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Pamela Paul Headshot

Kids are Killing the Planet!

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Little did I realize, but apparently, I am on the verge of destroying Mother Earth. Yup, Seventh Generation-using, SUV-less (car-less, doggone it!), recycling-law-abiding me. I even turn off the water while I brush my teeth, and bought local produce long before locavorism became trendy.

So what's my crime? My husband and I are contemplating having a third child, as I recently documented in the Washington Post. The essay itself, a semi-facetious, semi-serious look at the rising costs of parenthood was a riff off my book, Parenting, Inc., which documents the exploding parenting market. My goal was to offer parents a kind of annotated guide through the mind-boggling shopping experience that accompanies having a kid, and to help cut down on the commercialization of childhood. Having talked to parents around the country, I found that I'm not alone in thinking that raising kids costs a fortune. But given the wasteful and unnecessary gear that I'm planning on not buying, I thought having a third kid might be financially conceivable.

Silly me wanted to have three kids out of a love of large families and the fun I had growing up with a pile of brothers. Perhaps naively, I assumed most people reading my Washington Post story would respond with personal stories about how they too long for more kids and struggle with controlling the costs. And, to be fair, I got plenty of letters to that effect.

But I wasn't prepared for a wave of attack from another corner. The charge: Killing the planet with my "overproduction" of children. The Malthusians came out in droves the day my story was published and posted on the Washington Post website. "Your column made me sick," read the subject header of one email, boding ill for what was to come.

My motivations were challenged: "Please don't tell me that you just long to once again be pregnant," one woman wrote. "Please don't tell me that you want your children to be in your own personal gene pool. You have already done those things. I wonder why you don't look past your own personal desires to be a good member of our increasingly crowded global village?" Selfish and stupid were big words with the anti-procreation crowd. One especially incensed Australian confessed, "The biggest mistake we made in our lives was having our twins. We love them dearly, but now we really fear for their future, as they do themselves." And then he lashed out: "From where I sit, if you go through with it, you're just a stupid selfish woman." Whoa! I tried to respond evenly, pointing out a number of stories I'd written about environmentalism, but got this back: "The quicker Amerika goes down in a heap the better....... good riddance," signed, "Mike. In Australia, where more of us daily hate everything Amerika stands for."

I never thought that this is what would provoke me into one of the more patriotic states I've been in since Bush II assumed power, but it certainly had that effect. And it was a peculiar position to be thrown into as someone who considers herself fairly ecologically minded. But to this contingent of correspondents, I may as well have been advocating a corporate free-for-all in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "The oceans are dying, the oil is almost gone," wrote one anti-fan. "Large families are criminally irresponsible in such a desperate time. Quick, do us all a favor and get an abortion. It's a good thing."

Golly, I'm not even pregnant yet. And to think, my theoretical third child could be the one to invent a truly efficient biofuel or to finally finagle the passage of congestion pricing in Albany. Here's to that kind of future.

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