I'm not a big shopper, so when this time of year rolls around, and I start Christmas shopping, I suddenly become confronted by the sheer volume of stuff out there (most of which, it seems, is total crap). I also confront my own desires, which have lain dormant for most of the year, because I didn't really know there was all that stuff out there for me to lust after. And then I start to suffocate from my anxieties over the impact of all that stuff, tangling with my anxieties over the expectations of what stuff I need to provide for my children or family or friends.
Just to add to these anxieties, I wached this movie: http://www.storyofstuff.com/, which is a bit long (20 minutes), but a great summary of the whole process of where our stuff comes from and where it ends up. Though I thought I already knew all of this stuff, The Story of Stuff provides some surprising statistics (for instance, do you know how many barrels of trash were filled in the whole resource extraction/manufacturing/processing/distributing chain for every barrel of trash you throw out? or what percent of consumer goods are still in use six months after purchase?) It's all enough to make the eggnog curdle in your gut.
Some time ago some bloggers did a "corners of my home" theme, which showed vases of flowers of windowsills, rocks stacked zen-like on end-tables and baskets of knitting everywhere. Who lives like that? I don't.
For Christmas this year, M really, really wants a toy ATM machine. He saw it in a catalog, which arrived in the mail last month despite all my efforts to get off catalog mailing lists over the summer and fall. It's actually a fancy piggy bank, shaped like an ATM machine, that takes in your money, keeps track of your balance and includes an ATM card and a PIN number. It's one of those toys I would have scoffed at (or gagged over) if I had seen the catalog before he got ahold of it, cutting out pictures of all the things he wanted (and wanted to get his brothers--particularly a cash register) and gluing them to a few sheets of paper, which he stapled into a Christmas list book. (Things have gotten a bit more sophisticated since my day, when I used to just circle the dolls and Tonka trucks I dreamed of in the back of the Sears catalog). Even after I disappeared the catalog and the list, he continued to talk about the ATM machine. He's had this obsession with money since sometime in September, confirming my greatest fears that I would give birth to an Alex P. Keaton.
I have several problems with the ATM machine. First of all, that it is preparing my kid for a life of consumption, easy access to cash (or credit) and glorification of consumerism. Then of course, it is made of (non-renewable, non-degradable, potentially lead- or phthalate-infused) plastic. It is no doubt made in China, possibly by children not much older than M, certainly by workers who are underpaid and overworked, and have little need for ATM machines themselves. Finally, it requires batteries, and though we use the rechargeable type, they still contain toxins, and they still have a limited lifespan. Then there is the fact that M wants it so much, has instilled so many of his hopes and dreams into it, that it is inevitable it won't meet with his expectations, and the thought of his crushing disappointment is nearly more than I can bear.
But then I must ask myself, is it not part of his life's experience to taste disappointment with his own tongue? I cannot protect him from all of life's failures to meet his expectations, and surely he will be just as disappointed if the ATM machine does not appear under the tree. Also, in claiming "consumerism" and "environmentalism," am I pushing my own agenda on my child? Yes, I would like him to be a responsible user of the earth's resources, and, face it, a tree-hugger. But these lessons are best taught through example. Would saying "no" to a six-year-old's greatest Christmas dream be in any way educational, as compared to, say, delivering gifts to the underprivlidged (which, incidentally, we don't do...yet)? I can't even claim poverty--the item is expensive, by piggy bank standards ($39.99, I think), but not outside the realm of our Christmas budget.
I considered for a while, passing the buck, getting the grandparents to do the dirty deed and buy the ATM, while I could stay pure, purchasing wooden, waldorfy things that he probably wouldn't get too excited over. But that wouldn't really absolve me of my involvement in the trade deficit and the (eventual) landfill-overcrowding. The blood would still be on my hands.
So I'm sucking it up, setting all of my values aside and going online to order a toy ATM machine. My guilt isn't going to help out any exploited toy makers, or keep the oceans plastic-free, so I'm going to try to let go of that too. Because I remember being six, just a tiny bit, when Christmas was still magical. How wonderful it was to see the pile of presents from Santa on Christmas morning, completely in awe of how they appeared seemingly from thin air. I was not yet cynical, about how my friends got this or that, but I only got this dumb thing. My wants were still simple, and within my parents' means. That feeling is worth a lot, and not something I want to load down with my own baggage. Why not make my kid's greatest dream come true this Christmas morning, now, while I can. We can spend the rest of the year talking about consumerism and natural resources. And maybe I can get M to set aside some of that money in his ATM to give to those who need it more than he does, and help someone else's dream come true.
Our Atheist/Pagan/Gentile Chanukah festivities consisted of home-made latkes and reading a couple of Chanukah books.
