Sunday, November 11, 2007

submission and resistance

We had the opportunity while M was with a friend to get some early shopping done since we'll be on holiday soon and the thought of any sort of endeavor after Thanksgiving gives me pain (such a damn grinch i am). We aren't big consumers but we've still recognized we've got to figure out a way to blend our beliefs without totally destroying the wee and precious excitement M has over the things she's already being brainwashed about.

We had a few rules: nothing character driven, Dora and Diego and Disney characters in general were off the table (we are such depriving assholes). Minimal plastic. Toys that were interactive and creative. Realizing that no matter what we bought we'd still be supporting the mass production and consumption that we profess to disdain. How hard could that really be?

Holy shit. I haven't been inside a full on toy store in a long time. It's overwhelming in it's plasticky marketing. Everything seems to represent a TV show of some kind. Everything is plastic, whoa, the plastic.

Dudes. I Am Grinch.

So after a while of perusing we end up with Lincoln Logs. We decide if we are ever in a bind we can actually use them for firewood (although they are probably covered in some deathly chemical). And PlayDoh. A set that did not include Dora (that bitch is EVERYWHERE). And a game from the 70's, one we remember. There's plastic involved. It's unavoidable, this plastic. We have other toys that are plastic already, every time I look at them I cringe.

It's a balance, this mothering. This constant acquiescing of standards. And it removes some of the joy, the joy undoubtedly found by blindly purchasing whatever you want.

And then there's the spending of money on these luxuries at all. I read somewhere recently that "if you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy. And if you are reading this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity."

We've got all those things. And I can't stomach showing my gratitude by using it to buy my kid more crap and yet here I am. How does one balance allowing your child happiness while teaching the utter privilege in that? How do we show her this isn't normal when everything around her suggests it is? Makes me want to get to the jungle as fast as we can because at three, it already feels too late. Her programming has been swift and effective. And my guilt balloons. I am hypocritical in my convictions and I long for ignorance. Or to just lighten the hell up.


slouching mom said...

I certainly don't think you're a hypocrite. You're simply trying to balance your beliefs with M's needs and desires, and you're doing the best you can in this bizarre culture.

When my kids were little, we decided that we couldn't always avoid plastic, but we could buy toys that passed my threshold of utility. I'd buy a toy only if it would grow with the kid, if it wouldn't be put aside after a couple of uses.

That left Lincoln Logs, as you wrote, Legos, and K'Nex, as well as many Melissa & Doug wooden puzzle boxes. Also Tinker Toys, and those large cardboard rectangular bricks to build forts, etc.

Her Grace said...

I think that so much of the answer lies in talking -- talking about the difference between what we want and what we need, about how others don't have what they need.

But talking only goes so far. When I tried to explain to my daughter that, under no uncertain circumstances, she could not have a Bratz doll, it was very hard to understand. In her eyes, it's just a pretty doll. To me, it's a dangerous weapon.

Bizarre culture, indeed. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

thailandchani said...

Well, being a purist by nature, I have to pipe in here. :)

I believe it's necessary for all of us to live our beliefs. If we don't live it, we don't really believe it.

Gift-giving has been a part of all cultures, at least any I've learned about. There is always some ritual that involves the giving of gifts to others.

It's a matter of balance, as you say, and finding things that are creative, useful and teach good values.

And there's always handmade things. One woman I know who homeschooled her children included craft-making. Although they didn't celebrate Christmas (many of us don't), they were always prepared for gift-giving occasions.

kiki said...

it's a fine line, friend, it really is. and there is a lot of expectation for me to walk the walk and yet. i grew up in a house that deprived (food) because we were being raised with HEALTHY choices and food close to the earth. without a balance, i feel like i turned into the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve - junk food, sugar addict. i have friends that feel the same - grew up eating healthy and now live on frozen entrees because they can.
honey, you do the best you can and in my opinion, you are doing it a whole lot more conscientiously than a lot of us, myself especially. xoxo

Suz said...

We've been trying to decide on what to get the twins for Christmas this year and, amid all the hype, I have to constantly remind myself that despite all the promises that toys don't make children more intelligent, creative, or skilled. Kids are all those things all by themselves and buying (or not buying) an expensive piece of plastic with the word "learning" emblasoned all over it isn't going to make much difference at all.

Amy Y said...

Amen, mama.
I struggle with this too...
My boys are SO brainwashed and commercialized... though they are perfectly happy with recycled goods (thrift store treasures), which does make me feel somewhat better.

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, hey next time go to a store for educators. The teaching and school supply stores tend to have higher quality, often US made, wooden educational toys.

That's where my kids have their wish lists.

Except for Hannah Montana Dance With Me DVD and Dance Mat. God Help Me.

(You think Dora's bad? WAIT UNTIL SCHOOL!)

