A Hausfrau Explains Global Warming

Al Gore was just on the front cover of the Sunday magazine of Spain’s leading daily newspaper as “The Prophet of Climate Change” with an interview inside where he talked up his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Una verdad inconveniente”) about global warming and his concerns about the environment.
(That’s how the global news cycle works, by the way. Spaniards get exposed to U.S. trends in books, movies and ideas (at least the ones being well flacked) with a slight delay. Americans get Spanish thinkers on the cover of the NY Times Sunday magazine…um, never?)
It was a “preaching to the choir” interview, in part because Europe is considered a relative good guy for the environment. Or at least better than the U.S. When people are looking for an example of how the U.S. can be less wasteful of resources, some will point to Europe, which has a fine standard of living but is generally less piggish.
So I figure it’s time to look at a few ways this actually translates into daily life. For example, that most basic act of dailyness (well, not daily if you’re lucky) — going to the grocery store. Here, I’m mainly thinking of how it is in Spain, less environmentally conscious than Northern Europe but also with lower income levels so perhaps less wasteful for that reason (which is not to say that some of Spaniards’ bad habits aren’t increasing as income levels rise).
How do you get to the grocery? SUV? Super-sized SUV? Tank? A European might actually – walk.
And what do you have when you get there? Not as much stuff, that’s for sure. Like all the food storage stuff — big baggies, little baggies, throw-away containers, foil, waxed paper – exists, but with fewer brands and styles, so there’s not as much encouragement to wrap up a leftover pea in a hunk of plastic until it rots in the fridge and it’s time to throw it out. Want to save something? Use a plate. Or maybe Tupperware-style stuff (which of course can be reused).
Now what about after you’ve walked home with your little wheelie cart and want to haul your groceries into your apartment? The hall lights are on, right? Nope, try a timer switch that you need to hit when you walk in. Some public bathrooms also have timer-switch lights. Very short timers, occasionally.
Paper products likewise just aren’t flung around as much. I’m thinking about one of our typical meals with kids in the States, where you walk away from the table leaving behind a three-foot-high stack of crumpled paper napkins. Here quite often any napkin dispenser on the table has flimsy little tissue-paper-type napkin things. Parents just don’t leave the same kind of stack. I don’t know what they do. Maybe a cloth from home? You can’t tell me their kids are neater. Well, maybe you can.
The question is, are Americans interested in the small sacrifices necessary to save energy, trees, space in their toy boxes? Who knows?
Here’s one way to save gas. Two of my most car-alert American visitors have each wanted to wrap up one of these cuties and take it home in their suitcase. One insisted we walk in the showroom and get her a brochure, which went with her as a favorite souvenir. The other spent some vacation time on the Internet researching how much it might cost to import the car or to try to buy it in the U.S. Now the Smart car is apparently heading to the U.S., but part of what makes it so cute is the relatively low price in Europe, which might not be the case when it’s in the U.S. But the closer U.S. gas prices get to European levels, the cuter it might look.

Making Nice

Son the younger’s preschool didn’t quite work out, so he’s on vacation until we try again in the fall. What this means is what I’ve been trying to avoid all along: I’ll have to be nice.
Misanthrope and mommy are two words that just don’t go together. Son the younger does need playmates, and since at two he doesn’t quite know how to make phone calls and set up playdates or even get to the park himself (although now that I think of it, maybe he does and I’m just holding him back), I the mommy have to step in. (When son the elder was a baby I was lucky. We found a playgroup, serendipitously and somewhat pathetically, thanks to my parents. They, friendly people that they are, were pushing the stroller in our new neighborhood one day and picked up a mommy for me, and then I did manage to take it from there.)
There’s lots of things mommies (and daddies of course have their own stereotypes) are supposed to be: nice and friendly, even outgoing, at least if the kid wants some friends. When sand toys come out at the playground, it’s gotta be “share, share, share,” not “hoard away, kid,” even though, Enron guys’ recent comeuppance aside, selfishness seems like a pretty successful adaptive trait nowadays. And “hit them before they hit you,” just is not going to cut it, despite its foreign policy use.
Unstated expectations pervade the mom image: Pregnancy books never bother to warn against unprotected sex with strangers. Mommybloggers who use curse words are playing against type.
Someone even thought it was newsworthy recently that not all mommy animals have what humans think of as a maternal instinct. (In other stereotype-busting news the seahorse always gets trotted out because it’s the daddy seahorse that gives birth. As if this odd sea creature might make people consider variations in human parenting roles. “Gee, think about the seahorse. Maybe we should offer paternity leave.”)
Obviously it’s good for mothers to be friendly and promote positive traits in their kids, and do much of the other good stuff you hope for from mothers. (And how wonderful that kids can help their parents be better in certain ways.) It’s good, just don’t take it for granted, OK?

