When I think back to my childhood, I don’t really remember specific toys or objects that I was, for want of a better word, obsessed with. Of course Christmas and birthdays would roll in and I’m sure I’d ask for certain things but nothing that ever consumed me. My siblings were the same. Even when I speak to friends now and we talk about Barbie dolls, I never had a single one. I had a Cabbage Patch doll named Sandy and a soft Lego dog that was red and zipped up through his tummy as a holder for your Lego but that was it. For me, my childhood memories are of days spent outside. Playing on the jumbo trampoline, sprinkler going underneath, towing a go-kart behind a ute in our paddock, riding horses, building cubbies, tearing around on a slip and slide that was actually just black plastic sheeting, riding bikes at the BMX track… it was predominantly active play.
It was always around before I became a parent, the want for more, but it feels like it became even more intense since having Baker. From the pram we bought him to what we would swaddle him in, I was totally sucked into the label game. We bought an icandy pram and I never even blinked when I paid $1400 for it. Granted, it was our only big purchase along with his car seat, everything else was hunted down second hand or on the cheap but if I had my time again I probably wouldn’t spend that much. I’m naturally a bargain hunter. When I do online shopping, I always go to the sale section first because why pay full price when I don’t have to but I absolutely had and still have moments where I’m consumed by labels and objects, regardless of their ridiculous price tag, when it comes to my child. Why is that?
It’s about perception, whether we like to admit it or not. It’s as much about how you want your child to be perceived as you do as a parent. As if the more money we spend, the better off they will be and the more they will be accepted. It’s like we want our children to have the best of everything, even to their detriment. What are we teaching them? That more stuff means more self worth? That owning the latest ipad at the age of eight somehow makes you better than a child who doesn’t have one? I feel like it’s such a scary road to navigate. How do you tread the path of instilling enough gratitude in your children without going all ‘we don’t accept gifts, instead please donate to this charity in said child’s name’ when birthdays roll around?
They are kids. They need toys. My question is what is the ideal amount? This doesn’t just go for our own kids but what we gift to other people’s children. My niece had a party for her 8th birthday last year and her loot, ridiculous. It even included a freshly tendered $50 note from a friend because her Mum works night shift, got the party date mixed up and ran out of time to buy something. Firstly, high five to friends Mum for working so hard and secondly, high five again on generosity but what does this mean now for my niece’s expectations for future birthdays? The height of the bar makes me nervous and I’m really scared about raising my child in a world where one’s possessions rank higher than anything else.
I thoroughly enjoy the gift of giving, as cliché as it sounds. Seeing someone open something you spent serious time making happen or something you scoured the globe for knowing how much they would love it, I’d take that any day over being given something myself. For my eldest sister Tahnee’s birthday last year, I wanted to get her something special. She’d helped me so much last year. And by helped, I mean carried me when I couldn’t carry myself. She is a photographer. A fucking good one too. So after hunting for something unique, an email popped up in my inbox from Etsy showing personalized camera straps. Yes, yes, yes! It was leather and I had it made it colours to match her business palette and it was monogrammed. It came from Ukraine, took six weeks to arrive and I was so excited when I put it in the post. She finally called when it got to her and she just loved it. Really loved it and that filled my heart more than a gift someone gave to me would. I know it will probably take a while but I want my son to realise that the gift is in the giving much earlier than I realised it myself.
I’m lucky enough to have older sisters who have spent more time mothering than me and in turn, navigating the ‘presents’ road so they have tips and tricks. For example, when buying a birthday present for your child’s friend, make it small and educational. Another, when your children ask for ipads from Santa, you tell them he doesn’t do technology. Clean cut. Easy. This Christmas, my whole family spent it back where we grew up. My two sisters and I, with our families, all stayed in one house. So it required a little more communication on how many gifts each child would get given they were all opening them together. Tahnee, who has been mothering the longest and seems to have presents fairly worked out, said four. The four looks like this - Something they want, something they need, something they wear, something they read. Works for me! I tried to be really conscious and bought a wooden truck, craft stuff, and my absolute favourite, a submarine and seaplane from Green Toys. If you haven’t heard of them, get on it. The toys are made from 100% recycled milk jugs, made for the bath or ocean, can even go in the dishwasher for a clean and they are cheap. Tick! For me, this is going to be my approach to limiting the excess for my child. Buying consciously and sustainably as much as I can.
So after opening a truckload of gifts between them Christmas morning, we came to eat breakfast outside and what was my son and nephews playing with? Giant cardboard boxes, like they were the best thing, EVER. Those boxes were cars, houses, boats, whatever their minds let them believe. I sat and watched them. The box acted as a booster for their creativity with zero limitations on the fun you could have with it. So, if you invite my boy to your child’s party, expect a cardboard box. If they hate it, at least you can use it to carry all their other presents home in.