Someone gifted me a four-pack of paper towels as part of a housewarming gift. That was 11 years ago, and, so far, I’ve only replaced it once.
I have margins to care about things like sustainability—it’s one of the luxuries of my middle-class life. So, I recycle and compost and have been purging my daily routines of plastic. I ride the bus. In my quest to reduce my overall impact on the environment, I actively avoid anything that’s single-use. I return my cartons to the farmer I buy my eggs from and faithfully carry my own coffee mug and water bottle around. I have reusable bags on me at all times. Even when I host large gatherings, I use real plates and silverware and napkins. I buy local, and I avoid Styrofoam. And—while admittedly not helpful—I silently judge people with means who don’t.
These are personal convictions I’ve oriented a lot of choices around for a very long time.
And since P came to live with me, I’ve tabled most of them.
That’s one of the things about foster care I didn’t initially anticipate when I started six years ago. I didn’t foresee just how much proximity would transform me or how quickly I would be willing to set aside my principles in order to build trust and provide comfort for someone I hardly know.
But that’s what I’m doing as I stock my shelves with things I never dreamed I’d buy and pretend the current contents of my garbage can don’t make me cringe.
Because before P moved in, I asked her casework what kinds of foods I should have on hand, and she suggested I keep a stash of chicken nuggets and plenty of ranch dressing. So, I filled my freezer and figured I’d find out more as I got to know her.
And I quickly discovered her other go-to meal is my ecological worst nightmare: a single-serve cup of noodles housed in Styrofoam, wrapped in plastic, and then nestled inside a shiny cardboard sleeve.
So, for now, love looks like a pantry full of Cup Noodles. And Takis chips. And Oreos. And Kool-Aid packets. And other things that make my sustainability-self shudder.
And maybe someday I’ll earn the right to talk to P about that stuff. To talk about the connections between pollution and poverty and why it all matters to me. In the meantime, I’m getting well acquainted with grocery store aisles I’ve never ventured down and learning to respect the context of a teenager who has weathered storms I can hardly begin to imagine.