Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Parenthood

Yesterday, while driving around the island to lull the babies to sleep—my two year old, that is, and the almost one year old I babysit—I made a stop at the free store, the TIOLI, or Take It Or Leave It station at the dump. I popped in there for two minutes with the smallest baby in my arms and my boy still asleep in his car seat. I scored some fun Melissa and Doug rubber stamp and ink sets, and then, on the way out the door, found a pair of Kidorable dinosaur rain boots in new condition, in the perfect size for my son.

One benefit of living in the vacationland of the wealthy is that the junk is often really good junk. Since I’m home with my son and only working part time, I’ve become a regular at the free store. I put away any kind of dumb pride I may have had about taking other people’s leftovers, and reminded myself that the tradeoff was invaluable if saving money shopping at the TIOLI, yard sales, and consignment shops, made it possible to stay at home with my son. And then I discovered what good stuff I could get, and it was all over. I’m a TIOLI addict. It’s a beautiful drive out there, and who doesn’t love a good deal?

So. Occupy Parenthood. In many respects, consumerism undermines families. That has been my heady thought, of late, as I reflect on OWS, and how it bears upon me, and upon my life as the parent of a dynamic two year old whom I’ve had the joy of raising at home. Before I had the baby, I was working twelve hour days and spending the money just as fast on things I thought I needed for the baby—cribs and crib bedding and bottles. Many things that, two years later, still have not been used, or were used very little. The minute you buy your first baby thing online, you become a targeted consumer. The catalogs start deluging your mailbox and your inbox. Swings, bouncy seats and basinets. Each new stage of development comes with a plethora of options slews of different companies are competing to sell you.

They tell us we need a whole load of things, from formula to pacifiers to footwear, to make our parenting easier. Meanwhile, parents stretch themselves thin to be able to afford these things, these props and substitutes for our own loving arms, our own singing voices, our presence in their lives, which is all our children really need.

It’s a Catch 22. It’s a vicious cycle that breaks our backs, vexes our spirits, and weakens our emotional, physical, and moral core-- our family time.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t value hard work. I’ve always worked, and parenting has been the most demanding job of all of them. And I want to instill in my child the value of hard work. But I want to instill in him above all else the values of love, family, and community—things that should come to us for no cost, but seem to come at the highest price of all—the loss of quality time.

So for me, making shifts in our economic system also means shifting our values back to the things that really matter, our families, and our communities, and our collective wellbeing.

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