DEAR EVERYONE,

July 20, 2017


My little son will soon celebrate his first birthday and with that comes such delight.  For me, it marks one year of making it work as a mother of two and each day I'm terribly grateful I've made it this far.  More specifically, I'm grateful every day that I'm no longer pregnant.  I loathe being pregnant.

Day by day, August becomes.  He shows strong signs of curiosity, humor and mischief; joy, wonder and the loudest shrieks known to humanity.   Walking with furniture, he can bolt with startling speed for the toilet and the dishwasher any time one is accidentally left open.  My personal favourite development: he wrinkles his nose to smile - just like his mom and sister.

Alongside all these gooey feels of a mother slowly falling for her little boy, turning one year old comes with a bit of dread for me.  When a child has a birthday or celebrates Christmas with friends and family... there is one thing that you can always count on in this day and age:  Presents.  

A child gets so many things at these events, they aren't able to even take them in.  The stimulation is at an all time high and so are the desperate, confused tantrums.  In my opinion (and the opinion of a lot of developmental experts) it is not healthy.

My great-grandmother often told us of the childhood Christmases during the Great Depression.  She said there was no money for presents so sleds were built, pyjamas sewn, slippers lovingly knitted by hand.  No one had to make any rules about gift giving because none were warrented.  People could not purchase excess gifts for any one child because it was financially unfeasible.  However, the joy expressed on my Great-Grandma Mildred's face when she told that story of the Christmas sleds over and over again... that doesn't reflect a childhood of neglect in the gift giving department.

Fast forward to today.  Toys and objects are cheaper than ever before.  They are plastic, flimsy and the inspire no imagination.  Not to mention they can almost never be passed on because they break within hours, weeks or months at best.  

Numerous flimsy toys clutter up a home with their piles of broken pieces. They keep a family cooped up indoors on a Saturday morning for an ultra tidying triathlon when they could be outside playing in the park or getting a muffin from a local coffee shop (Piper's personal favourite). We are scratching our heads and buying bins hoping to hit the right 'storage solution'.  I'm convinced storage is not a solution, not even a little.

Perhaps you are feeling a little skeptical or even judgy. 

"Too many toys?  Just declutter! Stop being so lazy.  Life is messy with kids. Deal with it." 

(I have a response to that but it is another post entirely)

Ok, fine. Let's say I regularly de-clutter my kids' toys.  Where do de-cluttered toys go?  Always a landfill and often the ocean. The word de-cluttering is a euphemism for sending hoards of unwanted objects to the dump.  Its quite sad if you let yourself think about it. Donations are tricky as well... Few of those things ever see shelf/price tag and only a fraction of that is purchased and used before... you guessed it!  Landfill.  Ocean.

These toys and gifts that people buy believing they will add so much value and fun to our lives... they just don't.  It is a myth.  Toys bring almost zero joy beyond the novelty during those first few seconds of receiving them.  Stuffed toys aren't any better because, though they don't break as often, most donation centres don't accept soft toys (they cant be properly cleaned of bacteria and allergens)  So if you buy my kid a stuffie... we are living with that stuffie until we throw it away... to the landfill.

So clothing is the ticket, right?  Just buy kids clothes!  And yes, clothes are much more easily redistributed if they exceed what we need.  But clothing bought quickly as a gift is often either a synthetic fibre blend, fast fashion or both.  Synthetic (polyester, acrylic etc) clothing -aside from being unbreathable and uncomfortable in my opinion- does not hold up well to use.  Within a few washes it looks worn out and shabby rendering it almost impossible to pass on or resell. Again:  Landfill.  Ocean.  You get it.  

As if the waste isn't enough of a problem, such clothing is almost always made by real human people who are underpaid in unsafe working conditions.  I've decided to stop spending my money empowering companies to create these situations for vulnerable people.  It is not necessary for my kids to have 100 items of clothing.  So it isn't necessary that another mother's precious child be forced to make them.

Whether its in the form of a plastic toy, a stuffed animal or fast fashion, the vast majority of gifts are undermining our values.  Despite my hard work carefully researching, saving and planning the dollars I spend, I'm constantly failing.  Each birthday and Christmas gift is like a donation in my child's name propping up regimes of injustice I'm so heartbroken over on a daily basis.  If I'm honest? It is terribly defeating.  Salt on the wound is swallowing hard and croaking out an enthusiastic "Thank You" because the thought behind the gift is kind and pure and I was raised to be polite and gracious. 


Instead of ending this essay trying to make you feel sorry for me or guilty for buying future garbage for my spawn, I want to ask you for your support.  I want to ask you for exactly the opposite thing people usually want when they ask for support.  I want you to please not give us anything.

Just try it.  It will feel weird at first, but I promise you will get used to it.  

We are so grateful to not be truly in need.  Our kids can ask for things that will truly bring them joy and value. For instance: Piper has been 'wishing' for a train set for a few months now and I'm in the process of sourcing a wooden one second hand for her.  We are able to provide what is appropriate and we have the day to day knowledge of our home and our children to make that decision.

There is something, however, that we can't give them. That is...drumroll... extended family and friends.

To use a term that is a little tired right now:  A Village

I can't buy that.  I can't steal it or make it.  BUT YOU CAN GIVE IT.

If you are thinking of giving our child a gift in person (like tucked under your arm entering a party or holiday gathering):

Consider offering to sit and tell them a story or play blocks, lego or paint with them instead.  Reece makes up a version of the three little pigs in which the Big Bad Wolf is looking for a contractor to build him a house and testing each of the little pig's houses to see what building material is the sturdiest.

Spoiler: Wolf always hires the pig with the brick house 😉 

I tell Piper the story of the day her dad gave me my engagement ring because she often asks "Where you get that, mommy?"

Kids light up when you give them some of your time, which is more valuable than anything money can buy.



If you are thinking of sending our child a gift in the mail from afar (or maybe tucking something into my in-laws' luggage):
Consider sending a photo or two of your family for us to hang up on a photo wall.  That way they will recognize you when we do meet up in person.  We can tell them who is in the photo and where they live and how we know them.  This is truly ENRICHING.  I love reading letters and cards that come from our overseas loved ones to Piper... we dream about showing her our old haunts in South Africa someday soon.

If you are desperate to spend money on the kids:

Give them money. 

Kids grasp VERY quickly how money works when they have some to work with.  Piper uses cash to ride those mechanical horses in the mall, get a muffin from the bakery or when take her to an indoor playplace (admission is 10$ so its a treat) on a rainy day.  She can play with a TON of different toys and play structures that we would never have access to otherwise.

If you are obsessed with buying a THING:

Second Hand Clothes

Hand Me Downs

Good Quality Used or New Plastic-Free Toys

I'm busy writing a concise gift buying guide for kids with specific recommendations for toys and shops that I use and trust.  So people with the gift-giving 'love language' (I don't honestly believe this is a thing... but I am willing to take the time to humour it in the interest of meeting half way) stay tuned for that.

PS:  I LOVE YOU ALL FOR READING THIS TO THE END.  Please feel free to comment if agree or have something constructive to add to this discussion!



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