Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Convenience

I had a rare hour-long conversation with a friend of mine from high school the other day. She had a baby girl a few weeks after I had my youngest daughter, so we talk often and share what our kids are doing as we walk this beautiful path of motherhood together.

During our most recent conversation, we were discussing cloth diapering (which we both do) and how much easier it is than we thought it would be. Both of us have had numerous encounters with people who see that we are cloth diapering and hasten to exclaim, "God bless you! I could never do that. I just don't have the time/patience/skill."

I always answer, "Sure you could! It's not hard at all, just a couple more loads of laundry every week." My friend and I were discussing why our automatic reaction to these comments is to assure the other person that cloth diapering isn't that much harder than disposables. Really! It's not inconvenient at all!

Why is convenience the ONLY question here? What about the cost savings, the benefits to the environment or the fact that they're free of chemicals? None of this seems to matter when it comes time to choose between throwing a used diaper in a pail to be later rinsed and washed versus tossing it in the garbage and never thinking about it again.

Are we really so bound to the idea of convenience?

The short answer is YES. Witness the rise in elective c-sections and scheduled inductions. It's too hard on some mothers and doctors, apparently, to wait for labor to start naturally. Never mind the 2-fold risk of maternal mortality when the c-section isn't medically necessary. Never mind the harm to the baby, the extra cost to the insurance companies, or the fact that it's major abdominal surgery. Convenience trumps everything else.

Look around you next time you're at the grocery store. The number of products that market convenience are staggering. Tired of wringing out that mop? No need to worry! Just buy a box of disposable mop heads and throw them away as soon as you're done. No time to vacuum up that pet hair or open a window and air out the room? Here's a bottle of chemicals you can spray around to make your house smell nice. Never mind that both these products pollute the environment through their manufacture, use and disposal. Never mind that they're expensive and unnecessary. If they make your life easier, that's all that matters, right?

Studies have linked the rise in obesity among children to our diet of high-fat, fried, and/or processed foods. (Though plenty of other sites contest those findings.) Still, every health expert agrees that we need more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and less sugar and fat in our diets. The best way to do this is to cook from scratch: you govern exactly what goes into your meal and assure your family of optimum nutrition. Yet the invariable answer from today's busy family is that "We don't have time." Many supermarkets have come up with solutions for us, from pre-cut broccoli florets to pre-marinated chicken breasts. At an increased cost, of course. There's labor and packaging involved that aren't factors when you buy a whole chicken or a stalk of broccoli.

I have to ask what we're doing that we don't have time to chop up a couple stalks of broccoli. There are families, I'm sure, where two incomes mean the difference between food on the table and empty plates, but for most of us, it comes down to choices. What are we choosing that necessitates this unhealthy reliance on convenience?

It's not that there's anything wrong with modern conveniences by themselves. I'm certainly not advocating we all get rid of our washing machines and start pounding our clothes against rocks. But convenience is a luxury that we ought to balance against the cost it entails. Be assured, there's always a cost.

In truth, I'm actually upset about the way our society's obsession with "fast and easy" has spilled over into other areas. My husband came home from a recent trip with a story about a friend he'd met who had warned him repeatedly and most earnestly to "Stop at two." Children, that is. Seems this poor fellow has three kids and they're not worth the herculean effort it takes to raise them.

I'm sure he thought he was doing my husband a service by warning him away from the life of misery that he's apparently been consigned to, but I'm indignant at the message it sends: If it takes effort, it's not worth it. Isn't this a temptation that pulls at us every day? Isn't it easier to drive to the post office instead of walking five blocks? Isn't it easier to buy a Halloween costume from Target than be creative and cobble one together from what you have at home? Isn't it easier to throw your plastic bags away than return them to the store for recycling?

Well, maybe "easy" shouldn't be the penultimate goal all the time. Maybe we ought to be thinking about what's right instead of what's easy. Because, frankly, cloth diapering is right. Recycling is right. Simplifying is right. Sacrificing is right.

Sometimes things aren't easy. My husband has a comeback for this: "Suck it up." I prefer "Offer it up" but hey, whatever floats your boat. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it isn't worth it.

Picture credit: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe by Joseph Martin Kronheim

2 comments:

Milehimama said...

I always feel so sad when parents say things like "stop at two!" or "my kids drive me crazy". Can you imagine being child #3 in that family and hearing Dad tell everyone that?

We've had to transition away from most convenience foods for dietary reasons, and I've found that doing it myself is not actually that much more effort anyway. I read a survey that said all of the prepackaged foods only shave 10 minutes off a meal prep, and I believe it!

Rebecca said...

This is a great post that gives me much to ponder. Thanks!