I also buy from the charity stores to get dress up clothes.

Plus, each year I organize a Toy Trade for gently or unused toys, so everyone gets full Christmas while REDUCING, REUSING and RECYCLING (and saving money).

Leftovers go to the Christmas Store our local interfaith charity sponsors (so parents in need can go and select toys, pay what they can, instead of having Benevolent Benefactors show up at their homes and Give All We Have and They Don't---sorry that sort of irks me big time).

So each year I make my kids aware of the privilege, and we do things to remind us.

We call it our Attitude of Gratitude.

They participate in donating and volunteering, as well. Yes, at their ages.

As to your dilemma, it's compromise, baby. We live here in the US, and I do my best to avoid advertisements and so forth, but we're here, in this culture. So I think about what it is that REALLY gets my goat and I do my best to balance.

Just like you.

It's okay.

And it gets easier, and harder.

HTH and hang in there. And please, avoid any store with the word Toy in it or bizarre misspellings of easy words. ;)

Using My Words

Redneck Mommy said...

Slouching Mom stole my comment.

Besides buying toys that can be reused for more than one child, every year around this time, since my kids were three and two, we do a toy roundup. They actively participate in choosing what toys they would like to donate to the nearest woman's shelter and then we pack the toys up and they deliver them.

Now that they are a bit older we are scheduled to spend a few hours volunteering at said shelter serving the holiday meal. All so my kids can understand that we are the fortunate ones, so very blessed.

And to recycle, reuse and respect this earth we all share.

So, don't lighten up chicky. I like you, er, heavy.


Jennifer said...

I guarantee you that your M will grow up knowing how lucky she is and will be reaching out to share her fortune with others. She watches you, even now, and she's learning already.

But we struggle, struggle, struggle, too, with the balance you've described. Plastic! Gah!

PunditMom said...

It's so difficult to stay true to personal philosophies in our world on consumerism. Even if we don't expose our kids to it, they'll learn about it at school. Just when I think I've been successful in protecting PunditGirl from the next "new" thing, she comes home from school talking about AND wanting it.

I've resigned myself to being the "mean" mom.

flutter said...

What's normal?

You have to simply live by the philosophies that bring peace to you. You are teaching her well

urban-urchin said...

balance is really hard in this arena. i haven't read through the other comments but I wanted to suggest a store i love- back to basics toys (google them for the url) lots of wooden toys, cool stuff no characters to speak off.

i'm with you- i abhor the licensed crap (dora, etc) I also hate Bratz dolls but that's a whole other post (imagine me trying to explain what 'trashy' meant to my 4 year old when she whined she wanted bratz dolls- I settled with I want your toys to be wearing clothes that cover their bums!)

Kyla said...

Plastic and Made in China. We have a room full of that stuff, steadily acquired since BubTar's birth. We've learned a lot since then, though. And luckily, we haven't been part of any recalls I know of, but this Christmas just feels heavy and daunting. Protecting my children's bodies while still letting them have a bit of enjoyment while not overindulging. Its tough. I think I'll be ordering largely online this year, from American made/fair trade/natural toy type shops. You can't find that stuff in person, at least we can't here. Sad, I think.

Anonymous said...

Or you could do like I plan on doing and not tell your kid about Santa Claus until you absolutely have to! (maybe it's a secret benefit of Ethan's deafness and having missed so much language, that and vacuuming his room while he sleeps)

Z said...

I completely agree with you - and with your other commenters. I was able to avoid the overcommercialisation of presents with my first two children (who are about your age), partly because I didn't have any money anyway, but I gave in part-way with the third ten years later - at least boys' toys are more activity based.

My d-i-l mostly goes to charity shops and car boot sales, and the Early Learning Centre for new stuff. We were both a bit shocked when we ventured into Toys R Us and we slunk right out again.

But the sheer quantity of possessions, that's something that I have no answer for.

QT said...

When I buy toys for my niece and nephew I try to make sure they are educational on some level. A lot of women in my office make their children either give away one toy they got for Christmas to a shelter, or they do the "toy roundup" as redneck mommy described.

You are doing great, friend. By even contemplating it you are doing great.

Beck said...

I'm making my Baby a doll for Christmas and an apron to hold her crayons. How's that?

ms chica said...

I struggle with this when I shop for my niece and nephews. Underneath it all, I know the effort hardly matters, because their parents will take the easy way out, but I just keep hoping I will stumble upon the gift that excite them, and inspire them to be active or creative.

You're cognizant and your beliefs are well represented by your effort, unfortunately sooner or later we all have to compromise something. I was complaining about about the commercialism of childhood yesterday here, though it hardly compares to dealing with it as a parent.

Jocelyn said...

I guess parenting is being okay with hypocrisy. I live hypocrisy everyday. But I do what I can, where I can.