I used the Featherlight Potato Latkes recipe from Sundays at Moosewood, substituting sweet potatoes for half of the potatoes (which made them delightfully golden and sweet).
The were imperfect, but delicious with yogurt and applesauce. Z dove right into them, M ate one without complaint and E ate the applesauce and yogurt. If all three of my kids had eaten them that would have been a miracle.
We don't own a Menorah, and if we did I wouldn't have lit it. E & Z are only familiar with candles in terms of birthday cakes, so when we had dinner at friends' a few weeks ago, and the friends lit a couple of candles on the table E&Z spent the whole meal trying to blow out the candles (two-year-old blowing incorporates a lot of spraying--something you don't want across the dinner table).
I have to confess that the sum total of my knowledge about the holiday comes from the RugratsChanukah special that we watched a couple of years ago (and which was surprisingly informative), but after trying to purchase only Maine-grown food this summer and running out of both olive and safflower oil in the same week, I can totally sympathize with the Maccabees. Believe it or not, not everything tastes good fried in butter (and when you're churning your own, you don't want to be wasting it on frying things).
Hopefully M got more out of the books than he did out of me. (M: What's Chanukah? Mom: It's the feast of lights.) And they won't grow up saying they'd never tasted a latke (or at least been given the opportunity).
I just got my copy of The Mamaphiles in the mail and loved it. This self-described "mother of all zines" is a compilation of work by zine-making mamas (and papas). Issue #3 is themed "Coming Home" and features essays, poetry, photographs and artwork by 25 contributors (including yours truly). Writers took the theme and ran in unimaginable directions, from losing best friends, to grandmothers dying , to adult children moving on, to reclaiming some of their former selves when the kids start school, to balancing motherhood and medical school, and of course, bringing a baby home from the hospital.
These are not the stories you're going to read about in Parenting magazine. It was truly humbling to read about mamas living in squatted buildings, of mamas trying to make homes for their families out of run-down rentals that they live in fear of losing, of mamas giving up their babies for adoption, of a dad returning home with his children to visit his father who was just released from prison. Sometimes I think I'm having a bad day, or my kids are going to kill me, or it would be really nice to have more closet space. It's important to be reminded that I've got it pretty damn good.
The Mamaphiles contributors span the spectrum of motherhood, but I did not find one essay or poem that could not relate to. We all share the passion that is motherhood, and we all make our path how and where we can. The essays are all powerful in their honesty and the sort of naked truth that can be hard to find in polished, published works.
If you're new to zines in general or mama zines in particular, The Mamaphiles is a great resource because the back page lists all the contributors' bios and ordering information for their zines, so if you read something you like, you can get more.
Now go to http://www.mamaphiles.com/ and get your copy right away, and get copies for all of your mama (and papa) friends for the holidays.
Yesterday we had our first real snow of the year, and I enjoyed my oatmeal out on the deck while I supervised the kids out plowing the driveway.
Later we tried some grass sledding (note to self, mow before it snows)
and then went inside to put up Christmas decorations because M had been begging to decorate all weekend. The kids attacked the boxes, tearing out tissue paper and dropping and breaking things, as I frantically tried to keep the tree ornaments separate from the not-tree decorations. After we got all of the snowmen and reindeer on the shelves and the boxes put away, M said, "That wasn't as much fun as I thought it was going to be." Where did I get a six-year-old teenager? But then later, after Charie Brown's Christmas,
when E and Z were napping and I started working on a quilt I'm making for a gift, he decided he wanted to sew and spent the afternoon embroidering a SuperFriends logo.
I always thought holidays would regain their old magic after I had kids, but instead they have become more stressful and anxiety-provoking. I spend way too much time obsessing about how holiday gift-giving relates to our consumer culture, destruction of natural resources and climate change. And I worry about what to get people, and if I spent enough money or too much? And will they like it? And how do I teach my kids to enjoy the non-material aspects of the season? M keeps saying he wants to fall asleep and not wake up until December 25. I then remind him of all the fun he would miss out on: going out into the woods to cut a tree, and then decorate it; baking Christmas cookies; reading all the Christams books (I wrap 24 of them up and we open and read one each day of Advent); watching Charlie Brown's Christmas and The Grinch; listening to Christmas music. And now I have a new favorite can't-put-a-price-on-it activity, singing "Jing bug! Oh! Jing bug!" with E and Z.
I am a writer, a public servant, a mama of three boys, a tree-hugger and nature lover. In my spare time I try to live lightly on the earth and strive for mindfulness in all I do...and I hope to teach my kids to do the same.
All content on this blog copyright Andrea Lani.
With a nod to Kazuo Ishiguro's wonderful novel, The Remains of the Day, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I had not even read until this blog was nearly two years old. It's surprising to find one has a lot in common with an aging butler.