I get several magazine subscriptions. Some are so I can keep current with what’s doing in my field. Some are so that I can stay inspired in the garden or with my writing.
And then there’s Vanity Fair. I originally subscribed to this one a few years ago for the feature articles (which are always brilliantly written) and the photographers that regularly contribute their work. I am not a “fashionista” to say the least, but I am sure that is why some people would thumb through this one too.
Truth be told: I can’t stand the ads. There are too many of them. And almost none of them apply to my current situation—married, mom, size 10 marsupial-like body (give
or take a size after some ice cream), and no time to spend hob nobbing with the social elite. I’m also not married to Don Johnson, so I am not sure who they think is buying the sockless menswear. These ads are usually also entirely inane and have no grasp on the reality of the women, at least most that I know, who have the disposable income to actually buy some of these things. They are what has created my love-hate relationship with this magazine. For example,
Considering I get up at 6:15AM, this make-up’s only gonna get me to 9:15PM. Are you kidding? That’s the first time I see my husband without a jam faced kid asking a bazillion questions. If I’m not flawless by that late hour, it’s gonna get ugly in this marriage. And I’m pretty sure the K-Prep teachers, M’s little pals, the pediatrician and the coffee shop clerk are not going to be amazed by any flawless beauty I’ve got rockin’ during the day. Show me a 17-hour makeup, and we’re in business.
Unless that’s a bunch of spinach that she’s been trying to feed her kid for the past four hours and she’s passed out from sheer exhaustion, this one’s not speaking to me either. Not to mention, denim? On a tropical beach? Newsflash: many women my age (myself included) are usually SWEATING all the time because we’re perimenopausal. Show me a woman in a stretched out Land’s End tankini with potato chip dust and I’d probably pay attention.
Damn! We chose the preschool that doesn’t have a helicopter parking spot. Maybe her elementary school will have one. I’ll have to ask during orientation.
See note above about me not being married to Don Johnson. Also, the extra large man-purse is not helping the situation. Unless that’s from the dad-takes-kid-to-swim-lessons line.
I’ve also learned that there are just three things you need to have youthful looking skin. Ready? You will need
a second chance . . .
. . . a miracle . . .
. . . and a sonic weapon.
The other thing that jumps out is how none of the models look like me and my fellow parents, well except maybe these two:
They look like they haven’t seen the sun in a while. Me either.
And looky here . . . someone’s been having fun with her kids and the finger paint!
I do look like that once in a while. Probably don’t smell as nice though.
Look at these catty women. They’re totally making fun of that mom over on the other side of the cafe, mocking her Timex. Girlfriend, please. A Timex???
Hey, wait. I wear a Timex. They’re talking about me! Bitches.
My hair’s been getting me down lately (should I cut, not cut?). But thank goodness it will only take . . . let’s see . . .
So that’s 39 years divided by 2 years is 19.5 . . . times 2 minutes . . . 39 minutes for me to regain the glory of my baby hair again. 39 minutes!? I don’t have that kind of time. I’ve got eight uninterrupted minutes at best in the shower. So that means I’m going back to my hair from when I was 31. Suppose that’ll have to do.
Let me tell you something, Vanity Fair, if I have an afternoon to go hiking in a pristine forest with one of my girlfriends, I sure as shit am not wearing this
But I do see myself wearing this to the next parent-teacher conference
Will I continue to get this magazine? Well, in the short term, yes. I’m subscribed through January 2014. But after that, I’m not so sure. To use a cliche, I read it for the articles. I’m just not so sure it justifies having to paw through pages and pages of ads for things that I’m just never gonna buy.* Maybe they should have a “mom” edition of Vanity Fair where the ads are for wine, chocolate and padlocks for the bathroom door. Hey, even I’d consider a Fendi padlock if it lets me take a poop in private.
* Actually, there was a tiny bit of hope about halfway through. And I can buy it no matter how many wrinkles and damaged hairs I have.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz.
Just a quickie review this time, so let’s jump right in to Book #3 of my “8 Favorite Parenting Books”.
Living Simply With Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide For Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want To Reclaim The Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting, by Marie Sherlock.
This book is now ten years old, and though some of the resources cited within it may be outdated, the principle behind the book remains stronger than ever: you and your kids do not need a lot of “stuff” to be happy, have fun or feel worthy. Less really is more.
