Long arms

Mia screeched, ‘Help! Mummy, help!’

‘Help what?’ I said.

‘Want to get those boxes over there!’ Mia was on her hands and knees, pointing deep under her bed.

‘Oh, I can’t reach, Mia. Only daddy can get those boxes. He has long arms. I have short arms.’

Hearing this, Mia sat back and was quiet. Then she shouted, ‘Mr Tickle!’

She jumped up and grabbed Mr Tickle from the top of her toybox. Then she threw herself under the bed, legs sticking out, and the sound of her straining to reach something.

Then I heard, ‘I did it! I did it!’ and two boxes were ejected out from under the bed.

Mr Tickle, a bright orange stuffed toy with long arms and a blue hat, is sitting in a toy cradle.
Mia’s Mr Tickle toy is rather large.


Toddler Mia pointed up at a poster in the reception of the physiotherapist.

‘What’s she doing, mummy?’

‘She’s running, Mia,’ I said. ‘Running is healthy. People often run after they’ve done something unhealthy.’

Mia’s eyes widened and she gasped, ‘She ate chocolate!’

A girl runs across a green field.
Why do we run? (Image by Julia Raasch)

Ground truthing

This is right outside my office. You’ve probably seen such markings on the ground before, although maybe not at this density. These markings show where services (electricity, gas, telecommunications) are.

Although there are written records of service locations, someone always has to check in person before any digging happens. This is called ‘ground truthing’.

It struck me that these markings could be beautiful and meaningful, reminding me of Aboriginal dot painting.

Am I an engineering geek if I think service location markings are beautiful?

Welcome to the world of cloth nappies

Buying cloth nappies is a complicated business. There are many different styles, different materials and brands. Prices vary from dirt cheap ($2 a nappy) through to insane ($50+ for a custom nappy. Yes, there are such things as custom nappies.).

The first time I bought cloth nappies, I spent around $14 a nappy. Unfortunately, these nappies started leaking regularly and falling apart. Within a few months, the retailer had sent some replacements that failed again. I’d say by the time Mia was a toddler, she was in cloth nappies half the time, disposables the other half, and we were doing a lot of laundry.

A pile of cloth nappies on a blue sofa. The nappies are brand new and in solid colours.
These are the cloth nappies that Mia used for 2 years.

I have since found out that these nappies have a reputation. They are identical to the dirt cheap generic nappies, but someone has rebadged them and inflated the price. Really, I got the worst of all worlds. Cheap product, high price.

The experience undermined my ability to recommend cloth nappies to anyone. However, in my nappy research for Lana, I have learned that good quality nappies:

  • Do not leak
  • Last overnight
  • Last beyond one child and can be resold to recover much of the upfront cost
  • Look completely different to the ones I had first bought

So here is the new nappy stash. These are handcrafted in Australia, made of bamboo and come in ‘everyday’ and ‘night’ versions. I paid around $25 per nappy, which is a very good price for a handcrafted nappy.

A pile of colourful and black cloth nappies on a white couch. The nappies are new. Some are smooth and some are furry.
These nappies fit both Lana (newborn) and Mia (toddler). Mia uses them only for nights now, as she is day toilet trained, YES!

I hope to write more about the environmental and cost implications of using cloth nappies. The benefits of cloth over disposable are not clear cut (unless you buy renewable energy and use your nappies for more than one child). There is also a lot to be said about the cloth nappy community (yes, there is such a thing) and the clash of cloth nappy cultures (yes!! There is an ongoing war at the heart of the cloth nappy community).

Bottom line: Budget for around $18-30 a nappy. That’s how much a good quality nappy costs. It will save you a lot of heartache and laundry to buy nappies that don’t leak.

If that sounds too costly to you, have a think about the cost of disposables over the 2+ years that your children will be in nappies. Think about doing cloth nappies part time. Also, seriously consider buying second hand. The second hand cloth nappy market is huge on Facebook. If you want help linking up to the right groups in Australia, get in touch.

Be an ally

Two people standing on railway tracks next to each other. The tracks travel into the distance. Sky is gray and trees have lost their leaves.
Make the journey as an ally of those who have to fight harder than you to get through each day. (Image by Jonathan Pendleton)
I am making the effort to engage people who make racist, sexist or other bigoted comments within my social sphere.

A few months ago, I joined an online babwearing group, which has conversations about social justice and racism as part of babywearing.

Although I have a deep education in sustainability, it is more than fair to say that I come at it from an environmental and economic background. Social justice is the last part of the ‘triple bottom line’ for me to actively engage with.

It’s been a terrifyingly steep learning curve, grappling with (in the order of my self-education):

  1. Tone policing — No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege
  2. Cultural appropriation — What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm
  3. Privilege — The day I checked my privilege
  4. Racism — Walking While Black and I, Racist
  5. Roots of racism in the US — I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.
  6. Being an ally for marginalised people — Allyship

Most of the articles I’ve linked here are beautifully written (or drawn) and I encourage you to read them (particularly number 3 and 6).

My eyes are open to injustice now. The news is full of the leaders oblivious to the advantages they’ve had through life. All the models at the optometry shop are white. All the babies in parenting magazines are white. Friends of friends on Facebook are making, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ comments.

