Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Prices Paid

I woke this morning listening to sound bites from the most recent debate of Chief Executive hopefuls. Most of the talk blended into a painful reminder, along with the light on over the dresser, that it was time to get the day started. What finally shot my eyes open and started my a.m grumble was hearing the esteemed Senator from Illinois say "no toys from China for my kids this Christmas."

Thanks. Thanks for that. I just love when I have it pointed out to me what a bad mom I am. On a national broadcast, for all the world to hear, that I am going to soon be called up in front of the Superior Mothers Tribunal and dressed down for my consumer misdeeds.

"You bought a toy made in China, DIDN'T YOU?"

Yep, you caught me. I'm guilty. GUILTY! But, tell me this, Superior Mothers of the World, where exactly can I get that red metal diecast LIghtning McQueen race car that fits perfectly in my two year old's chubby hand? That very souped-up red racer that brings full-throttle joy to his entire being when he says "CARRRRRRRRR!" as he finds it wedge in the cushions of the couch after a painful two-day separation? It's the very toy that was on sale for 30% off at the nearby BigBoxORama made by a reputable company of the U.S. of A... that happens to have all their products manufactured in China. Tell me where I can buy a made-in-Thermopolis version of this same toy and I'll do it.

What? No such creature? So, what should America Consumer Mom do, as she's being hit with over 3000 advertisements a day? Avoid the purchase entirely so that there is no chance of any toxic substance possibly coming in contact with my child? I guess we can all rest easy knowing that our homes on our American soil are without any risk of toxic exposure...just don't look under your kitchen sink and certainly don't walk down the aisle at the BigBoxORama to find all the iterations of bottled cleaning products with the warning "Harmful If Swallowed" printed on every side of the bottle. For the sins of buying a toddler-handful of Lightening McQueen, I go through monster bags of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, trying to wash away my sinful consumerism with the dollops of homemade raspberry jam and peanut butter on my countertops and battleship lineoleum from the 1950s. Don't tell me what toxins have been in that flooring. I just don't want to know.

I heard a powerful sermon this last Sunday in church from a retired minister that touched on these very topics of our small place in this very large, throbbing and suffering world. The recalls of potentially hazardous toys in this country miss most of the big picture. Eighty percent of toys made today for the US market are made in China. Wrap your mind around those numbers and then ask yourself "what about those making the toys?" What toxicity and dangers are those individuals, doing their best to make a yuan to feed their family, exposed to each and every day? I know that if tomorrow the American appetite for cheap, Chinese-made toys and products sold from Main Street to BigBoxORama dried up, other products for other markets would go into production overseas. We are all just cogs in the big, consumer-culture machine, no doubt, and I'm as culpable as the next over-stressed mom being pushed to her limits, driving the station wagon full of yowling toddlers who can't find their favorite car or BubbleHead Barbie.

Just thinking about this cycle has thoroughly depressed me and makes the Christmas spirit difficult to grasp. It's been a tough day due to the horrible dog that lives at my house. Problems with that animal that are beyond my control erupted into a full-blown, angst-inducing crisis. I screamed at him, I exiled him to the Siberia of our back yard. I shopped online for bark collars. I contemplated dogicide. I really wanted to do other shopping, shopping for me and only me, just to make a bad situation go away. Something stopped me. Retail therapy wasn't going to help and I knew it. I think a lot of that kind of therapeutic consumerism occurs this time a year, as we try to make up for a year of hurt feelings, inattentiveness, and general malaise by purchasing things we can or can't afford without a smidgen of thought of the item's origin or where the gift might wind up. Is that singing whatzit really going to repair or bolster that flagging relationship? Will the biggest whozit on the shelf equal a well-behaved fill-in-the-blank? Does it really need to wind up at the Powell Landfill before the next yard sale season? What horrible industrial accident or toxic exposure happened during its construction in Micronesia? Who really paid for its bargain basement price tag?

Really, I'm not trying to discourage support of a local economy during the holiday season. I'm just encouraging thinking. Think where your dollar is best spent. Think about the usefulness of what you are giving. Think about how long the life of the item will be and who will really have the joy from it. Enjoy advertising as entertainment. Need more encouragement? Go watch The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard at and gain from the experience. Unfortunately, there is no single simple thing to do, because the problems facing our wide world just isn't simple. But everyone can make a difference and the bigger the action, the bigger the difference. By powering down, wasting less, talking to everyone about these issues, making your voice heard, detoxing the body, homes and the economy, plugging into the community, parking that car and walking, changing the paradigm of "more stuff is better!", and recycling... from the trash to elected officials that don't see the forests because all the trees have been cut down, and by buying green, fair, local, used and less. The little changes will begin to build into the big changes that are needed.

The disappointments of today will certainly improve for me as the holidays approach. I'll just be concentrating on knowing what is really important and what chaff can fall away. I'll write that note to say hello to someone I care about instead of feeling a panic to send something off that might never be taken from the shelf once it's placed there after it's opened on Christmas morning. I'll mend that funky sweater one more time before it goes to the discard heap. I'll accept my out of style shoes and install another florescent light bulb. I'll do my best not to murder the dog. And, I'll probably give the toddler that most intriguing and promising toy of all... an empty cardboard box.


bhd said...

You did publish this. Right? Right?


Alison said...


On a related note, I just read an idea on another blog. For the past three years, this woman has implemented the following Christmas list for her two boys:

Something you WANT
Something you NEED
Something to WEAR
And something to READ

Isn't that brilliant? I will be telling my kids that next year, I think.

Beanie said...

I'm with BHD on this -- it's brilliant! So are you.

And Ali, I love your Christmas present philosophy. I think we'll go there too.