(From a Series of Four Articles on Parenting and Family Life First Published in 2005)
For the most part I view our family as the typical nuclear family.. reflecting the personal and practical living priorities of the times we live in. It’s certainly not reflective of the family in which I was raised, but those times were different. The parents of us boomers not only had their Depression Era work ethic but also a strong family ethic; dad worked and mom maintained the home front. Life seemed more efficient. But as us boomers aged and cut through the old social norms like a swelling juggernaut we defined our own life priorities and social living standards. And one of the many by-products of that ‘swelling’ has been.. well, more garbage.
No, that’s not a metaphor for the political harrangs coming from our elected officials nor the explanation given by the natural gas company in my gas bill explaining why the bill has doubled .. I’m talking about real garbage; the stuff we toss in garbage bags. I was raised in a family of four and I am currently a parental unit in a family of five. When I think back of the amount of garbage generated then compared to now one would think the additional person increased family garbage 10 fold. Obviously it’s not that the extra person has made that much difference but rather the lifestyle change in our current culture.
We honestly generate in our household one of those lawn-size garbage bags full of trash each day. One day as I was passing through the kitchen I noticed the overflowing trash container.. you know which one it is, that little plastic thing that can hold two plastic milk jugs and a Campbell’s soup can (I once entertained the marketing of an industrial 55 gallon drum with designer trim for kitchen use? but that didn’t fit under the sink too well). Anyway, as I stood there for a moment pondering which kid I was going to chastise, I surveyed the contents. Interestingly I found there was very little true organic refuse. I mean, in my day mother compacted meat bones, coffee grounds, dish scrapings, cooking residue, and a few wrappers into a half gallon milk container then sent me out to the trash can in the alley. This stuff I was looking at was essentially paper packaging – daughter’s macaroni and cheese box.. a couple cardboard frozen pizza wrappings, a half gallon orange juice container (the same kind of container mother used for a full day of garbage), a bevy of unrecognizable wrappings, a Chef Boy-R-De ravioli can (large size), a Burger King paper cup (large), a handful of the day’s junk mail, an old Time magazine, and a couple microwave popcorn bags.. and this was only noontime!
Well, like most families these days we seldom cook because everyone goes their separate ways and both parents work. So our garbage reflects the fast food, prepared food, instant food, microwave food, lifestyle. As I picked up the overflowed paper trash I couldn’t help but sigh at what we have given up as a family unit? I mean, well beyond the lack of a home-cooked meal. A supper-table closeness, a proper diet, increased spending, are just a few of the compromises we made.
So, I filled the bag, packed it down, tied it off? and did what I did many years ago for my mother; I took the trash out back and tossed it into a bigger container.. then forgot about it.