January 23, 2017

The Birthday Balloon

DO CHILDREN NEED A PILE OF WRAPPED TOYS IN ORDER TO KNOW THAT THEY ARE LOVED?

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My youngest daughter, Ula, and I have birthdays one week apart. Thus, the cusp of February and March contain a lot of conversations about cakes and special birthday plans. As we cozied into bed a few nights ago, we marveled about how she was turning three. I asked her what she would like for her birthday. Apparently, she had been waiting for this question, because her answer came very quickly:

“Eggnog and a candy cane.”

“Anything else?” She gave the question a little more consideration, and thought of her two best friends.

“Ania and Katherine.” Smiling, I told her I would make that all happen.

I was reminded of my other daughter, Saoirse, when she was about that age. Her request had been a pink balloon. I thought that was perfectly reasonable, but apparently it caused a stir. Saoirse has an August birthday, and around that time three years ago, I was being interviewed by a parenting magazine for a story they were running on eco-parenting. The reporter had learned about my work on Radical Homemaking, and had called for an interview. She outlined the premise of the piece to me, explaining that she was examining the added financial burdens parents faced when they chose to raise their children in an ecologically responsible way. As examples, she mentioned chlorine-free diapers, bisphenol and phthalate-free baby bottles, organic baby foods and clothing, and all-natural, fair-trade, and zero-impact toys.

Ula was a mobile baby at the time, and as the reporter spoke, I watched her approach her favorite all-natural toy, the family laundry basket. She dumped over the folded clothes, then rifled through until she found a pair of underpants, pulled them over her head, and paused to watch me as I listened to the reporter. Taking a cue from my daughter, I interrupted the conversation. “I’m sorry, but that’s not what eco-parenting means to me. It isn’t about going out and buying ecologically-produced versions of products I think I may need. It’s about discovering what I don’t need.”

“What do you mean?”

I presented some examples: We never bought a single jar of pre-made baby food, organic or otherwise. My babies ate ground-up versions of whatever Bob and I ate. Children don’t need a lot of toys in order to grow, develop and be happy. And they don’t need to be new, and they don’t even need to technically be toys.

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Illustrating the point, Ula demonstrated the versatility of her undie hat by converting it first to a facemask, and then to an undie necklace. Re-focusing on the phone conversation, I argued that ecologically sensitive parenting, at least from a Radical Homemaker perspective, was not about adding expenses to the family budget. It was about taking them away. The reporter concluded the conversation and hung up the phone. I assumed she was satisfied.

Apparently, her editors were not. I received another phone call. Under her editor’s direction, the reporter was to present a series of more “hard-hitting” questions about Radical Homemaking. To my surprise, one of the first

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