Intrinsically, I know this and we really try to live this way as much as we can. For me personally, it is primarily from an environmental/waste standpoint. But it can be hard at times, particularly when you feel like you are swimming against a pounding sea of materialism, commercialism and peer pressure to keep up with what everyone else is buying. Of course we falter, and sometimes it feels like often. And it’s hard to curb the actions of well-meaning friends and family who do not understand, appreciate and/or remember your simplicity objectives—this is an area I have not mastered except in a “pick your battles” kind of way. It continues to be a work in progress.
Anyway, I read this book not too long after M was born, I think during my maternity leave. I had read three other “simple living books”* prior to M being born, and so finding this one seemed appropriate (and more current) as we added a new dimension to our lives. Indeed, that seems to be the first time period in parenting when you become aware of all the “stuff” that is supposedly necessary to raise a baby. I wanted to stay as close to the simple life as possible. Looking back over the past five years, I didn’t always succeed, but I am more or less happy with the decisions we made.
Now, as M approaches Kindergarten and has peers that are starting to talk about and compare their “stuff”, I (sadly) see that we are entering a new tidal phase that will require us to double down on our preference for simplicity. I seem to know more about which dolls M’s friends have than I do about the girls themselves. And just today I personally witnessed one little girl in M’s class, who apparently does not have the particular line of dolls like M and some of her classmates do, ask her mom if she could have one because she saw M carrying hers in. It was awkward for me and for this girl’s mother. I honestly was under the impression that all of the girls (there are 6 in the class) were each bringing in a doll every day to play with at play time and no one was being or feeling left out (indeed I had asked about this a few months back when we enrolled because while M was begging me to bring a doll to school like her friends were, I had initially said no because her prior school had a “no toys from home” rule, which I favored; I was told that kids can bring something in to play with and that it was OK, so I sent M in with a doll so she could tender her “social currency” when they played together…now I am completely torn about what to do given what I just heard this morning). This is not sitting well with me at all. What I observed at the Disney On Ice show this past weekend was another sad reminder of why I need to re-read this book and regain some hope, perspective and…well, balls.
Fortunately, this book will do that. It is certainly more of a beginner’s guide, very general in its approach (i.e. there are not deep philosophical discussions about the virtues of simplicity). It has several chapters about what simple living is, why it is important (for your family, community and the planet), and perhaps most importantly, it gives pointers about how to remain confident and steadfast in your preference for simplicity despite peer pressure, media/TV and marketing. It provides age-appropriate (young child through teenager) advice about how to teach and instill in your kids the value of living simply. It does this by offering explanations that you can give your children that are values-based, earth friendly, people friendly, and/or financially friendly. It gives ideas for simple family rituals and celebrations that you can incorporate into your home. There are resources listed throughout the book for further reading about a particular area (like the negatives of television or finding groups of other like-minded families/individuals). In sum, this book is a perfect introduction to simple living as well as a good resource to consult when you start to go off course.
* The three non-parenting simplicity books that I have also read (and should probably re-read!) are The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, by Cecile Andrews (1997); The Simple Life: Thoughts on Simplicity, Frugality, and Living Well, by Amy Dacyczyn et al. (1998—this contains essays by several writers); and The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living, by Janet Luhrs (1997). These are obviously much older than Living Simply With Children, and so perhaps outdated from a resource standpoint. Aside from that, these books go much deeper into the philosophy of simplicity (particularly The Circle of Simplicity) and the how-to’s of simple living around the house. I also have another book, which I have not finished yet, called Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin, which is more recently published/revised in 2010. Any one of these books would be a good supplement to the book reviewed today.
Also, there is a more recently published (2010) book geared toward simple living with children entitled, Simplicity Parenting:Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross. I do not know anything about this book, but just mention it because it may have more current resources/links within.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
When it comes to kids’ birthday parties, I’m REALLY old-fashioned. Like ice cream and cake in the backyard, kids running around, games that don’t really pan out successfully but at least kids are smiling instead of fighting kind of thing. I love them. M has loved them. And, I think, most of the people who come like it too (or, thank you for faking it while you’re here!). No pressure on arriving on time because we can have people stay as long (or as little) as they’d like. Plenty of places to duck away quietly for a few minutes if your kid has a meltdown. Oh, and then there’s the beer for the parents. That helps.