Au Revoir Mon Minivan

Dear reader, please forgive my reddened eyes, my tear tracks, my sighs. it’s just that we’ve decided to sell the minivan.
A suburban mom without a minivan is like a knight without his steed, a snail without its shell, a mail carrier without her bag, a fast food joint without its garbage cans; she is lost, vulnerable, defenseless, reduced to only what she can carry in her hands and stuff in the basket under the stroller, she is without a base, without a trusty friend, she is, in short – an SUV driver.
No, no, not that, I assure you, my friends. Although many suburban families do believe they somehow increase their coolness factor by driving an overpriced, ill-famed hunk of monster metal so they can pretend they off-road through ecologically sensitive desert terrain, instead of driving the ever-useful and often-humble minivan, we’re not going that route.
No, we’re giving up my mother’s little helper because we’re moving to Spain. While it’s relatively inexpensive to ship a car there, there are apparently quite a few hassles getting it through customs and adapted to EU car standards. But mostly, we’re not sure if it will be useful. If we live in its natural habitat, a suburb, of course it will fit right in; but if we live in the city or even a village, with street construction a carryover from foot and horsie days, then, well, the poor thing might have to be shot when it gets stuck trying to turn a corner somewhere. Or abandoned when it knocks down a few pillars in a city parking garage designed for Matchbox-sized cars. And that’s possible even though it’s on the smaller end of minivans. So we’re leaving it behind.
I’ve never cared about cars, or even liked them much, but, ah, my minivan. The thing is, it’s not a car, it’s more like a really big tote bag on wheels. With room for the kids, of course. And it helps uphold the U.S. competitive advantage in number of cup holders per vehicle. With the kids’ car seats we have nine individual places for drinks. Take that, you scooter-riding Euros. Sure, you look great in your miniskirts and your leather jackets whizzing around on your Vespas, but where do you keep your Big Gulps? Huh? Ha! You don’t, do you? You stop at cafes when you need something to drink. And where’s the efficiency in that? Ha! Over here, we even have cup holders in our ride-on mowers. Now that can make you think of some fun ways to spend a Saturday. Top that!
But of course, now we’re off to Vespa-land, or the dinky little sedan equivalent. Europeans drive cars that a Hummer wouldn’t even consider a worthy snack. Yes, you know, there’s that much more expensive gas thing and there’s the shorter distances thing and there’s the everything is more smooshed together over there thing, and there’s also that decent public transportation thing, so Euros seem quite happy with their cute little cars, and subways and trains and buses and trams.
Like many people I had to overcome the initial recoil from buying a minivan. No one wants to think of herself as a boring, clichéd suburban mother carpooling around in her minivan. But then I got in, and I found I had more parity with the big beasts on the highway, I saw the nets and the hooks and the drawers and the cubbies, and the extra room to sit even with the car seats in, and I decided I still don’t need to be defined by what I drive. And it’s not like all Minivan Moms sweetly tool around in them with a sedate, earth mother generosity. Plus, I figure if a red sports car is the ultimate cop magnet, a white (safety color!) minivan is just the opposite. So you do not want to get in my way when I’m late for a kindergarten pickup.
Disagree with me? Come say that standing right here in front of my bumper, buddy. Oh, forgive me, I’m just a little upset these days – we’ve decided to sell the minivan.