Beanbag Parenting

Recently, I have felt like a beanbag for my children. The shape I am in doesn’t matter; what matters is that I can make them comfortable and provide support, regardless of how angular their elbows or how heavily they are feeling the weight of the world. You don’t think about beanbags. You just need them to be there so you can throw yourself on them.

As well as being a constant assault on the senses, I have always thought that children live by the law “I am awake, therefore I make mess, need feeding and create laundry”. Which is why, whilst Inuit famously have 19 words for snow, mothers should have at least 19 different words for exhaustion. But, whilst it’s immensely frustrating, having your incessant, daily provision for their needs so utterly taken for granted is in some ways a privilege.

They can’t live their lives on the beanbag – growing older needs to bring with it a greater recognition of the mechanics of life. And you can’t let them take you for granted forever.

I started to try and express this in a poem. Then I realised that mothers weren’t the first to feel this way…

My Child

Your children do not see you are the ground beneath their feet.
Their window on the world, they look through you to those they meet.
They notice your provision only when it might fall short,
And thrash out all their feelings without giving yours a thought.

But underneath their feet is where you catch them when they fall,
They see life with their minds framed by your worldview on it all.
They carry something with them of your forethought every hour,
And your secure embrace is what they need to grow and flower.

‘My Child, let my Divine love be the rock on which you stand,
Your needs are met through all that was created by My hand.
There’s nothing you can say or do to lessen My embrace.
The love you bear your children is an echo of My grace.

So be their rock and comfort, be their guide and compass too,
And lead them daily in My love, and you will point them true.’

 

 

 

The unintended consequences of ‘free’ gifts

The scale of our unintentional consumption is terrifying. I realised this recently when the school requested odd bits of plastic and recycling for an art project. I haven’t dared to ask what will happen to them, but took the chance to amass some bulging bags of bits that I won’t throw away and can’t recycle, some of which I probably moved across the continent with us, but for which I will never have any use.

What was revealing was how much of it I never wanted in the first place. Some was included ‘free’ for my convenience – plastic scoops that came with every packet of powder or individual craft-kit paint/glue containers. Then there were the ‘free’ toys from magazines or party bags/cafe lunches that you can’t refuse. And most ironically, there were the ubiquitous ‘free’ plastic wrist bands given out to help a cause.¬† All these items may have come into my house at no financial cost to me. But in no way are they ‘free’.

In fact, I’ve started to realise that anything you are given comes with an implicit statement from the giver.

“A part our planet has been used to make this item. I am now choosing to make it your responsibility to use, store and dispose of it. I consider that the goodwill I am buying from you is worth the planetary resource it took to make the gift.”

And when we accept the ‘gift’ for fear of looking awkward, or rude, we are implicitly agreeing with that judgement. We then use it, store it and dispose of it at cost to our own time and conscience. Frankly, thats often enough of a pain in itself.

But the cost is far more than that. Without meaning to, and with no evil mastermind of malicious intent, we are now in the situation reflected in recent reports by WWF and others: The unintended consequence of our desire to generate goodwill and convenience is to destroy our natural world and to create huge volumes of indestructible waste.

Madeleine de l’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle in Time”, tells this story in one of her memoirs: “A science-fiction story tells of a machine that was invented that could produce everything needed for man’s comfort on earth: food and furniture; refrigerators and radio; clothes and cars. There were a few wise men who warned people that one cannot continually take without putting back, or the supply will be depleted, but they were laughed at. After several centuries of the machine giving freedom from all material want, schools were teaching that the old myth that the earth was once larger than the moon was rank superstition. And at the end of the story there is one toothless old man clinging to a tiny and depleted fragment of earth.” (A Circle of Quiet p209)

I am not pretending that we are taking the atoms that make tigers, dolphins and bees and turning them into plastic tat. But frankly, we might as well be. It is one thing to exploit resources to sustain livelihoods. It is quite another to abuse them for no good reason. There is no question it is awkward to refuse stuff. Last week I had to apologise profusely when returning a halloween bag that came home ‘free’ from nursery. But we have to start somewhere.

We all know the value of our natural world is rarely reflected in the price we pay. Let’s start saying no to ‘free’ gifts that are costing the earth.