You're being thoughtful. And deliberate. So don't beat yourself up.

Oh, and Melissa & Doug toys are wooden and are genuinely fun for kids. If you ever got your girl the pizza or sandwich-making set, your whole family would be happy for years. Then, when she outgrows it, you donate it to a shelter or a hospital or something.

Jenn said...

It is such a hard balance to find; being aware of it is probably a good start.

I think many of us struggle with this; how to not limit what they may see as a simple joy, while we see it as something so much more and dangerous.

crazymumma said...

When I had NO children my life with my mythical family was going to be filled with lentils, wood, wool, songs and books.

Annnyhow. I have an awesome playdoh recipe. Playmobile and LEGO, although plastic are FOREVER toys. Don't forget wooden train sets. Dollies are wonderful. Usually if you go to an alternative store, not a big box store you can find some incredible choices. And don't forget arts and crafts. Paper, paint, glue and bits.

Damn. The dark me wants to go and buy her her first Barbie.

The Chick said...

I. Hear. You. Preach it, sista! I am so over all of this over-spending for the holidays. But the few people I've dared to mention it to have given me all kinds of shit for it. Can't we all bind together to stop this over-giving of things we don't need???

Mad Hatter said...

And that, my dear, is how capitalism keep on winning.

Karen said...

ok, your totally not a Grinch. There is true beauty in keeping it simple. You'll be happy in years to come that you took some time to get to know your own parenting boundaries around gift giving and holidays.
It's really important that you know that you and J matter to her more than any amount of socialization. Rebel she will, but yours will be the values t which she compares everything else she'll try own for size. You are raising her with values that are both good for her and others and are ones you feel passionately, she won't sell that part of herself for a barbie - or she may when she's six, but remember she's yours forever and that will be just one phase of her, one facet she tries on to see if it fits or pleases. It's not that it's too late, you've just got to play the long (and I mean long) game. Your goal is not a right minded, clear thinking compassionate 4 year old (I don't think you can have that) but rather a clear thinking, passionate, compassionate, adult! You are doing a great job - so hang in there!

Krista said...

don't lighten up EVER. We need more people like you in the world. I need more people like you in the world.

Janet said...

I wrote a ranty post awhile back about all of the plastic and packaging and such. Now I'm having Christmas palpitations because my kids are old enough to have actual Christmas wish lists that I have little control over, besides outright refusing to buy items and crushing their tender Christmas dreams.

So I'm proscrastinating instead, hoping that they will settle on items we can all live with. It's really grown up of me, isn't it?

meno said...

Gad, i hear you. The marketing of young girls from TV shows horrifies me no end. Hannah Montana, Lizzy McQuire, High School Musical, etc. People should not be products.

Stick to what you know is right Ms. Grinch.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

I saw that Dora lady in Holland...and it scared me because I knew who she was and I don't have a tv and I live under a rock.

we_be_toys said...

There are some cool catalog/websites that have kinder, gentler toys for kids.
Magic Cabin:
Which has handmmade Waldorf dolls, wooden play food, and neat craft kits for kids as well.
Also Hearthsong:
another very groovy and creative resource for non-plastic toys.
Don't know if you've tried any of these places, but they are good spots to check if you hate the plastic, consumer-driven toy market as much as I do.

nomotherearth said...

It's such a tough line. I'm going to try to go all arts and crafts this Christmas. That's a gift that keeps on giving. And if I see another plastic truck, I'll puke.

Susanne said...

I don't really know where the children get this longing for plastic things with characters on them from. I have managed to avoid them so far, but don't know how long this will be possible.

I love Lego and Playmobil though. Even if they are plastic. And I remember wanting a Barbie doll when I was a child and my mother loathed them. I only had very few but we played with them very much. I even made clothes for mine...

There is no easy answer.

liv said...

It may be evil to endorse, but I do love Oompa Toys. Truth!

NotSoSage said...

Oh, how I've missed you! That last paragraph is exactly the way I've been feeling. Especially the last two sentences. Sometimes I think I should just lighten up, but my convictions win out (almost) every time.

And this: "A set that did not include Dora (that bitch is EVERYWHERE)." I love you.

My daughter's even starting to use her inflections...and we DON'T HAVE A TELEVISION. What is up? Are her creators planning a takeover of the new generation?

mamatulip said...

I do what Redneck Mommy does -- I do toy roundups and donate them to shelters, Christmas drives, etc. In recent years Julia has been too young to really grasp the reasons why I do this but this year I want her to help me pick toys to donate.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way and it is a balancing act.

Karen Forest said...

My two year old claim Dora is his girlfriend.

I think we are sunk, my friend.

Binky said...

I love Julie's suggestion to go to a teaching supply store. I'm going to try that.

painted maypole said...

i wrestle with all of this, too. The plastic crap just keeps accumulating, though.