It’s Facebook comments that I’m tackling first. I’m not an activist by nature so it takes me a lot of energy to engage in difficult conversations.

Damjan asked me, ‘Is it worth spending your energy on this?’ What I realised was that I have the privilege of answering that question with ‘No,’ and walking away. If I were Aboriginal, Muslim, disabled, transgender, suffering a mental health illness or fat, I would be forced to face in the worst of human nature on the internet and in the real world every day. Bigotry and barriers would come looking for me.

It is unfair that the people targeted with hostility are the ones who have to fight it.

As we tell our children in anti-bullying programs, ‘Don’t be a bystander. Be an upstander. So I’m starting to do my bit in my little corner of the internet.’ I’m getting ready to do it in real life too, as my maternity leave is ending and I leave my home bubble.

Here’s what I particularly need to be conscious of as I try to be a better ally.

  • Create space for the people who don’t normally get to speak so that they can be heard — I talk a lot in all settings and I need to shut up and use my influence to allow marginalised voices in. Amplify their messages by repeating them word-for-word or pointing to those voices. Resist the urge to ‘improve’ the story.
  • Give weight to people’s experiences — Science and law is the language of debate in my household and workplace. But marginalised people have experiences that are real, important, and not codified in formal systems. I have to listen to these perspectives with an open mind.
  • Accept negative emotions as part of the message — Anger and frustration is central to the experiences of marginalised people. Listen to these emotions without asking that people strip their messages into the neutral technical language I’m used to.
  • Look for and accept criticism — I participate unconsciously in systematic discrimination every day. I need to be able to accept criticism without feeling defensive.

Mia learns empathy

On Mia’s tablet screen, Ben and Holly are inside a sandcastle.
They have lost track of time.
The tide is rising.
The castle is surrounded by water.
Ben and Holly are trapped without a magic wand or a flying friend.
The soundtrack becomes frantic and Mia looks at me with stricken eyes.
‘Mummy!’ she cries, ‘I want to watch Peppa Pig!’

A large sand castle on the beach. It is dusk. There are many birds on the horizon.
Sandcastle fit for a fairy princess and her best elf friend. Image by Michael Baird (Sandcastle at Sunset on Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Bay, CA)
P.S. For those of you who aren’t parents, Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom come from the same British producer. Peppa Pig episodes are 5 minutes and Peppa is 4 years old. Ben & Holly episodes are 10 minutes and the title characters are 8 years old.

Who Gives a Crap delivers toys

I used to be sad that the recycled toilet paper in the shops is terrible. I now buy Who Gives a Crap toilet paper (recycled paper) and tissues (bamboo / sugarcane). These are both strong and soft. Price-wise, they’re similar to other sustainable options in the shops.

I don’t usually give free advertising to companies but these people seriously solved my internal conflict between ethics and comfort.

Here’s Mia with our latest tissue delivery.

There is a colourful stack of tissue boxes. Behind the stack, there are two cardboard boxes. A toddler is sitting in one of them. Her face is not visible.
Mia carefully empties the box then announces, ‘Now I have a bath.’
A range of colourful toys sit on top of a row of colourful tissue boxes. There are two boxes in the background. A toddler's legs and feet are sticking out of one of the boxes.
Mia’s tissue box tower collapses and she says, ‘Hmm, better make a train.’
A toddler has a large box over her head. Only her legs and feet are visible. She is indoors.
Mia: ‘I have a costume.’
Me: ‘What are you dressed as?’
Mia: ‘A ghost.’

Brick, gold or green?

Joan, Chinese woman wearing yellow, is sitting on a table in front of an audience. Visible on the table are two white men, one wearing blue chequered shirt, the other in a dark suit.
I moderated a panel at Arup’s Shaping our City event in February 2015.

At a presentation in London, I heard someone from Futerra describe three types of environmentalists: the bricks, golds and greens.

These three types are environmental versions (extensions) of Dade’s three value modes: settler, prospector and pioneer. I made a booklet version of these ideas for an event I hosted at work. You can download it here (1.6 MB PDF):

The front page of a booklet entitled 'What drives your worldview?'. It includes two silhouetted heads talking to each other with colourful speech bubbles.
I wrote a short summary of Dade’s value modes to help people understand the different values that drive environmental behaviours.

Here is a screenshot of part of the short booklet.

Three columns headed by pictures of a brick, gold bar and a grassy patch. The image includes information on how the proportion of people in each category for the US, Australia and UK. For the text, download the booklet PDF in the link above.
This is an image from the booklet and describes the values behind the environmental behaviours of bricks, golds and greens.

The introduction of the booklet says:

The following three ‘value modes’ are one handy way of understanding a people’s worldviews. They are based on surveys of thousands of people around the world on what values drive their behaviours and opinions. I often ask people to sort themselves into these groups as workshop icebreaker…

These value modes help us pitch messages that resonate with the different audiences in our organisations and communities, which is vital when we are looking for behaviour change.

Even more importantly, we recognise that people might make the same sustainable decisions for entirely different – and legitimate – reasons. Personally, I find it inspiring that there are lots of different ways of thinking about sustainability.

I wish that the booklet included a link and credit to the original authors but this information got lost between my draft and the graphic design publication. For far more detail, you can dive in at Culture Dynamics. Hat tip again to Futerra.