The other day I was at a stop light on the way to the grocery store, and an elderly person pushed the crosswalk button at the nearby intersection. Apparently I was in a hurry and those bananas I needed to buy just couldn’t wait another minute because I noticed myself getting annoyed that we had to wait for this person to cross the street. And then suddenly my mind flashed forward about 80 years and I thought of M being that person in the crosswalk, long after I am gone, and I was hoping that the drivers around her wouldn’t get all irritated with her because, hey, that’s my baby you’re talking about. A quick reality check of my own attitude made me realize that the very person in front of me was someone else’s baby at some point long ago, and I should offer the same deference. Not everyone–young or old–moves through life, literally or figuratively, at the same speed and I need to remember that more often and just submit to the paces and strides over which I have no control.
One thing that I am not very good at is slowing down and just living in the moment. This character flaw came into clearer focus not too long after becoming a parent three years ago. Being essentially forced to submit to someone else’s schedule and whims (with an upbeat attitude no less) and put aside all of my own preconceived expectations is challenging at best. And I don’t just mean with my child–it’s with everyone.
I am sure at its base, a lot of it is from feeling stretched in a thousand different directions, often all at one time, often after very little quality sleep or downtime (which I admit is due to some lingering bad habits that have formed since M was born, but I digress). I think it’s also a result of me always trying to get to the next thing, like a checklist of things that “need” to get done. It’s no surprise really, considering that is how so much of our lives are designed from a very young age. You go to school and participate in extracurricular things so you can go to college. You go to college so you can get a decent job. You get a decent job so you can buy a home, pay off your loans and/or start a family. You put money under the mattress so you can retire some day. You retire so you can eek out some enjoyment in your golden years. Then you wait to die. Maybe that last part is a bit harsh, but it isn’t far from the bigger picture.
But the spaces in between is where I now struggle. How to just stop and linger and really savor the moment of eating summer’s last garden tomatoes rather than thinking about the dishes that must be done next, and then the nightly bathtime routine, and on and on. Or how to really just see that when M is a bit more clingy than usual after we get home, that maybe she just needs an extra 10 minutes of hanging out on the couch with me, rather than worry so much that dinner might not start at exactly 6:30 sharp–how easily I forget that she just spent the last 8 hours with someone else that wasn’t me. Or how it’s actually quite funny when she does something like throw an extra handful of flour into the bread machine because it means that she’s learning how to contribute in the kitchen and that I should be at least happy that she didn’t throw it on the floor.
Trying to slow down is something that I am actively working on. For me, it will be a lifelong work in progress. Some people seemingly have an innate ability to just let go and an endless supply of patience and positive attitude. I am not that person or that parent by nature. Lately, more days are better than not, but I often feel like I am still selling myself and my family short because of it. I really do need to loosen up a bit and just enjoy these fleeting moments because before long, I, and then she, will be alone shuffling in that crosswalk, with only the memories of the past as motivation to keep going. I don’t want the bulk of those memories to be of “hurry up’s” or impatient sighs or “it’s time to go” or “it’s too close to dinner”. I want them to be of the secret tastes of sweets before dinner, or an extra lap around the block or a fourth read of this month’s favorite book.
Patience and taking stock of what’s happening in the now will allow me to recognize that while it might be slowing us down if I let M put on her own shoes, I get an extra moment to notice how small her toes still are and she gets a boost of confidence. By allowing us to take one more spin around the block during our nightly stroll, we might get to see that silly squirrel that secretly pokes in and out of the neighbor’s eaves and makes M smile. By letting her read just one more book once in a while before bed, maybe I will help pass along my love of books to her. By letting her linger in her PJs a little longer every now and then, maybe I’ll get another glimpse of her being so absorbed in her play and witness some really fascinating dialogue between her and her dolls.
There are too many schedules in our lives, many of them dictated by forces beyond our control, looming over us like an overcast sky. By trying to slow down the time between those deadlines, I can make my family’s life and therefore my life all the richer. And I am not giving myself a deadline for the task ahead. Time to just go with the flow.
