Tags: children

new year

Tiny tears

The way advertising money is deployed to convince us all that we have to have more stuff is shocking. Shortsighted. Thanks to bohemiancost for reminding me to direct you to The Story of Stuff if you have not already seen it. Last I looked it was a video on YouTube, but now, friends, it's a movement.

Can words express how detestable marketing to children is? Well, no. Children need the same protection adults do from the cynical psychological manipulations of big money. But they are in the peculiar position of having less time on the planet, less experience than adults in fending off the nonsense. I am not going to make patronizing generalizations about their mental development because plenty of adults have not thought much about this stuff either, and do not behave in a particularly mature manner -- particularly at this time of year.

When I was very small, and television was relatively new, I spent Saturday mornings parked in front of the flickering black and white cube that was my best friend, that talked to me and sang and told stories. It was literally a cube-shaped box, with wood-grain veneer cabinet, a six-inch high iron stand with four legs, a row of black knobs down the right side you had to sit near to adjust, and at first a rabbit-ear antenna. Later my dad George would hook up a big wire on the wall to work as a larger antenna.

The first advertised toy I remember craving was a Tiny Tears doll. I discussed it with my cousin, who had all the toys, and with other kids, and it was definitely cool. My spouse (who was a boy) does not remember such things as plastic dolls with little holes in their mouths where you could insert a tiny bottle, and little holes in their otherwise anatomically incorrect lower smoothness that would drain out any fluid that found its way into the body cavity, something like pee. (You could also get water into them in the bath, where it comes in through the arm and leg joints, or by drowning them in the sink.) The pissing was provocatively realistic at the time. The Tiny Tears doll had the added feature of "crying real tears" from her little open-and-close eyes. It occurs to me now to wonder whether she would cry milk if you inserted actual milk through the bottle opening.

But I never got a Tiny Tears doll. I got a couple of cheap knock-offs, which would pee milk if you fed them milk. Or whatever. One was small and babylike, and one was a larger blonde girl doll with plastic shoes and red striped dress, with the weighted open-and-close eyes that were fairly standard by that time. Each had one outfit of clothes fitted that you could take off and put on, and I had no idea what else to do with them. Playing dolls was not something I did. (I will leave the subject of barbies for another time.)

It is a hard thing for parents to have a child who wants one particular overpriced consumer item, for whom nothing else will do. How this is handled depends not only on how much money the parents have and how they deal with it, but on the dynamic between parent and child. Can the child be persuaded to Make Do with the less desirable equivalent, that in the adults' eyes has no significant difference from the brand name? Does the child pitch a fit? Does she find that tactic works? Screaming, or weeping? Some children, I have to point out, would never dare such behavior, having been schooled early, or may continue whining because even negative attention is better than none. Do the adults have money to buy the thing just to shut the kid up? Do they buy it right away, or save up out of a tight budget, to express their love?

There is much to learn in considering these exchanges. But the child is learning very basic stuff: how to express her wishes effectively, and whether the world is going to be responsive to her. Do the parents listen to the particulars in her incessant chatter? Can they thus mysteriously divine the child's desires? or needs?

Some of us have made a specialty of understanding even preverbal utterances, and moved on to the study and understanding of alien species, like cats. These are significant questions in the socialization of women, not to mention men.
new year

Money can't buy me love

For many years I have been with Charlie Brown on Not Letting Commercialism Spoil My Christmas. Perhaps I'm repeating the obvious, but the shopping fest that is now some kind of leading economic indicator is stoking the engine of consumption, rather than the spirit of generosity.

Going out shopping to buy a lot of stuff for everyone you know is now one of the customary seasonal strains on individuals and families, strains both economic and emotional. It costs too much, and everyone ends up with lots of stuff they don't necessarily need or want. Guilt and anxiety are constantly invoked: how to cope, how to make the money stretch, how to leave no one out, how to choose just the right Thing that will reinforce the immaterial bonds of various relationships. Social groups formalize procedures to randomize "secret santa" giving, to reduce the stress of universal demands on one's time, attention, and wallet. Some of us even resort to the draconian No Presents rule.

