Response to “toxic death cream”

As far as I can remember, I have always loved reading and gardening. I’ve always been interested in plants and what they do. I want new plants, I want to do the work to grow them, easily and naturally, much more easily than anything else I’ve forced myself to do in life. And ever since I was 17 and realized I could, I’ve had fun cooking. And every year of school, I wanted to be a teacher for that year. I used to joke about being a stay at home parent, but then I realized it is my idea of fun. Not always, but I enjoy the fundamental tasks.

Which makes me believe strongly that no one should be a stay at home parent if they don’t want to be, because it can be so hard in terms of stress, loneliness, and physical work. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy some of it for my own sake, not just for my kids. And if you don’t stay home, I  can’t imagine how you’d have time to research sunscreens, pesticides, chemicals in a baby bath soap, and all of the other things that I end up researching. That kind of research isn’t really my job as a stay-at-home parent, let alone physically or mentally possible for a parent that works.

Which means that I completely relate to this post, “Excuse Me While I Lather My Child in This Toxic Death Cream”–even if I live the opposite. Sarah Kallies writes about the stress of trying to be a good enough parent with so many rules and recommendations and guidelines, but aims in particular at the Enviornmental Working Group’s guide to safe sunscreens. She bought $30 of sunscreen deemed unsafe, and can’t afford to throw it out after reading the guide, so now she feels guilty about putting something toxic on her kids and concludes that she’ll push aside these guides, writing:

Post all the scathing articles. Share the latest revelations. I’ll pass for now. Life is hard enough. I’m going to live and soak in each moment with my boys instead. When I see, “10 Things you had no idea were in the air you are breathing right now,” or, “Did you know that opening your eyeballs can be fatal?” I am going to shut my computer and go to sleep. And dream about our next camping trip. Or hiking adventure.

The thing is, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is one of the only organizations providing this information, and our government is doing nearly nothing to protect kids from chemicals in everyday products. The thing is, this isn’t about judging moms as individuals. I make tons of stuff–organic food, diaper balm, lotions, my kids entire education really–in order to avoid the toxic chemicals and repressive systems that I disagree with politically. But this does NOT make me a better mom. Sometimes I feel I should be doing more personally–putting my kids and myself on a gluten free diet, cutting out more sugar. Sometimes I feel I should be doing more politically–going to protests, writing letters, putting my body and career on the line like Sandra Steingraber. I feel guilty everyday for some mom failure but I don’t want to do these things, I want to work in my garden and read and go hiking and read stories to my kids. I feel very uncomfortable when people tell me I’m such a good mom because that term is so loaded and creates a whole group of “bad moms”–usually people in poverty or facing personal crises who don’t have the time or energy to research everything or make every meal or battle their kids over junk food. It takes either a lot of energy or a lot of money or both to get your kids out the front door for the day with a complete snack bag or a stop at a healthy restaurant or bring the right sunscreen, and not just go through a drive-through McDonald’s or put on the sunscreen you already bought on sale.

But the Environmental Working Group is not about mom guilt, it’s about making information available in an easily accessible way. No parent has time to do an independent literature review of all the science behind each chemical in each sunscreen. The EWG does it for you. And that is so powerful that it’s been causing plenty of backlash, with agriculture front groups accusing the EWG of making people less healthy by telling them not to eat fruits and veggies, and others accusing them of profiting from natural cosmetics companies. The thing is parents need their lives to be easier, and they need someone–a nonprofit like the EWG–to figure out how to limit exposure to the hundreds of chemicals we are exposed to everyday, chemicals that either aren’t regulated in any way or that are studied by themselves, not for their effects in conjunction with the other several hundred potential endocrine disruptors, potential carcinogens, and potential allergens deemed to be safe in isolation.

It is hard, so hard, to stop the production and use of chemicals known to cause cancer, just read this story about perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Let alone get it out of our environment. Which is why a group like the EWG is so important, at least making  it easy to know which chemicals we’re using and what limited studies have shown about them. Still, I agree with Sarah Kallies that even that knowing is often too hard. As Dominique Browning of Moms Clean Air Force puts it,

The SYSTEM needs to change, so that we don’t have to worry about having toxics in our stuff, in our air….so we don’t have to feel personally responsible for fixing climate change. Instead, this is the job of the institutions designed to protect us. So–for those of us who have more time, because we aren’t dealing with toddlers–we can unite to fix broken laws. And fight corporate polluters. Meantime, we do the best we can in our everyday lives. And we do it with love and good intentions.

The Environmental Working Group is essential to my peace of mind. Knowing about these chemicals feels like the only thing I can do when I hear about yet another friend or relative getting cancer. This knowing and researching is not our job, but the EWG enables us to ask again and again for our government to make public health and safety a higher priority than corporate profit. What sunscreen you use doesn’t matter as much as supporting organizations and people fighting to keep everyone safe from toxic chemicals.

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About Kaitlin

I am primarily a stay at home mom. I also have a Phd in Eglish. Everyday I’m learning about myself, my family, and my community. I write about parenting, childhood, education, autism, homeschooling, politics, anti-racism, and feminism. Critiquing coercive and damaging cultural norms like misogyny, racism, sexism, capitalist exploitation, ableism, and childism helps me seek out a life of peace, justice, and empathy.
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