Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sturgeon on Toys

In her fine new blog Auntie Joanna Writes, Joanna Bogle describes a talk she gave on a conference on family life.
In the pleasant sitting-room at Wickenden, after a delicious lunch, we were able to discuss practical matters in a constructive atmosphere, with some good ideas coming from busy families. How to cope with the modern lavish birthday party at which the birthday child is given huge quantities of presents that he can barely even acknowledge adequately, let alone enjoy and appreciate?
...What also emerged is that one or two families can have a significant impact on local network of family groups, eg can help to damp down a culture of ever-more-lavish parties by simply refusing to join in.....

It is interesting to note that most of the problems raised at this, and other similar discusions I have attended in recent years, always end up focusing on the problems of affluence. It's actually not porn, drugs, alcohol or involvement in weird cults that present immediate problems, but the deadening reality of childhoods threatened by massive consumerism and the destruction of innocent pleasures by the fostering of greed.....all this within living memory of an era when many parents in Britain worried about saving enough money to buy just a few modest gifts for the children and treats for birthdays.
I sometimes feel like we're the "damping down" family in our small network. Part of this reflects our personalities -- we rarely give or expect gifts, even with each other. It also reflects our experiences as children -- Darwin and I both come from modest backgrounds, and while we received presents at birthdays and Christmas, our family celebrations weren't the gift free-for-alls I've witnessed in other settings.But it's also a choice about how we want our daughters to think about family celebrations and especially holy days such as Christmas. I don't disapprove of presents, but it seems to me that they should never overshadow the event they commemorate. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Certainly one may give presents on that day in honor of the gifts of the Magi, but some parents seem to be of the opinion that they need to be as lavish as the Magi.

I had occasion to enter a Toys 'R Us recently, and was reminded of Sturgeon's Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud. The shelves were glutted with tawdry, cheap (and not so cheap) junky toys of the sort that will almost certainly be cast aside within weeks and end up under the feet of hapless parents in the middle of the night. (That one's for you, Dad.) Many toys are so dinky and commonplace that there seems no incentive for children to cherish and care for them; if it breaks you can always get another. Who in his right mind would mend a toy from a Happy Meal? The things are so inexpensive to manufacture and so ugly that they're good for nothing but target practice at the nearest trash can. Likewise, when a parent feels that he or she is obligated to shower a child with loads of gifts at a time, most of those gifts are likely to be "filler" -- presents that have no value in themselves but serve to pad out the one or two gifts that are actually worth giving and receiving.


Anonymous said...

I remember our first Christmas with Bubba. He raked in the loot. I don't mind the generosity of family per se, but that grand total was just too much. Much of that has been pared down or weeded out.

I guess now one of the side-benefits of living here in WA State is that we can't carry too much back home with us. Those lovely luggage limits!

The group of friends we have come to be a part of is very much like that: "dampened down." It's nice to not give/receive lots of gifts on birthdays. It just lets us be with our friends to celebrate.

CMinor said...

Amen to that--I find myself getting annoyed with activities (VBS, for e.g.) at which kids come home every day with some bit of bric-a-brac. Better to have them bring something every day and make supply bags for the poor or for missions
(our church has actually done this on occasion.) It's not as if most kids in our culture need daily handouts of junk, and it does them no moral good to get used to the practice.

Mine, thank goodness, have almost outgrown the happy meal stage--though I occasionally throw off the McDonald's crew with a request for a toy-free happy meal.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I must rise in defense of the cheap-o happy meal junk toys. You can get them anywhere (if you ask, some parents will happily give you bags of them), then keep them hidden for those moments when Older Child needs undivided attention for a lesson, or when you're stuck on I-35 and Little Child has reached the end of her rope, then whip them out. They're only good for about 15 minutes of entertainment, and they'll never be played with again. But that's all you needed.

Junky workbooks--like "My Little Pony Activity Book" or "X-Men Dot-to-Dot and Coloring Pages"--are similarly good, and easily scrounged.

Amber said...

That reminds me of a time when we had some people over from my mom's club and a little girl said "where's all your toys?" I thought we had a pretty good selection out, but apparently it wasn't anything like what she was used to... I later went to her house and understood the comment - she probably had 4 - 5 times as much stuff (at least!) as our daughter. It was really incredible. Her mother had grown up poor and resented never being able to get the things the other children had, and didn't want her daughter to "suffer" the same way. Her daughter is now obese, greedy, whiny with a giant "I deserve everything" syndrome. *sigh*

We try to keep the gift giving and amount of stuff and toys (especially the junky stuff) to a minimum, but it can be hard sometimes with my family. Both my parents like to give lots of gifts at Christmas and such - so much so that on Emma's last birthday Emma got tired of opening presents before she was done with them. My mom's defense is always either that it was on sale or that she really didn't spend that much - both things that really miss the point. I'm dreading having my usual pre-Christmas discussion with her but I know it will have to happen soon.

As for birthday parties, we just avoid them. We don't have birthday parties where we invite other children, and we politely decline to go to parties when invited. Scrooge-like? Well, yes. But it certainly is easier on the pocketbook and I think it is much more in line with our values.

Anonymous said...

Mine, thank goodness, have almost outgrown the happy meal stage--though I occasionally throw off the McDonald's crew with a request for a toy-free happy meal

Why? Would your kids not enjoy a simple little toy? You're not even paying for it. It's free.
How about a box of cracker jacks? Do you make sure they don't get the little prize in there too?