In the days Before Children I liked to consider myself a bit of a greenie. I didn’t drive. I went vegetarian. I lobbied politicians (and my poor parents) about the threat of climate change. I spent my gap year surveying forests in Cambodia. I spent my hen weekend building a hibernaculum (Google it) in a swamp outside Glasgow.
Fast forward a few years and I’m wondering whether it’s even possible to be a special needs family and still minimise our impact on the environment.
First rule of reducing one’s environmental impact: use less stuff. And if having children means a lot of stuff, having a special needs child means a mountain of stuff. All of which is fab, and useful, and makes our lives easier and Benjamin more comfortable. But a lot of it is large, and plastic, and electronic. On the plus side, a lot of Benjamin’s stuff – his chairs, his toys, his special needs buggy, his feeding pump, his bath seat, his sleep system – is on loan from the health or education departments. In theory at least, this equipment should go back into the system for the next child, when he’s finished with it. If not ‘reduce,’ at least ‘reuse.’
We still don’t have a car of our own. We walk, cycle or take public transport most places; and if we need one, we take a car club car just for the day. However, once Benjamin reaches his third birthday and (barring a medical miracle) his entitlement to the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance, we will be getting a massive, gas-guzzling, people-carrying, buggy and luggage-fitting estate car on the wonderful Motability scheme. I have to say, guiltily, I can’t wait. No more humping car seats in and out of car club cars. No more booking weeks in advance just to pop to the garden centre. No more fighting for the disabled spot on the train. Of course, I’ll still take public transport where I can, and we’ll try to get the lowest-emissions vehicle that suits our requirements. But it won’t be green – Jackie has already made us promise it will be red…
And we still try to eat with the planet in mind. By which I mean, we prioritise local, seasonal fruit and veg (home grown where possible), sustainably-harvested fish, and low-carbon meats. So far, however, I am struggling to wean us off a high dependence on dairy. Our fridge displays the evidence: there is a whole shelf for cheese, a whole shelf for yogurt, a couple of shelves for beer (obvs), and not much space for anything else.
While I could happily subsist without most dairy (ice cream doesn’t count, right?), the two cheese-monsters in the house would not take happily to any restriction. And Benjamin’s diet consists almost entirely of the delicious Nutrini Multi Fibre – which has a huge list of ingredients including vegetable oil, cow’s milk and fish oil plus a lot of other things I can’t pronounce, and is manufactured by multinational Danone somewhere decidedly not local. Mmm. Maybe one day we will move onto a blended diet, but for the moment I’m just happy to see Benjy growing and thriving, even if it does make his nappies smell of bacon…
Speaking of nappies, I’m rather proud of the fact that both our children have been cloth-bummed. Not religiously so – if we’re on holiday, or in hospital, we go straight for the disposables; I don’t want to be carting buckets of soiled cotton around everywhere I go. We’ve generally found cloth nappies to be less leaky, less smelly, less costly, and much cuter. And, for a mum who’s always forgetting what she went to the supermarket for in the first place, we’re less likely to run out. Of course they need washing, which means using energy, water and detergents, but with our family I’d probably be running a wash nearly every day anyway. Quite what will happen as Benjamin gets older, I don’t know. I have found a company that sells adult cloth nappies (I’m sure there must be others), but I suspect it will be difficult to convince the NHS Incontinence Service to supply these rather than their standard disposables, even if it would save them money in the long run…
There are plenty of things I can’t change about our somewhat medicalised life. I haven’t found a feeding pump that runs on clockwork, and I can’t knit syringes out of raffia. If Benjamin is cold I will turn up the central heating and I’m very glad we can afford to do so. I know most SN parents have enough to do trying to keep themselves and their families afloat, without worrying about the sinking of the Maldives and the plight of the polar bear. We’re very fortunate that Benjamin’s condition is stable, and that we are well supported by health and social services, so I have the luxury of time, money and energy to care about such things.
Of course one of the best ways of saving the planet is not to have children in the first place. Who needs extra human beings, using up resources and generating pollution? I don’t know how other parents justify it, but my hideously superior thoughts went something along the lines of but my kids will be intelligent, well-informed and well brought-up so their net impact will be to do more good than harm. Who knows, they might even change the world. Thus far I’ve got a three-year old who’s main area of expertise seems to be gathering up all the cushions on the house into a massive pile on the sofa, and Benjamin who, let’s face it, is never going to be Prime Minister. And now, all being well, we’ll be having a third. Oops.
In the end it’s only partly about being green per se, it’s partly about not losing the principles and interests that made me me, before I became Jackie and Benjamin’s mum. The main principle being, if I can find something to worry about, I will.
If anyone out there has their own eco-special needs tips, I’d love to hear them.