The Pact...or how to keep your family environmental footprint small

Most clients know that I like to do without too much “stuff”...evidenced by our gradual downsizing, leading to our ultimate purchase of a small loft in Vancouver. Our internal and external spaces are now filled with what we do, not what we have.

This shift wasn’t just driven by our need to find a personal solution to the environmental challenge on our planet. It is the continuation of a parenting plan that was born on the tidal flats of Point Roberts in 1982 - before our first was born, and long before the words “environmental footprint” or “sustainability” were commonplace.

My husband and I walked in the howling wind, hoods pulled up around our faces, wearing our matching blue Goretex jackets. We faced each other, put our hoods together, and looked like a full-sized Rorschach test. There, we made a pact that the people in our immediate family had to come first - before things, before jobs. We’d make what we could, keep things simple, and remember that we were our children’s first teachers. We would teach them by example. In the 1980’s, an era full of big ideas, splashy consumerism, wide shoulder pads and the dawn of huge “toys” (both for kids and adults), this was a step away from the norm.

It was a challenge to go against the flow, to avoid the hoops that society expected us to jump through - but, we did it. I think (I hope) our kids are better off as a result. They are, most certainly, better recyclers than we ever were!

Today, I like to think that it’s getting just a little bit easier to follow the path towards sustainability. Sure, there are people who will try to get you to fall for their product placement, to “buy, buy, buy”. But, there are an increasing number of people convinced that more is not better, bigger is not better, and that the environment must be our overriding concern.

So, here’s a list of some “stuff” that will help you on your path towards a more sustainable family life:

Your Body is Free

  1. Your Lap - Not only warm, it makes a great portable changing table, a non-slip holder for the baby in the family bath, and a bounce-machine for a fussy baby. No batteries needed.
  2. Your Chest - Provides a self-regulating temperature sleep space, complete with built-in tic-toc white noise for the baby who won’t sleep easily.
  3. Your Arms - with a little help from all the “new age but old as time” baby wearing gear, your baby can view the world from an adult perspective. Buy local and check out Cheeky Monkey or Chimparoo for a wide range, from slings to woven wraps. Remember, in time, most parents discover that strollers are for the groceries and that the kids just want to be carried.
  4. Your Legs - Leave the car at home, then walk or ride bikes everywhere. With EVO Car Share and Modo Car Co-op in Vancouver, you can even manage without having a car of your own. You'll just need a car seat that travels well. Think of keeping your environmental footprint small - live, work and play in a small geographic area. Buy an e-bike, a cargo bike, a bike carrier or baby trailer. Vancouver’s bike routes are fantastic.
  5. Your Brain - Fill up with your maximum weekly allowed books for all the family at the library (kids are unlimited). Challenge your mind, think outside the box by going to a new shelf each week. Share these ideas with your newborn. Remember that in the first 18 months, the baby’s brain is still in a remarkable growth period. Feed the brain!
  6. Your Voice - Singing, talking, whispering, reading aloud from the newpaper... Whatever you do, just TALK! This is a priceless gift that you can give your children. Studies have shown that talking to infants enriches their brain development, their ability to learn, and their power in using language.
  7. Your Breasts - When the placenta goes, the breasts picks up the slack, and are fully capable of sustaining the wee one for years. The benefits are immeasurable!

Some Good Stuff (not all free, but at least worth it!)

  1. Cloth or environmentally friendly diapers - Baby Gear Lab has done some great reviews of cloth and disposable diapers.
  2. Hook-on Chair - Remember that kids don’t know that they’re kids - they see themselves as a full and equal member of the family. So, let them share the table with you (at home, at friends houses, at a campsite, or in a restaurant) and you’ll never need a high chair. These can cost as little as $20. And while you’re at it, consider baby-led weaning.
  3. The Corner Cupboard - Remember loving that corner cupboard with the lazy-Susan filled with Tupperware when you were a kid? I lived in the skinny cupboard between the oven and the fridge. Boy, was it cozy and warm! The kitchen, if made safe and kid-friendly, can be the best exploration zone, from Tupperware becoming shakers and building blocks, to cornstarch and water becoming fun ooze. I taught my son to write by moving his hand through flour on a tray. Being a tactile learner, he caught on faster than if we’d used a paper and pencil. Remember, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
  4. Handmade Puppets - what a way to explore role-playing at an early age! When a younger sibling arrives, the first born can safely share feelings with a monkey puppet. Buy B.C. if possible...check out places like Natural Pod.
  5. The Outdoors - Cheaper than anything in Vancouver - the ocean, the forest, the parks, the beach. There’s nothing better on a Fall weekend than leaf-pile jumping at Jericho. And, don't forget my "let children run free for 4 hours a day" rule.

The Jars (or how to get through real life smoothly)

  1. The To-Do Jar - introducing The Jar Concept! Since you should only do “one thing” a day with wee ones, burn your lists and write down any tasks on slips of paper and place them in a jar. Stick your hand in the Job Jar each morning and see what you (or your partner) can do. You have the right to decide if you don’t want to do this task! Just stick in your hand, and draw out another task! You can even make postpartum visitors draw out a task whenever they visit (mums don’t need to do anything for, oh, say, 6 weeks after giving birth - let everyone else do the work.) Lists will become a thing of the past, and you’ll be free to go through life more naturally - without time constraints or artificial deadlines. Your kids will thank you!
  2. The Fun Jar - This one is great - a jar filled with fun family ideas and activities. For example, when the Georgia Straight comes out each week, you can check the family section for fun and free activities, cut out each one, then draw them out at will! You can expand this to include a magical mystery tour to Iona Island to watch the planes landing, a hike or bike ride in Pacific Spirit Park, tobogganing at Cypress...unlimited fun! Make sure one activity per week is saved for the entire mum’s group.

Back to the Beach

When my husband and I made our pact on the beach 33 years ago, it would have been seen as just a bit flakey. Now it’s seen as just another part of the West Coast family-focused environmental revolution.

For almost thirty years, clients have called me long after their babies are in school, just to check in with me, another mum (now "Deecy" aka Gran) who’s “gone before”. We sometimes talk for over an hour. Just like I did during their labours, I try to teach by example. They, in turn, teach me more. They tell me that they’ve discovered that babies and children just want love, how the body is free, how almost-free “stuff” is somehow a greater gift to give our children than expensive “stuff”. They tell me that once you get the hang of it, thinking outside the box becomes easier.

And I tell them that the challenge is to keep it up as your children’s worlds grow - as they meet new people, as they enter school. By then, you might be thinking about fresh air learning, home schooling, unschooling, co-op child care, working from home, flexible work schedules, community gardening... Just do what you can. The path is challenging, but worth it.