We don’t invite the entire class, only M’s family and her closest buds from school and beyond. Sue me if this is anti-inclusive policy…but I don’t think M should have to invite Johnny or Sally if she never plays with them at school. I mean we would never invite all but one kid kind of thing, but by sticking to a general “you can invite your 4 or 5 closest friends from school” kind of approach, we keep the gift overload down to a manageable amount and she actually can focus her attention on the friends that mean the most to her. It also seems unreasonable to me that when class sizes are approaching 15, 20 or more kids that there is this notion that we have to be inviting everyone. I know this is a hot button issue for some parents, but I just don’t see the reasoning behind it. If M were ever not invited to a party it would be a good time to learn that we can’t be invited to everything all the time and it doesn’t mean you are not friends. I mean how many weddings have all of us not been invited to (even though we could have been) because the bride and groom need to keep the guest list to a certain size? No one really freaks out about that. Anyway, I digress…
We haven’t had any kind of bouncy house kind of thing (no room). We haven’t had any kind of “kid-ertainment”. Just a backyard and a couple of activities strewn about, structured and open-ended alike. Homemade cupcakes and some ice cream. Sometimes pizza if it’s a lunch party. Nothing fancy. She’s FIVE. I’m not trying to sound like I’m doing things better than anyone else. I mean who doesn’t love a bouncy house!? It’s just that I really do like these kinds of things to stay simple for M at this age because it reminds me so much of the parties my mom threw for us when we were little, and it doesn’t set the bar so high at such a young age.
Of course, having a backyard and the luck of five consecutive early Septembers with sunny weather has made this all easy. I know we’re totally f$%*ed the year it decides to rain and even this past year it was mere hours before we were certain that the sky would be clear and the grass dry enough to go forth with the activities planned. My backup plan of indoor sock tossing game was giving me shortness of breath, but luckily it wasn’t necessary.
There are plenty of parties that we get invited to that the families can’t do these kinds of parties for space reasons, and I fully appreciate the families that just don’t want to have these kinds of parties at their homes for whatever reason and go offsite instead. Gyms, cupcake bakeries, gymnastics centers, bowling alleys, plaster painting…M’s been invited to at least 5 parties in the past two months that have been at one of these kinds of places. We can’t possibly make it to all, but the ones M has gone to she has a great time. Thank goodness she hasn’t asked us for that kind of party…yet. And when she does, we’ll give it some serious thought—I’m not that unreasonable, not to mention that the home parties might actually become lame at some point and we have to rethink it.
But then again, when I get an invitation like the one I received today, I have to take a second to wrap my head around what some of these off-site parties have turned into. Look, I am not trying to sound ungrateful that they thought to invite M (and the rest of the entire class)—those parties are not usually cheap. But to put it bluntly: it is literally a legal nightmare. That’s me saying that with my mommy and attorney hats on. As far as I can remember, my parents never had to sign any kind of waiver or release when we were going to friends’ parties, and I certainly don’t have people sign away their lives when they come here for M’s shindigs.
Last month, just by way of background, M was invited to a party that was being held at a local kid gym. The invitation was a postcard type of thing, where half of it was to be ripped off and brought with us when we attended. It had a release that we had to sign, basically holding the facility harmless should M get hurt while at a party. It was, from a legal point of view, a pretty basic waiver and, more or less, one that I wasn’t too miffed about signing. I get why these centers do this. If you are a member of one of those gyms you need to sign documents like this, so it of course makes sense that any user, guest or otherwise, follows similar protocol. It’s not the parents making these forms, so, until today, I more or less held judgement at bay.
But today’s invitation really got under my collar. It too has the “I specifically agree to waive and release [GYM WITH A WELL PAID ATTORNEY] and its employees, agents and officers from any and all claims for loss of [sic--note: GWAWPA needs to tell its counsel to pay closer attention!...it should be 'or'] damage of property, liability, or personal injury that may arise from the use of [GWAWPA].” language, but it also has this:
I hereby give permission for images of my child and the use of photographs and/or video singularly or in conjunction with other photographs to be used by [GWAWPA] for advertising, publicity, commercial or other business purposes and waive any rights of compensation or ownership thereto. I understand that the term “photograph” as used herein encompasses both still photographs and video footage. . . . “
Wow. So now, if M wants to go to this party I have to be OK with the possibility that a photo or video of her might be published someplace or used in advertising? Yes, I know it’s remote, but here’s a tip: lawyers don’t draft these kinds of things just because…they’re put in because there is a chance it is going to be necessary at some point and probably because GWAWPA asked them to put something like this in the waiver. What if I’m not OK with this clause, much less the thought of her being splashed someplace like a roadside billboard? And that’s just it, I am not really OK with it. Not the possibility of them profiting off of her or her friends’ images, but that I would have no control in how it is used. Moreover, I know full well GWAWPA is not going to let her participate if I cross it out or don’t sign it—indeed it even says so on the first of two pages of the invitation. So, by having parties in these kinds of places, parents are being put in a sometimes uncomfortable position of possibly opting out because of something like this.
