This summer I was reading “Consuming Kids” by Susan Linn. Usually, I read while I walk. I don’t have a lot of time to do recreational reading so my walk to and from preschool is a good time to get in a chapter of reading (okay, maybe not an entire chapter, but something).
Once I got to the centre, two of the three teachers on staff at the time mentioned to me that they had also read the book. I love this about Franklin’s preschool. They don’t have children but they read parenting books about dealing with children and consumption. It’s one of the reasons I point out when someone asks me how I can place my child in someone else’s care or how I trust someone else to instil my family’s values.
They don’t assume our priorities or values, but once they saw what I was reading and we talked more about the book and what I thought of it, I felt understood. I mean, what parent actually wants their child to be susceptible to advertising and consumption? However, it’s important to notice that how we want to approach the topic can (and is) different than some other family in the same centre.
Ever since our conversation, there has been much more enthusiasm toward encouraging Franklin to look at toys a different way. In the summer, he was into Star Wars. There were some older kids in the centre who had watched the movie and without any knowledge of the show, Franklin had decided that he not only liked the robots the best, but R2-D2 was the ultimate dream.
He wanted R2-D2.
His friend at preschool had R2-D2.
His friend at home in our complex has R2-D2 (and Darth Vader and C-3PO and Luke SkyWalker and everything else).
When was he going to get R2-D2?
And then he came home one day and told me that he would rather make his own R2-D2. He showed me a toilet paper roll with black marks on it. He walked that little robot around making beeps and whirls like it was the coolest thing in the world – and it was, because he made it.
He was encouraged to make his own toy because the teachers there showed him that buying the object wasn’t necessarily what he needed in order to have fun. He didn’t mind that it wasn’t the “right” robot. He was just proud that he had made it.
Of course, this is something we could (and did) always encourage at home too. My parents certainly encouraged it when I was growing up. They rarely bought us the brand name items of things. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford it, or that they weren’t available in our little town. The reasons they gave were more along the lines that of “it wasn’t good quality” or that they thought “it wasn’t worth the money”.
I used to hate that.
I was reminded of this feeling when my mother arranged for a local carpenter to make a train table for Franklin when he turned 2 years old. This is what my parents would typically do – find someone who could do it themselves, locally, with value and knowledge of who they are making it for. I never hear any opinionated motivation or political correctness behind these actions. My parents just do what they’ve always done, arrange for something to be done with as much love and effort as possible – with absolutely no regard for fashion or social branding.
When that train table arrived, I felt ashamed for all the “fake Barbies” and balsam wood dollhouses I pouted about as a kid. I felt proud that they were my parents and fortunate to be able to finally understand what had taken years (and years and years) for me to learn – that brands don’t matter.
Last week, Franklin saw a kid in his class eat a Peek Freans Fruit Crème cookie on his way out the door. He turned to me and asked if he could have the same kind of cookie. We talked about how to make them at home instead of buying them and he was all for it. I was concerned that once he saw them, he would look at it and realize that no, they aren’t the same kind of cookie – homemade Jam Jams are big, with a different kind of jam and they aren’t crunchie, and they don’t have that cream filling inside and they don’t come out of the same wrapping, and… and… – all things that I remember noticing as a child when my parents would present me with a similar but GLARINGLY DIFFERENT product than I had initally asked for.
But he said nothing.
He looked at it, he noticed the difference and then he ate it.
In fact, he has declared Jam Jams as the best cookie ever.
He is a much more grateful kid than I ever was.
And I’m a much better parent with a staff of nine on my side.
Of course, we haven’t hit the teenage years just yet…