My daughter was recently invited to a birthday party with a unique, fun theme. The girls dressed in their fancy clothing and arrived at the birthday girl's home. A limosine arrived and the girls got a ride to the mall to go window shopping. Afterwards they traveled back to the birthday girl's house for dinner and cake, and on their way out the door they received glittery purses bursting with lip gloss, nail polish and other little girly gifts. Cool, right? Yes.
The thing that has been bothering me about that day is the message behind the party-- how fabulous it is to consume. Not that that isn't fun. I like to go to the mall as much as the next girl...well, actually, maybe not as much as the next girl. But I do like to make the occasional shopping trip and covet all the cute outfits and fabulous accessories. It is satisfying to walk the wide halls, a heft on my arm from glossy bags filled with crinkly paper newness. But when I come out I always feel full and deprived at the same time. Fat and yet lusting for more. Overwhelmed and yet yearning for...something.
I've mentioned before that I believe children need to see the people they love creating things. We live in a culture where we value consumption, and devalue creation. This is something we've all heard before, so often that it becomes a cliche. But it is still true.
Last year my oldest began making sculptures out of her Babybel cheese wax, so I stopped buying those annoyingly overpriced little processed chunks. She wasn't eating her lunch at school because she was spending that time making cunning little red kitties and goldfish. The fact that she was creating things out of garbage made me do some hard thinking and I began to realize that our family was getting bogged down in the everyday consumption grind. It's another cliche, right? The mom has fun with the kids by taking them places and buying things. The parents drive the kids to soccer practice while the kids play on their electronic gaming systems. The family communicates through the internet even when they are sitting in the same room. We weren't quite to that point, but I thought we were getting close and I believed that we needed to search for something real. That could take the form of hiking and camping, concentrationg on religion, family meetings and game nights, community service, combinations and permutations of these things and more. There were so many options. I finally realized one day, as I was tossing into the garbage a tiny garden my daughter had planted in the found lid from a soda bottle, that I had lost my habit of creation. And I wanted it back.
In high school and college I used to make things. And write things. And create. My friends were all painters, photographers and poets. My husband's friends were all partiers--the fun, cool crowd, the consumers. When we first started dating he told me, "My friends destruct; your friends construct." I loved that comment. It sounded neat and tidy, a way to draw a line between the separate worlds the two of us seemed to inhabit. Looking back, and having drifted myself somewhat over the imaginary line, I believe that was a false line to draw. Everyone has the germ for construction and destruction within themselves.
I decided to take a page from my oldest's book and look at the world through less wasteful eyes. I bought a sewing machine, some crochet hooks, and yarn. (I started my efforts to consume less by buying? Ironic.) I called my sister and sisters-in-law and declared that all of our Christmas gifts would be homemade. Some agreed more readily than others. But they all agreed. And my kids and I went on a two month spree of crafting. We learned new techniques. I learned to crochet and made amigurumi dolls for the youngest nieces. My son taught himself origami, while his little sister practiced sewing on buttons and painting. My oldest changed her medium from cheese wax to felt. With the help of a fabulous book by Nellie Pailloux, called Felties, she created some of the cutest little felt creatures you can imagine. Including the one at the top of this post. We spent a lot of time together, not connected by the thin strand of a Zelda battle wi-fi connection, but on the same side of the room, threading needles and smoothing fabric.
The kids still send each other virtual gifts on Webkinz, and I still find myself throwing miniature scultures in the gabage. Afterall, I don't have much use for a tiny mobile made out of broken pencils, string pulled from a t-shirt hem, and magic markered pop tabs. But when I throw them away now, I am less likely to sigh with frustration. Instead, I take the time to look at them first, and enjoy for a moment the transient beauty of small creations.