grocery bags (which, again, Anna would never take from the store) make perfectly serviceable ones, or in fact, why it is necessary to buy a trash can for those garbage bags when gift baskets can easily be transformed into trash receptacles (here, they might have Anna beat).

On long road trips, mostly to the mountains for vigorous hikes, or even at home, during “quiet time” (an ingenious daily event that allows mom to do the unthinkables—read a book! Call a friend! Take a nap!), Anna Oh always came up with wonderful toys for her children to play with. Like aluminum foil (think of the possibilities! It’s a cat! Now it’s a boat! Now it’s wrapping paper for Christmas presents!). A baggy (re-used and re-usable) filled with rice (from the organic grain and nut co-op) and hidden (wooden) toys as a makeshift I Spy. And if she’s feeling very wasteful: a roll of masking tape.

Don’t get me wrong. Anna doesn’t give her kids foil and tape because she’s cheap. Anna spends more on “toys” than I did on my car, but her kids’ toys are all about being healthy and enjoying the fresh air and getting exercise; she buys “toys” like aluminum-frame bikes with hydraulic disk brakes, and full spring suspension, or a Chariot cross country ski kit (which is a pretty cool toy for the whole family, especially if you’re the kind of family who spends their vacations going to fancy lodges like Skoki which has neither electricity nor running water, and which is a 5-hour x-country ski-in from the parking lot–a favorite accommodation, in other words, for the rich and hardy). Bikes, skis, a bag of rice, a promise of a trip without a shower—what more could these kids ask for? Why buy crappy plastic toxic made-in-China crap that will break in minutes?

Then there’s my kids. “Can I have Craniac?” “I really really want Squidman’s pitstop.” “I have to have my own Skull Twins because LL won’t share with me!!!” “I want a Transformer!” “I want General Grievous’s double lightsaber!” When it comes to diapers, I am that ugly bad guy (but not Darth Maul, because Cool J idolizes him). When it comes to Lego (of which they have more than the whole of Denmark) or other buildable/movable/fightable toys, forget about reduce, reuse, and recycle. New and more, repeat. New and more, repeat. New and more, repeat.

And my responses? Do I counsel them on the good they could do for this world? Do I talk of landfills, carbon footprints, pollution, the end of life on our planet? Do I hand them a roll of tape or a bag of rice? Nope. It’s more like: “Sure.” “Yes.” “On your birthday.” “For Chanukah.” “Ask Bubby and Zaidy.” The word “no” never comes out of my mouth. I just defer, deflect, and delay. I treat these treats as inevitable. I am the worst Tiger Mom.

I guess if a point has to go to me, though, I don’t secretly buy Lego and build it after I tuck the kids in.



5 responses »

  1. Pingback: My son, the Marshmallow Millionaire « The Poor Princess Diaries

  2. reduce reuse recycle……excruciating long and winded for a fruit fly. why so many run on never ending sentences?
    the nancy botwins of the world (we are many) want short and sweet.

  3. Pingback: Parenting Tips: Threats « The Poor Princess Diaries

  4. Pingback: This Vagabond Life (Day 31 and counting) « The Poor Princess Diaries

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