You survived the holidays, congratulations. But now you may be faced with a quandary. If you are the parent of a small child, you almost certainly will. No one means to put you in this position, it’s just that people love you, well, mostly your children, and in their enthusiasm to show it, they forget about that trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean, in which slowly degrading garbage, dead fish and snared birds swirl in a growing gyre the size of Texas. The plastic breaks down ever so slowly into microscopic pieces that are eaten by sea life, and eventually, by us. We are all at least vaguely aware of this (I think?). But when faced with the prospect of giving enjoyment to bonnie little ones, our generous instincts turn otherwise sane humans into earth destroying forces that we in our house call plastic poopers.
Exhibit A: the dolly stroller, also known as Fisher Price’s Brilliant Basics Stroller-Styled Walker (normally $36.79, on sale Cyber Monday for $24.99!).
It came into my life in a flat, heavy cardboard box – a birthday present from an aunt who will remain nameless to my two-year-old daughter, who, being the first of her generation on that side of the family, gets a lot of love. I got on the floor with Kai and made a big production of tearing the box open. Out tumbled plastic pieces – pink plastic wheels and pieces of a white plastic frame, a blue plastic teddy bear bobbing around like a bobblehead in a car windshield. And a pink cloth dolly.
I gave the doll to Kai, who named it “Joeydoll” after her dad (and after every other doll she owns, too). But she really wanted the mysterious contraption.
I struggled to fit the pieces together while my dinner got cold. There were no directions, not even a picture on the box that came from China. I couldn’t get the white pieces to snap together in the way that was clearly essential to the thing’s structural soundness. Even in its discombobulated state, however, it was able to roll around and play a ditty. I hated it.
“Leave it,” suggested husband Joe.
I tried to stuff the pieces back into the box. “It’s broken,” I explained to Kai, who was getting increasingly irritated. Easy come, easy go. I’d ship it back to Fisher Price and move on.
But the pieces refused to fit into the slender box from which they’d just emerged. No matter what configuration I tried, they ripped the box open and protruded out the top. It was Pandora’s box I had opened.
What was my aunt thinking, anyway? (I was working up a head of steam.) Of all people! I call this aunt the witch doctor; she’s all into holistic health and omega-3’s being the cure for every ill. She wears Dansko clogs and buys organic almonds from Trader Joe’s and gets it about the earth – I thought.
“Calm down,” Joe laughed. “Come eat.”
So we sat down to dinner, and the stroller loomed behind me, busting out of its box, cluttering up what seemed like half the kitchen, tantalizing Kai and making me feel disgusting and culpable for the metastasizing plastic vortex. Because that’s where this dolly stroller is headed, sooner or later – this thing comes with a one-way ticket to plastic island. If it’s really lucky, maybe it’ll join the plastic one percent and get recycled into traffic cones.
Thanks, Aunt X!But now that it existed, and could not be returned because it wouldn’t fit back into its box, it would only compound the horrors to never even use the thing.
Please, I begged Joe, as if there weren’t a dozen other chores in need of his attention: I will stop talking about it, I promise, if you’ll agree to get it set up tomorrow. Do you swear?
He did, and Kai liked pushing her dolly — in addition to half-eaten apples and single shoes — around the kitchen in the stroller. Mostly she enjoyed making it play its two-part ditty. After the first part, you could not finish a thought, let alone a sentence, until the second had run its course, which was an evil that Joe in particular suffered from, since he works from home.
We had some chuckles crafting imaginary thank-you cards. “Thanks, Aunt X, for the earth-destroying dolly stroller! Kai adores it. Joe is at Bellevue.”
Dolly’s stroller joined a caravan of wheeled plastic vehicles we’d received, or picked up on the side of the road, and we were running out of parking space. At the same time as we were tripping over them, they were also fading into the backdrop so that Kai hardly noticed most of them anymore. Still we carried on, valiantly stubbing our toes and biting our lips in silent, aimless fury.
Then Kai and I spent a girls’ weekend in the city. When we returned, Joe cryptically referred to some “cleaning” he’d done, putting a finger to his lips. The place did look better, but I didn’t give it much thought – until Kai and I embarked on an adventure. Our explorations took us into an outbuilding, where we saw something we couldn’t un-see: the plastic caravan, getting dripped on as snow melted through the roof.
Our lives had been no worse for lack of these gewgaws – I daresay that not getting blindsided from below on nighttime trips to the bathroom might even have constituted an improvement. But Kai immediately recognized her stroller, its telltale teddy bear bobbing like a ship’s flag. I unleashed it from the other pieces, fumbling in my rush to separate it before she realized that all this crapola was hers.
We brought it back inside. Joe rolled his eyes. “I tried,” he said.
I know. I know. But it exists, I repeated lamely, and it’s better that it at least gets used. When he tripped over the stroller while making breakfast the next morning, I winced with him.
Where am I going with all this? I guess it’s something of a plea. I am not passing judgment; I can’t pretend to be high and mightily plastic-free. I play with a Frisbee, like, all the time. I asked for a ping-pong table for Christmas. Those balls aren’t made of bamboo.
But for the sake of parents with limited room in our houses and peace and quiet in our lives, for the sake of all of the inhabitants of this planet choking with plastic: pretty please, don’t be a plastic pooper. Even if it’s on sale.
If it’s too late to return your plastic crap, here’s what I’m doing: after Kai plays with it for awhile, then gets bored of it again, I’m going to consign it at a great local kiddie secondhand store. Maybe I will rest a bit easier knowing that at least the thing’s not swirling in the plastic gyre yet. Maybe somebody will buy this dolly stroller so that a new dolly stroller will not have to be manufactured to convey the next baby’s dollies and apples.