Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Cowboy at the Pump

It was a disgustingly humid and sticky day last week when I pulled into a gas station near empty. There were at least six other cars at pumps and I figured I’d be in for a wait.

Seconds later a man rolled up to the pump across from me in a big truck. He was a landscaper by the looks of the logo stenciled to the side. Without waiting, he hopped out of his truck, put a credit card into the pump and began doing what I have not seen in ten years: pumping his own gas.

“What’s going on?” I thought.

I can’t tell you how quickly my mind raced: Was he not from these parts? No, his plates were from New Jersey. Did he know the owner? Had something terrible happened and there was a suspension of state laws? 

He wiped some sweat off his face, pulled up his blue jeans and strolled into the quickmart.

Meanwhile the college girl in front of his car, impatient and probably motivated by what she’d just witnessed, got out of her car and attempted to finish her transaction without the attendant.

We are always on the brink of chaos, aren’t we?

The man in the truck came back, now with a large can of iced-tea. He popped the top and tossed it down, drinking it as if it were a cold beer. The vision gave me a flashback. Was I back in Texas?

No. I was still in New Jersey. It was humid after all. And the man was not wearing ropers.

My cowboy finished filling up before the attendant handed me back my credit card. He was long gone when I said, somewhere between a question and a tattletale: "That guy in the truck filled up his own tank, you know?”

The attendant looked at me with a smile. It seemed he didn’t speak much English. He'd had one less customer to tend to on that miserable day, I am not sure he was so saddened by my report.

If you look up the law, though, it was this attendant and not my cowboy, who’d have gotten stuck with a fine for daring to fill up his own pickup. According to the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act:

 34:3A-6. Dispensing of fuel; regulations 

It shall be unlawful for any attendant to: a. Dispense fuel into the tank of a motor vehicle while the vehicle's engine is in operation; b. Dispense fuel into any portable container not in compliance with regulations adopted pursuant to section 8 of this act; c. Dispense fuel while smoking; or d. Permit any person who is not an attendant to dispense fuel into the tank of a motor vehicle or any container.

As for the fine: A violator of any provision of this act shall be liable for a penalty of not less than $50.00 and not more than $250.00 for a first offense and not more than $500.00 for each subsequent offense.

I don’t know if the attendant or the retailer would have had to pay the fine. But I have little doubt that someday you'll see my cowboy at a pump again.

This week on the Educated Mom, we look at the Cognitive Style of dogs.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Missing Sock: Would You Pay More?

Recently, a friend and I had a conversation about socks. Not where most of mine were, although I’d love to know, but how much people were willing to pay for them. It started when I mentioned my concern over where my children’s clothes were manufactured.

I may have had good intentions, my friend acknowledged, but most people don’t follow through on them.

The socks she mentioned were part of a 2006 study, “Consumers with a Conscience: will they pay more?” Quentin Fottrell summed up the study well in a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article last month (Would you pay more for fair-trade socks? Why shoppers don’t care about Bangladesh).

Given the choice between socks, one pair identified as being made in Good Working Conditions-no child labor or sweat shop conditions—and those with no description of working conditions at all, only fifty percent of consumers would buy the GWC socks even when the prices were identical. When the price of these socks went up, even fewer.

Fottrell’s article describes one reason why this might be the case, quoting a co-author of the original sock study, professor Ian Robinson. “Most people are conditional co-operators,” he says. “If other people pay more for ethical products, they will. If other people don’t, they won’t.”

We’ve certainly seen a swell of popularity for Toms shoes, it seems possible that “peer pressure” can be effective in creating a brand that is desirable and ethical. But as a parent dealing with laundry, as well as a conscience, there are a few things I’d add to the sock dilemma.

First, buying more expensive and ethically made clothing means buying less. If close to 80% of clothes bought this year eventually ends up in a landfill, according to a story on NPR this morning, it seems many of us are buying more than we need.

Second, the quality of what we do buy, not only the conditions in which it’s made, needs to be high.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Am I the only mother who has found that the clothes I bought for my oldest child—ones that have weathered years of washing and are now hand-me-downs for my youngest—are better made than the ones I might buy new right now from the same stores? I’m not talking about traditional “fast-clothing stores”, either.

My husband’s shirts—again, the same brand he’s used for nearly two decades, now develop rips on the elbows after a year. Our dry-cleaner said the fabric is cheaper these days. Her advice: my husband should stop using his elbows so much.

When it comes to children’s clothing, would I be part of the 1/3 of consumers who would follow through on good intentions and pay more for clothing made in good working conditions? I’d like to try. I don’t think I’d be perfect.

A cursory search on the Internet to find information about retailers did not yield the most easy-to-follow guidance: A t-shirt here, a pair of shoes there—clearing house of ratings with pop-up adds for stores I already use.

Recently, I ordered two shirts for my oldest from a company that uses organic cotton. Of the factories, I know nothing, however.

The purple shirt arrived in a week. The label said, “Made in China.” According to a chart in the New York Times, garment workers in China may make $500 a month compared with $37 in Bangladesh.

The green shirt arrived a few weeks later. Except for the color, it was identical to the purple one. Then I looked at the label. “Made in the USA.”

As confusing as a missing sock.

This week on The Educated Mom, we follow up our post on Summer Reading with a look at Math.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

(Continue to) Listen To Your Mother

Readers may remember Ann Imig, National Director of Listen to Your Mother, live performances of poems, stories, and monologues celebrating motherhood.

It’s been two years since my post on Ann, and the reach of LTYM has spread to several more cities across the country. I caught up with Ann recently to find out what’s new.

How has Listen To Your Mother grown since last we checked in? LTYM has (more than) doubled in size each year. From my first Madison show in 2010, to five shows in 2011, to ten in 2012, to TWENTY FOUR in 2013.

Where will you be this year? This season I saw the 2nd annual show in DC, the 2nd annual show in Chicago, the 3rd annual show in Austin, and I'll host my 4th annual show in Madison this Mother's Day Sunday.

What is your goal for the years ahead? My goal is to facilitate getting LTYM to as many cities as want to host it, while maintaining the mission, the vision, and what's left of my sanity.

Can you give us a sneak preview into one story or monologue from this year that you think is pretty great? One piece of the dozens of brilliant stories I've already heard this season that took my breath away and left me weeping in my seat in Chicago, is a love letter of sorts from Liz Joynt Sandberg to the mothers in her church-- a spoken word ode to the every day details of mothering, and her fervent wish that they could even for a moment see themselves the way she sees them. I'm tearing up even at the memory.

And for those who want another way to listen to a mother, my eight-year-old can't put down this interesting book on the presidents' moms: First Mothers by Beverly Gherman with creative illustrations by Julie Downing.

Happy Mother's Day. May you get to sleep late.