Oh, The Joys said...

K and I have decided that if one MUST buy toys, then Melissa & Doug (brand) have it going ON.

Totally hate the plastic overload.

Christine said...

dude. we JUST bought Lincoln logs last week for the kids.

great minds think alike.

and we try to avoid characters and plastic too. except i caved and bought little trays the other day--one with elmo and one with dora.

i felt icky, but the kids will love them.

there is no clear answer.

Denguy said...

No no no. No more blind purchasing. The only way we can stop those evil ones from constructing ALL toys out of that noxious plastic is to stop buying it. Just stop.

I'm the "bad one" in my extended family because I try to alert all of the evils of plastic toys and dishes. Yup, I'm actually "bad" for that, somehow.

Lawyer Mama said...

I don't think you're a hypocrite at all. We do a lot of things we swore we'd never do for our kids.

Here's an idea, something I'm doing for Christmas this year because I'm sick of the consumption, consumption, consumption. Make a craft box for M. Start collecting buttons, ribbon, paint, crayons, papers, etc..., get some glue and safety scissors. You can collect stuff to reuse or you can buy stuff cheaply at a craft store. She'll love it. I promise.

KC said...

What flutter said. Totally.

Despite the plastic, I agree that lego's are the bomb. Building creativity - total magic for Joles. She can't get enough of them. And no characters, lights, gizmos or whistles.

KC said...

What flutter said. Totally.

Despite the plastic, I agree that lego's are the bomb. Building creativity - total magic for Joles. She can't get enough of them. And no characters, lights, gizmos or whistles.

Mad Hatter said...

OK, I did a toy inventory at our house. Miss M's toys in order of sheer volume:
wooden doll house and hand-me-down dolls
other used toys
stuffed animals
plastic crap (and even though it is toward the bottom of the list, there is still shitloads of it)
wooden building blocks
wooden train set

kate said...

i'm with you on this one. I have always tried to avoid the branding and the plastic overload. I want a toy that requires my child to talk for it ( IMAGINATIVE PLAY! ) not be talked at by it! We have found great shopping in learning/teacher supply stores. Boutique type toy stores are also great. Toys R Sucking the Imagination Out of Your Children does not have much to offer. I must have, literally, 400-500 plastic animals in my house (the realistic looking ones) and they are all my 3 year old wants!! Animals, books, puzzles... she never asks for the plastic abominations found in her friends homes. Don't feel like you are depriving.

b*babbler said...

Oh, the balancing of morals against the happiness of the wee ones. It never ends.

We avoid branded crap like the plague. Unfortunately there is a fair bit of plastic around right now (mega blocks, nesting towers and the like), but are trying to wean away from it.

By and large for sheer numbers in our house are books. Peanut is a year and she loves her big basket of books and will happily sit for ages flipping through each one. That is worth it to me. However, I'm at a loss for Christmas, and the grandparents are already asking me about gifts. Sigh.

Momish said...

"That bitch is everywhere" - OK, I totally love you for that one!

I truly despise the branding shit. That being said, it is true that these characters and recognizable figures light up my daughter's life. I guess it is the familiarity of it, which I can understand. I try to combat it when I can, but I find myself giving in when I see her face light up like she just saw her best friend. I only wish it wasn't such overload. I could deal with it if it remained relevant, like a backpack with Dora on it. But what the fuck does Dora have to do with fruit roll-ups? Or play cell phones? C'mon!

I believe you have no worries with M. You are a strong enough force and she is already a pure spirit by herself.

I agree with OTJ. We have several Melissa & Doug items, we love them!

Ally said...

Oh, wow, do I ever relate to this post. And your belief that this programming our kids get is so swift and damaging. How do we stay true to those values without feeling like crazy Lords of Deprivation? We gave our children "experiences" for Christmas last year, knowing that they'd be less-than-thrilled when they opened our homemade gift certificates. "Umm, what's this?"

But even so, Eleanor's whole-day playdate at her old preschool with her friend Astrid was the only thing that she is still talking about from last Christmas. So maybe there is a way.

Good post, Jen.

Anonymous said...

So, I'm guessing she doesn't have special hangers.

The kids consignment shops are full of out-grown toys that still work. Buying gently used might meet both your needs.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I loved my Lincoln logs. I am opting for unpainted wooden blocks, books and possibly a sporting good that encourages motion. Not a big list. No characters.

Balance is good. When the Kiddo is older, there will be buying gifts for needy kids, cooking at the Ronald McDonald House, and other activities that provide balance.

Joker The Lurcher said...

it gets easier. my son is 12 now and the whole materialism thing is obvious to him even without heavy explaining. on his own he wants to do stuff for people who have nowhere to live. and he is autistic - no empathy apparently! your little one will get it when she is older too.