Usually, this time of year, my squirrel instinct hits hard. I want to gather supplies, stash away stuff for the future, add something new to our home or gear. Black Friday madness has never appealed, but since the internet blew up, I do watch for sales on the things I’ve had my eye on. Typically, I do lots of scouting to be sure I have a good price. It extends into our holiday season, too – I usually have big plans for making, baking, hosting. This year, though, I’m not feeling much pull to buy things beyond what we really need. Or do extra things. Or to try to be someone who does everything right.
I choose less tension during this lovely, sweet, dark, emotion-heavy season. I choose simple. I choose honest. I choose fewer, better things. I choose to be bold and kind and firm about this, and only accept into our world the things and relationships that serve me, my love, and my kids. It’s really hard, and really so very good. Having kids has cleared my vision in so many ways, and given me courage (stubbornness?) to be more decisive in all areas of my life. https://photos.google.com/u/2/photo/AF1QipOj-ORhlsntZ2-UzMxTtjc6p4Kh03WvwJ6udYPYhttps://photos.app.goo.gl/dxpDJNGv5XYm5j4N6
I like to give experience gifts, or handmade gifts, or gifts that inspire creativity, or things that are made with skill and whose makers (the ones who sew, or build, or design) go home with money in their pockets to live in safety and comfort.
If you want to be my new best friend, give me some soft locally-sourced yarn or take me to a class at the fabric shop in Northeast so I can finally learn to alter clothes to fit better. [I realize this statement has effectively made almost no one want to be my new best friend, but remember, I’m practicing honesty. I also would be pretty into a night at an AirBnB on a lake, which is slightly less old lady.]
Lately, I spend about half my life (and my precious, precious energy) sorting through, organizing, recruiting, giving away, or selling child-related goods. Some of it is inevitable, because kids grow fast. I want easy access to the next size up when they add an inch overnight. Some if it is that I care a lot about dressing my kids in clothes that give them the freedom to be who they are. They’re still little enough that they haven’t built up much for likes or dislikes yet. It’s prime time to dress them in all the colors and patterns, and all the soft, natural fabrics. If they like princesses in a few years? No prob. Have a princess shirt. If they like cars? Same story.
But I won’t impose too much gendered stuff on them just yet . Let’s let them be little, let them explore all the things in freedom and innocent curiosity. This takes an immense amount of sorting and sifting on my end. The world would really, really like to see my daughter exclusively clad in sparkly pink and my son in things that say “Tough Like My Dad.” Maybe they’ll like those things later. Okay. But maybe she’ll love navy blue, and maybe he’ll be soft-spoken. I want them to never question their hearts’ joys and their true selves, even in something as trivial as the clothes they wear.
This takes a ton of effort, and I question myself sometimes, feeling like I’m the only one who notices or cares about this, or like I’m being unkind to people who want to give my kids lots of gendered stuff if it doesn’t stay around too long. I know I’m not alone, and it comes from a place of compassion for my babies rather than unkindness toward others. But it’s not an easy or clear-cut thing. Usually, my solution is to dress them both in sparkles and trucks.
Since the pace of life has sped up in the past couple years, I’ve slid deeper than I’d like into a tendency to buy a few new shirts for myself or clearance kid clothes during a mad-dash Target run. When I do make a grab for some cheap, new stuff, I wind up thinking about the people who made those shirts. Are they getting paid reasonably, and working in a safe place? Where that cotton is sourced – is the grower taking care of the Earth that I love so much? What about the waste involved – the leftover fabric? The unused dye? I’m taking it home to put on my baby’s body – does the person who made it have clothes and food for her baby?
Thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs (my usual go-tos) come with all those questions, too – they all started new, in a store. Except that I’m not surrounded by unreal images of people teling me what I need to look like in the Unique store. And I’m not perpetuating the cycle of fast fashion. Instead, I’m using what would otherwise be wasted. I like that. I like using up the crust on the bread, and squeaking out that last bit of toothpaste from the tube. One of the yoga yamas is non-harming, and another is non-stealing. Thrifting and using up what I have feel like acts of kindness and consciousness of what is mine to use – and what isn’t.
I’m pulled toward communities that support minimalist clothing purchases, particularly those that consider all the steps in the process to get the clothes made. It feels really, really good to save up for one beautifully-crafted, classic piece of clothing with a wide-open history. No secrets in the relationship between me and my linen dress – I know where she’s been, and how she came up in the world.
I’m not quite sure what to do with the kid situation just yet. I’m notorious for giving super not-fun gifts in the moment. Oh, yay, a piece of paper that says someday we’ll go on an adventure. Whoopee. Doesn’t do much for Christmas morning excitement when you’re five, huh? But in our home, I hope that simple is so normal that it feels yummy and absolutely satisfying. A few, precious hold-in-your-hands gifts, plenty of time together, lots of peaceful traditions to fill our hearts.
I love the generous spirit with which gifts are given. I love the idea that when one person sees a pretty, or useful, or whimsical something, it reminds him or her of a loved one. That they want to spend their money on that beloved person, and watch the smile or laugh or delight when the gift is opened. It’s sweetness at its best, and it’s hard to also see that the love there is only one the tip of one super complicated iceberg.
In our house, we talk about wheat bread vs. white bread a lot. I think I’ve mentioned it here before. You know how, when you were seven, the best thing in the world was the cheap, store-bought white bread with butter and jelly on it? It had about zero nutrition, but that squashes-into-nothing texture and quick hit of refined starch was heaven. It still is, let’s be real.
But eventually, you had some really good fresh brown bread from a bakery. Maybe it was honey whole wheat, or oat and flax. It filled you up. You didn’t have that crash that comes after a Wonderbread sandwich, or a need to eat more and more to feel full. Even though it was good for you, it hit the spot.
I think we’re all in different phases with these questions of gift-giving/getting, consumption and complexity versus simplicity. We all have different levels of comfort or discomfort, hurt feelings or guilt, when it comes to gift giving and “stuff” accumulation or refusal. It’s complicated, and surely there’s no one right way.
That said, our planet and our hearts are hurting, I think, thanks to the ever-present push to buy more, be more, do more. Save the planet. Live your best (most fashionable, young, with-it) life. For many of us, there’s also a pressure to be everything to everyone. It’s just not possible.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for feeling more solidly rooted in my sense of who I am in that gift-giving, stuff-managing picture.
I’m grateful for words. For music. For a two-year-old who insists all adults sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat on endless repeat. For a baby boy who is pretty sure he’s discovered nirvana in the form of squashed peas. For a partner who laughs, and argues, and sticks to me with a loyalty that shatters and fortifies my heart at the same time.
I’m grateful to the people who make my clothes, to the planet that supplies the materials, to the people who love me (and my little fam) and want to give us gifts.
I’m grateful for my super-stunning and kind siblings, their spouses, their babes. I’m grateful for my parents, for my mother-in-law, for the way our relationships evolve and deepen as we all move into new life phases.
I’m grateful for the friend who will meet me this Friday for a long-overdue coffee date and yoga class sans offspring (YES. Yes.). I’m grateful for the friends who will send me turkey emojis today, and big virtual hugs, because we might as well be related and really, we are. A different kind of bloodline, that one – made of mutual love for real, true, eyes-open living.
I hope that the tension that comes with this season – navigation of buying (or not) and gifting (or not), the overwhelm of the need in our world, and the darkness of the days – is softened, faded for you. I hope you find ways to share your time, your love, your particular life and story and resources, in a way that leaves you feeling a resounding YES in your heart. May you reach over the top of that Wonderbread loaf and find yourself that slightly more challenging, infinitely more sustaining honey whole wheat toast.