My mother is a No Presents person. My spouse Mr S has a special present every year now from me, which is that he doesn't have to buy any presents. When Number One Son was small he was showered with presents, but the only one that has stuck is the joke one of socks and underwear, that he now rather appreciates.

But this is all overwhelming for children -- the supposed focus of the season -- and it is the proper role of adults to pay attention and think about where to set the defaults. Instead, advertising preys on the kids' desires, and on their parents' guilt. And we were all children once.

We live in a country where more children live in poverty every year; and official poverty levels don't begin to tell what it's like to live just above that level, where the majority reside. Food and toys have been made into tokens of how much children are cared for, and carry even more weight in this season. Is it so hard to see the hypocrisy, in "toy drives" for children whose families are routinely wrecked by huge economic forces, who seldom had adequate prenatal care, or access to day care, or even one-twentieth of a teacher's attention if they're lucky enough to live in an excellent school district, in a country where family policy is a shambles? Where's the generosity?


Hating on the holidays: let me count the ways

1. When I was very small we lived in student housing, which were peeling prefab WW2-era boxes that of course had no chimneys or mantels. I was worried that the proper way of hanging a stocking on the mantel was not possible. Instead my stocking was nailed on the back of the door, and I was assured that Santa could get in through the door. It didn't seem right to me. Ho hum. The magic of Xmas. Tell me another one.

2. Dolls. Those damned plastic baby dolls, what are those good for? Never any tinker toys, or legos, or puzzles, or for that matter ponies.

3. In one of my mother's albums is a charming professional photo of me at six, earnestly addressing a Macy's Santa, in full santa regalia. It belongs to my mother. One might argue that I have some sort of right or copyright interest in my own image, but she has possession.

4. When I was seven, I think it was, my half-brother Chris was staying with us for the holidays. I think it was when I was seven because that was the house in Newton with the marvelous attic crawl space full of encyclopedias and stamp collections and 1920s National Geographics that mostly had to be left behind when we moved. No tree that year, but Chris and I drew on the back of a roll of old wallpaper that had been left in the attic, in crayon, a very very narrow but very tall Christmas tree. It was so long we had to lay it out in the hallway to color it, which was not at the time entirely satisfactory to me. Chris lived with us occasionally from the time we were both four, until fourteen. I loved him dearly and have not seen him since 1970. My friends from high school remember him and know I am not making this up.

5. His father, whose name I share as he adopted me when he married my mom, last seen at this house when my Number One Son (now in college) was an infant. He ran up to our front door to drop off an Xmas present on the step and then ran back to the car before I could open the door or my husband could meet him. I hear from my friend in Whitewater (through mutual friends) that he just got back from China.

6. That dad, George, I remember made us a short little tree out of a cardboard box, cutting it down into a pyramidal form that he covered with pine-patterned gift wrap, while we were watching Star Trek one night, in 1966.

That's enough for tonight I think. Just things that have come up again in the last week.
new year

The past is not exactly another country, but at least a couple states over

Fixing my links after recent online mayhem. My browser irritatingly refuses to load home page, although clicking on homepage icon works immediately.

Feel better about not being at Worldcon since I googled my own name. I got 1380 entries, all of which seem to be actually about me, the first ninety at least. Photos of me at a variety of conventions, with "Why is this woman smiling?" and a gratifying number of references to my various works. The local public library actually has a copy of the award anthology I had a short story published in -- extreme excitement icon here!!!

I was looking for an online archive of the article I wrote in like 1993, when (lest we forget) WisCon had no child care program and the concom was deeply uninterested in running any childcare. It was all about how I was taking my kid to cons but nonetheless my purpose in coming to cons was to Exercise The Considerable Portion of My Humanity That Remains Outside Of My Identity As A Mother. How things change, how they stay the same: WisCon now has one of the model childcare programs, not to mention Hordes of twenty- and thirty-somethings who showed up to plug our demographic hole; but parents going to other cons still struggle with the same issue, and cons without kids are still mired in the Graying Fandom thing. Apparently my article is still available only in Fanthology 94, frequently on fanzine auction for the low low price of $5.

Today the child has got his car fixed, and is back off to college with friend, after a couple days at home (with friend crashing on our embarrassingly catty sofa), by way of waterpark at Wisconsin Dells.