I am not sure who originally coined the expression, but I first learned about the notion of “social currency” from a parenting advice column that I read daily on www.boston.com. Anyway, the idea is that, at least in the context of kids and fitting in among their peers, that there are certain things that allow kids to participate in conversations, feel like they are part of the group and, in a word, seem “cool”. The best examples would be watching popular TV shows, owning the latest gadgets or toys, or buying every conceivable piece of merchandise to show your allegiance to the icon or character of your choice.
The way I see it, parents are the “bank” that provide the means (the stuff or the money to acquire the stuff) to the end (fitting in), at least until a child is old enough to start making some truly discretionary purchases with self-earned money. For someone trying to live on the simpler and greener end of the spectrum, my natural tendency is toward “no stuff”. So I am generally not in favor of buying stuff that is all the rage for M’s contemporaries. I did not expect to have to confront this issue for at least another couple of years.
Enter Silly Bandz. The scene: M’s preschool. The cast: M and an older preschooler who M idolizes because is the very cool age of 4 1/2. The props: tiny, colorful and fun-shaped rings of medical grade silicone. The plot: M (thinks she) wants some.
I see these and I cringe. I immediately think of the images that I recently saw online in the exhibit entitled “Midway” by photographer Chris Jordan who took pictures of dead albatross chicks on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. These images were heartbreaking to say the least. As he states on his website, “not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.” Am I acting like Henny Penny or too alarmist? Perhaps. But look at these photographs and tell me that there is not some remote chance that someday silicone bracelets might not be considered interesting fare for a mama albatross to feed her young. They are also not unlike the plastic soda can rings that we all so dutifully cut into tiny pieces before throwing away so that sea turtles and the like wouldn’t get entangled.
Fear not. I am no Luddite–much of my reading is done electronically now and yes, I have a cell phone–but I truly and honestly have serious guilt, discomfort and usually mild remorse almost every time new stuff enters our home. Unless it is for the basics–food, shelter, clothing, health–it is hard for me to buy stuff that I know has likely had a dubious life before it entered my home (like environmental impacts and the use of nonrenewable resources to make the stuff, extraordinary shipping distances that require unnecessary amounts of fuel, inequitable labor practices, perhaps child labor) and an uncertain future when I am done with it (ideally recycling or reuse by someone else, but at some point, all or parts of the stuff are ultimately likely destined for a landfill–no matter which way you slice it, each of these comes with its own baggage of environmental impacts). For me, worrying about these kinds of things is the closest thing I can imagine to participating in a religion that has a defined set of principles and rules under which one is supposed to act. In fact, I suppose it is a religion for me. Reading books like The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell only makes matters worse…or clearer, depending on your perspective.
I am consistently amazed by the sheer number of stuff today that is marketed to and made appealing for kids. I honestly do not think it was quite as bad when I was growing up. At least I certainly don’t remember it that way. Perhaps it was the extraordinarily fewer number of children’s television stations, programs and commercials that were available when we were growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. We certainly did not have the internet as another media source either. Sure, there was the “it” toy of the moment–Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, He-Man, just to name a few–but other than the toy itself, maybe a few items of clothing, and occasionally a special run of cereal, that was about it. Now–you can’t even go to the Bronx Zoo without seeing Dora the Explorer. (See another blogger’s take on this issue here.) I personally find most of it really disheartening. Soon enough, even buying groceries is going to be a challenge for parents trying to keep their kids away from the bombardment of commercial programming.
But back to the Bandz and my growing awareness that I am looking down the barrel of a very large and powerful gun called peer pressure. I am struggling big time. I am struggling to determine how best to teach our values to M in a way that does not ostracize her among her peers or diminish her self-esteem. If she’s not aware of it now, soon enough she will be: having certain “stuff” makes you fit in better. And at its base, that’s what childhood is all about–fitting in and finding your place, your individuality, among the social strata of your peers. Someday she might appreciate, or at least understand, the values that we are trying to teach her. But I don’t expect that to come for many years. So what to do in between?
Do we buy one package of Bandz? That seems to wholly contrary to my beliefs about these kinds of things (especially trendy, throwaway things). Hypothetically, if we were Jews who kept kosher, would we let her eat bacon? Of course not–yet, my impression is that when it’s religion, rather than lifestyle, that guides one’s decisions, it can’t be argued with or poo-pooed.
