"I bought a big bucket of cloth nappies.. then we decided to move to Ireland."

Monique Howlett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.

Monique Howlett, artist

Ihave five children. Charles is 12 tomorrow, Ruby Sue is nine, Tom is seven, Sam is five, and James just turned four. When I first became a mum, I was living in New Zealand. That was 11 years ago. I didn’t see a huge difference between New Zealand and here, because I think this whole environmental conversation has happened in the past six or seven years, while I and my husband Dougie have lived in Cork.

I remember, there were small changes being made in New Zealand, such as cloth nappies being introduced. and I got this big bucket of cloth nappies for Charles. I was very much influenced by my sister-in-law, who used them for her little boy. I was adamant I would use them, then we decided to move to Ireland just after the big bucket arrived.

Cloth nappies are fantastic, they’re actually much easier to use than you’d think, but there’s a lot of washing and drying. You can hang the nappies on the line in New Zealand and they dry instantly, but here in Ireland it takes a little bit longer!

So, the bucket of nappies stayed at home, because originally we were only supposed to come here for two years and then we were going to go home. Charles was only six months old and I felt that we’d use them again when we got home, because we couldn’t bring everything over.

I felt guilty every time I took off a disposable nappy and put it in the bin, because everything you throw away, it’s not going away, it’s still going to be there, it’s still on this Earth, so there’s a huge amount of guilt that comes with parenting and disposable things, such as nappies and wipes.

However, I have always made my own wipes. I use cotton pads and witch hazel, rose water and water and I keep them in a ziplock bag in my handbag and in a tub at home, so they don’t dry out. They’re much more gentle on their skin.

The environment is a conversation now. I love that mums are sharing tips like this. It’s about getting this message out to our children, too, so they are aware of everything. If you change the way you do things, make new habits, your children will follow suit; they copy everything you do.

My daughter Ruby Sue came home from school with a sheet with her thumb print on it, saying: ‘I vow to make changes for the environment and keep it clean and green.’ It’s a contract and it’s lovely that this message is coming through the schools.

The kids come home from school and tell mum and dad, no, you can’t do it like that, because this is going to happen. Our kids are thinking about it. It’s not only their generation, but their children too. There’s a quote I love that says we are borrowing the Earth from the next generation and the next generations after that and, if you borrow something, you look after it, you give it back in the same condition you got it.

Charles is very aware of the environment. Everything he does, he’s thinking about how it will affect the environment. Charles walks or cycles to tennis, for example. In winter time, I went to put more coal on the fire and he said: ‘No, mummy, the more coal you put on, the more the ozone layer will melt and it will heat up the Earth and we’ll have a massive flood.’ I love his chain of thought, the realisation of the consequences of our actions, they really get it.

You know you’re bringing up children that will be looking after the environment and, when they have children, it will be a lovely knock-on effect. It’s just about getting everybody to make small changes and, if we all do our bit, it will have a huge effect. Humans are a very small thing, but together we can make a huge difference.

If I could do one thing, I’d ban plastic and go back to wood, cardboard, hessian. I try to shop organic. I love the market at Mahon Point and I love that they’ve banned plastic. If kids are fit and doing sport, they’re going to want to be active and outside. When kids are outdoors, they’re aware of nature.

Our garden is very important. A few weeks ago, we sowed wildflower seeds to help birds, bees, and butterflies. The plants are sprouting and we can see the bees and the butterflies checking out our flowers. Without bees, we’re doomed. The flower and plant species we take for granted are going to die. Wasps too, don’t kill them. We can’t be going around killing insects and bugs, they’re all vital for our eco system.

We have two pet bunnies, Rupert and Poppy. They are the sweetest things, but we can’t bring them to New Zealand with us, so we’ve got a lovely home for them. They hop around the garden. They’re so cute.

My art is inspired by nature and its beauty. I don’t take it for granted.

I have a wildflower series from West Cork and an ocean series. I used to surf and the sea is so important to me and the kids. We’ll get the surfboards out soon. These paintings will help me remember Ireland, I’m hesitant to sell the work, but it’s a way to share my experiences here. If someone buys it and puts it in their home, it stays in Ireland and isn’t it nice to leave that behind?

Monique’s art exhibition is on now at Hazelhurst gallery in Monkstown. Prints of all the work are also available.

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