Parents magazine editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello shares how she takes precaution against environmental toxins.

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Credit: NinaMalyna/Shutterstock

Our story “Keep Your Family Safe from Toxic Chemicals” inspired me to share my own fears about environmental toxins. There are few things I won’t do to keep poisons away, and to understand what I mean, just look at my lawn.

You won’t find pesticides anywhere near my home; the kaleidoscope of grasses and weeds reflects that. No white flag warns kids and pets to stay off my “recently sprayed” grass. And I veer my dog, Milo, into the street if we pass one on a walk.

I once asked a leading environmental expert to name the most dangerous product on earth. “Roundup,” she told me. “If I could wave a magic wand and ban it from the planet, I would.”

That’s why I let plants be plants (and my husband digs out the dandelions). It’s why we let persistent little weeds grow out of the cracks in our sidewalk. (Pulling them out every few weeks is an activity the whole family can enjoy!)

You see, my father died of stomach cancer when the girls were small. Searching for the elusive why, my mom, my sister, and I suspected that the pesticide-laden golf courses he walked most of his life were one possible factor. He was also a smoker, but Mom said he’d had a habit of licking grass stains off his golf balls (rather than using the ball-washing thingy at every tee). A few licks a round, several rounds a week ... decade after decade. The horror plays on a loop in my mind.

Then he’d come home, spray our perfectly green lawn, and mow it. Like many in his generation, Dad liked his grass to resemble his fairways. And it never occurred to any of us to remove our shoes before coming inside.

Now, even golf-course groundskeepers are hip to the poison. As for me, I won’t watch the sport on TV, and I’ve educated myself on the toxins that still keep many of our public spaces pristine.

My girls and their friends automatically kick off their shoes before coming into the house. And among the things they’ll likely discuss with their future therapists? The way I shudder whenever their feet touch me under a restaurant table. “The bottom of someone’s shoe is the grossest surface ever,” I’ll say, officially planting the seeds of their future foot phobias. (So far, so good.)

No matter the season, we wear inside shoes (cheap, comfy, color-coded Crocs for all!) and keep our boots, sneakers, and sandals in baskets by the front door. We feed the dandelion greens to our tortoise. And the cheerful tulips that bloom beside our walkway do two things: I think of them as springtime hellos from Dad, and they divert the eye from my lawn.

liz vaccariello sitting in a gray chair against a blue backdrop
Credit: Ari Michelson

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