Will we go? I’m honestly not sure. I need to sit on this a while. I’m guessing the majority of the folks out there might think I am going way overboard about this and that I need to lighten up, and to an extent that is certainly true. But then again, will those same folks please send me their kids’ photos so I can use them to draw more readers to my blog? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And guess what, GWAWPA already has 8 photos and 4 videos on its website with kids running around. Will M and the other birthday party friends be added next?
It’s a principle kind of thing. It shouldn’t be like this to have, much less attend, a kid’s birthday party. I don’t make people sign waivers at the door when they come to M’s parties. We have a giant granite rock outcropping with a nearby 20 foot drop behind a fence in our backyard (we live in an old quarry) that might as well be made out of kid-magnet because it is the first thing that kids want to climb on when they get here. And someone could get hurt (thankfully not yet!) but I don’t make them sign a waiver. That’s what liability insurance is for, more or less. And friends can equally count on the fact that I won’t be taking pictures of their kids and posting them on this blog, so I don’t shell out photographic releases either.
It’s so crazy this kind of litigious and commercialized world that even our kids are now living in. Is this really what we want, just to sing Happy Birthday with friends?
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Most people have heard of NIMBYism — Not In My Back Yard — the response that typically happens when a less than favorable land use (big box store, landfill, power plant, etc.) is proposed for an area near residents who vehemently oppose the project. In most cases, I generally do not side with the NIMBY folks — maybe it’s my profession, but it probably comes down more to practicality — these things have to go somewhere.
But I’m here to coin a new acronym: NIMBT. Not In My Boob Tube! While I probably have more conservative views about kids and watching TV than most, one thing I think that almost all parents would agree with, no matter what your position is on how much TV kids should be allowed to watch, is that there needs to be significantly less commercialization of the programming that is available for children. And if we do not take a stand now, it is only going to get worse. This is not about making the choice to simply keep the TV off — it’s about maintaining a certain level of respect towards children and their parents who do wish to use television media for entertainment from time to time.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood–an agency that I highly respect and admire–there is presently a push by the company that makes Skechers shoes to broadcast what is essentially an advertisement disguised as a children’s program. I encourage you to visit CCFC’s website and read about this issue here. Many people are not aware that there are federal laws that regulate the amount of commercials that can be shown on cable television during a given hour of children’s programming. Depending on the day of the week, the maximum amount of air time that is allowed for commercials during kids’ programs is either 12 or 10.5 minutes. However, the new program proposed by Skechers to air on Nickelodeon — Zevo-3 — appears to be in clear violation of that mandate because it is essentially a long cartoon that is designed to sell various lines of sneakers.
So to this I declare NIMBT! I strongly oppose this type of programming. There are plenty of studies and pediatric articles — here is but one — that state that very young children simply do not have the cognitive ability to understand the motives behind advertisements or even understand when they are watching a commercial instead of a television program. Moreover, it is hard enough to keep kids away from the onslaught of non-television ads and other marketing ploys that try to sell countless products endorsed by or emblazoned with television-based characters. (I still can’t figure out why there is Elmo on diapers that are designed for babies less than 3 months old.) Almost everywhere you go–the doctor’s office, the grocery store, children’s museums, and even our public schools–these kinds of characters are everywhere. Do we really now want to have advertisements themselves become entertainment? The consequences of allowing something like Zevo-3 to air would open the door wide open for things like shows based on the Ronald McDonald, Cap’n Crunch or Chester Cheetah. Although it is a murky line, I do think there is a difference between selling products that come about after a show has become successful on its own merits versus creating a show based solely on existing products.
At the moment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency that regulates television programs and enforces The Children’s Television Act, is accepting public comments about the proposed program. The CCFC website (through the link above) has recommended language to be used by opponents of this type of programming who wish to be heard. The time for public input closes on Friday, October 22, so please consider filling out a comment form in opposition to Zevo-3 (note: your comments and name will be published on the FCC website) so that we do not have to turn on our televisions a year from now and decide whether we want our children to sit through a 30 minute program narrated by Lucky the Leprechaun or the Froot Loop toucan and then deal with the aftermath in the cereal aisle. Enough is enough already!
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.
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