In 2009, a wriggling, slippery baby was planted in my arms. We studied each other’s faces in silent surprise, while he sucked on his fist and I stroked his hair. He may be my son, but he’s doesn’t belong to me. He has belonged to himself from moment one. But I’m fortunate enough to be entrusted with him, while he’s growing up.
My son has the longest eyelashes I’ve ver seen and a birthmark on his toe that I find more intriguing than half the history of mankind. He tells me jokes that he finds so funny himself that he laughs until his legs buckle beneath him. He inherited his father’s drive and finds sitting through an entire class at school an atrocious waste of time. He got his sensitivity from me and cries with loud sobs over sad films. He’s caused a number of heart attacks by getting lost in public places, and lumps of joy in the throat every time he’s been found. He knows a shortcut to his grandfather’s heart that nobody else in the whole world knows about, and he generates a knitting frenzy with his female relatives. And when he laughs. My God, it’s like getting a helium injection in the heart.
My son has been interested in natural science ever since he learned how to talk, and soaks it up via books and TV. He knows that trees and algae produce oxygen. He has tossed and turned in bed at night, worried about the threat to the rainforests and various sea and land animals. For a while, he flat out refused to eat meat. He’s also interested in recycling and recently, he hesitated before throwing away a broken water pistol, turning around to ask me: “Do you know the right way to throw it, mamma?“
The answer is no. I don’t know the right way to throw it. I don’t know how to preserve the planet that my son, whom I love more than anything, inherits it from me. I am an animal in a giant herd who has never hunted her own prey, never produced her own clothes, never bred her own domestic animals, never cultivated her own land. The herd I belong to was born out of the industrial revolution, where specialisation severed our connection with nature. I don’t have to hunt, cultivate or breed. I don’t have to understand the needs of nature; what she needs to maintain equilibrium. All I need to do is buy. Fish a little plastic card out of my pocket and stick it into a machine that regurgitates a receipt, allowing me to take my catch home with me in plastic bags. Plastic bags that didn’t even exist until 1960. That take 500-1000 years to disintegrate in nature. That are now the bulk of plastic islands the size of Egypt that drift around our oceans and threaten our entire ecosystem. I barely managed to turn the newspaper page before my son saw the dead sperm whale that turned out to have more than a hundred plastic bags in its stomach. It would’ve been a heartbreaking start of the day.
The worst part is that I’m forced to partake in this madness. Sure, I can take reusable bags with me when I go grocery shopping, but I can’t buy cheese unless it’s wrapped in plastic. The same goes for shampoo, toilet paper, bread, dish washing liquid. The list goes on and on. Plastic doesn’t rot or mould, it simply disintegrates into tiny particles, unleashing dubious chemical compounds in the process. Some of them are linked to premature puberty in children, as American studies show that girls grow breasts two years earlier in life than they did four decades ago. Some of these chemicals are believed to affect our endocrine glands, causing diseases such as diabetes. In a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, 93% of my son’s peers turned out to have plastic fragments in their urine.
My son was over the moon when he got his Easter egg, this spring. His joy faded when he opened the egg and it turned out to contain eight, small plastic bags. Some of which were wrapped around a single piece of candy.
I belong to a herd that doesn’t understand the needs of the earth, but still drives a blind consumer culture at the cost of everybody who lives on earth. All so we can buy ourselves a plastic, disposable existence. At the end of the day, my son will pay the price. He doesn’t belong to me, but I’m fortunate enough to be entrusted with him. We have to realise that the same is true for earth itself – before it’s too late.
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(This article was first published in Stundin newspaper)