Do we buy none? At the age of 3, M has probably already forgotten about them, or still thinks that they are things that other kids just “have” rather than they are things that can be purchased. But the window on that ability to distract her or keep her largely uninformed is closing quickly I can sense it. Case in point: flip-flops. She now has a pair. She knows shoes are purchased in stores. She wanted a pair and after many nights of her coming in crying because she was the only one on the block that did not have a pair, I caved. It was not one of my finer moments. She still doesn’t know where the Bandz come from. I think I am safe, for now at least. But if she did know, buying none seems all at once harsh and unfair yet a teachable moment (I can’t stand that phrase) that lends itself to learning about we can’t always have what we want, some things we do in life have greater impacts than others and we have to choose which ones we can live with, and that things like trends come and go so it’s not always necessary to jump on the bandwagon.
I am well aware that this is not the last round of weighing M’s ability to feel comfortable in her own skin and among her friends against my own personal philosophies about what is truly necessary in life–philosophies that took me almost 30 years to master comfortably in the face of what others do and think. Fitting in is necessary, particularly for kids. I know this. But animal-shaped bracelets are not necessarily the right means to that end in my view. So for now, we will carry on without the currency of Silly Bandz in our house and await the next trend that we will have to negotiate and maneuver in the context of all of these issues. In the meantime, I remain hopeful that somewhere, someone is crafting the next kid craze with a larger, more sustainable worldview in mind.
Edited on 8/16/10 to add the following: Chris Jordan and his crew have recently started another website that documents what they are currently finding on the Midway Atoll with video footage. No words can adequately describe what he is witnessing. Please view for yourself, but note that the images are quite disturbing. www.midwayjournal.com.
So, in light of the fact that we were recently and unexpectedly unable to take a much needed, much wanted and much planned vacation to Vermont with just the three of us (courtesy of the regulatory agency that decided to inspect my husband E’s company during which E was required to be present), I decided that I needed some lighthearted reading for a change and to help me get out of my funk. I am not even sure how I stumbled across this book–maybe it was referenced on a website I was reading–but the other night I downloaded Stuff White People Like, by Christian Lander. Now, this book came out about two years ago, so clearly I live under a rock. That became even more apparent when I learned….AFTER reading the book….that it was premised on a blog of the same name and that all of the content (that I had just paid for) was available for free online. So let me save you some dough…if you don’t want the book, at least visit the site. That said, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book if you haven’t read it already if only because there are some chapters that are a tad longer (and therefore even funnier) than the website. Although the website does have entries that were added after the book came out (most recently, The World Cup). Either way, you can’t lose.
To use a local term of art, this book is WICKED funny. Perhaps what is so funny about it to me is that it reads like my autobiography and simultaneously makes fun of people like me. I am a huge fan of self-deprecating humor. If you can’t laugh about yourself, then something’s wrong. I particularly related to the chapters about coffee, farmer’s markets, organic food, vegan/vegetarianism, 80s night, expensive sandwiches, living by the water and dinner parties. Truth be told, some of the other chapters further supported the notion that I am actually living under a rock (or alternatively maybe am not as white as I thought I was!)–I have no idea who the heck Wes Anderson and Michel Conroy are! (Although I did happen to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party movie, so maybe that counts for something). Anyway, it’s a quick read and you will likely laugh out loud. The summer’s almost over folks so grab your beach towel and get this book in quickly!
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
I read this article by Meathead Goldwyn today on Huffington Post and thought it was worth sharing. No matter how he ultimately feels or acts after the 30 days of his vegetarian experience, I think it’s admirable anytime someone can openly step outside of their comfort zone and be receptive to new ideas, new approaches. Good luck Meathead!
I am well aware that there is always more than one argument on any given issue, and I always love a good debate (what lawyer doesn’t?). To see Meathead’s original post that became the catalyst for his 30-day quest, click here. The original post and the comments that follow provide a good source of ideas in the meat/no-meat debate.
Check back soon for a “want to know more?” resource page for anyone looking to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption and reasons why it might not be such a bad idea.
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