When my father was alive, he would often lament the low standard of living my generation was certain to inherit. The topic most often came up when we were out to eat. He would gaze wistfully at the bare laminate table-top, decorated with paper place mats and napkins, and shake his head.
In all fairness, we were a family of five living on a teacher’s salary, so I doubt we were dining at Le Monde. But, when he was a boy, every restaurant served its customers on china plates that rested on tablecloths. And when you wiped your chin, it was with a freshly starched, cloth napkin, not a piece of paper that someone would throw away after you were finished with it.
To my dad’s way of thinking, the disappearance of restaurant table linens seemed to summarize all that was wrong with the world. He would often take this opportunity to tell us so. As we waited for our dinners to come out, he would scrutinize the tinny flatware for a moment, rub a paper napkin between his fingers, then shift his critical eye to us kids.
“Your generation is going to have a significantly lower standard of living than my generation had,” he would admonish us.
How was it my fault that the paper industry had a monopoly over the restaurant business? And why on earth would the quality of my life somehow be lessened because I used a disposable napkin?
As I got older, I began to realize that it was more than a resistance to cultural change. Dad’s mourning of the passing of napery in all but the most upscale places was, among other things, a metaphor for the disposable lifestyle we were all becoming used to. Everything is disposable now. Not just napkins and placemats, but silverware, too. And paper plates. Cups. Straws. Contact lenses. We can throw away razors, pens, cameras, underwear, even cell phones. I bet they come up with a disposable car in my lifetime.
A few years ago, I started a family of my own. For a variety of reasons, we decided to use cloth diapers on our two children. This decision had nothing to do with my dad’s napkin fetish, honestly. I just liked cloth diapers, and thought they were the best choice for our family.
Like all parents, we have been tempted by the allure and ease of disposable products. And for the most part, we have resisted, especially in the diaper department. But on a recent family vacation, we decided to take ‘sposies instead of cloth. I have to admit that they were much easier to pack and took up infinitely less room. There was no smelly diaper bag sitting around until we could run the washing machine. There was also no running of the washing machine. All we had was a garbage bag to take out.
Make that two garbage bags. Two full-sized, stuffed-to-the-top, smash-it-down-to-make- room-for-more garbage bags.
Over the course of a week, those two little butts made more garbage than all of us combined. At 6-8 diapers for each kid a day, we went through diapers like crazy. I couldn’t believe how much trash we generated in just dirty diapers. It was staggering, when you stopped to think about how many millions of little baby butts are out there, wrapped in throwaway diapers.
Environmental issues aside, however, I realized that my kids’ arses just didn’t look as nice in the paper diapers. They also didn’t feel as cuddly when I picked them up. And I could hear paper crinkling whenever they moved. These diapers were scratchy, noisy, and smelled funny. In short, they were cheap.
I often feel sorry for babies who don’t get to enjoy the cloth experience. Cloth diapers are soft. The more you wash them, the softer they get. They’re a little bulky, but a baby bubble butt looks so adorable, especially when it’s wriggling around, crawling or toddling. Cloth diapers don’t make noise when you put them on. They don’t smell like chemicals, either. And you can use them fresh out of the dryer, warm and snuggly. You can’t do that with a disposable diaper, or there would be an awful mess.
I’ve realized that I, too, lament the coming generation’s lower standards of living. Apparently, life is better when it incorporates fabric instead of paper. Maybe I’m a snob that way, but I feel better knowing that my family has the best.
Let all the other asses use paper.