And Speaking of Holidays
Why do I do this insanity around Hanukah? It's all my parents' fault. They gave us one day of Hanukah with presents. (I remember in particular a green velour pants and vest set in Junior High School. Went well with my pimples -- a kind of festive, Christmas colors look.) And that was it. None of this eight nights of Hanukah nonsense for us. So now, of course, I'm obsessed with doing all eight nights. Which means I end up with the same kind of hideous consumer excess as the rest of the country. Eight presents each, for four children. I spent a fortune this year, and most of what I ordered hasn't even showed up. (You want to bet it'll be here in time for Christmas, though?)
Why do my kids and I end up buying into this hysterical frenzy of consumerism? They aren't allowed to watch commercials when they watch TV -- we have TIVO and they are supposed to skip through the commercials. The problem is that they cleverly design children's television so that there is no distinction between the commercials and the shows. The show is a commercial, for the toys. Even Rosie's PSB shows all have marketing links. Remember when Sesame Street had a kind of purity? And now? Now we have Tickle Me, Elmo.
My children only watch TV on the weekends, and still they are made hysterical by the marketing. They want. The want everything they see. But what is it that they really want? The crappy toys that are advertised by and large last about a week, if that long. The kids play with them for a minute, and then go back to their tried and true toys. Blocks, dolls, and stuffed animals. Even Lego has managed to make itself pointless with the sets. Once a set is put together, then what? They sure don't want you taking it apart and playing with the blocks. Hell no. They want you to go buy another set. My house is swamped with crappy toys, even though every couple of months we clean out all the junk from every kid’s room. Before Hanukkah we have a rule that each child must remove eight items (big ones, not individual Legos, Zeke!) and either donate them if they are in decent shape, or throw them away. Only then can the new festival of consumerism, er, lights, begin.
Every year we try to figure out more ways to make this meaningful. This year's plan is to have them do eight things for other people or the world. I'm hoping they'll choose what we will do, but I'm giving them some ideas. Give gifts from those giving trees set up all over town. Make sandwiches for one of the homeless shelters. Write a letter to a child in a refuge camp and send a gift. And of course, donate money to issues they care about. The older two get two allowances every week -- one for themselves, and one for their tzedaka boxes. (Charity for those of you who aren't Jewish). They'll figure out what organizations to donate to as part of one of our nights of Hanukkah.
So isn't that nice? Blech. Perhaps I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning -- the sour, cynical and bitchy side -- but I just don't think any of that means anything. It can't compete with the hysterical frenzy of consumption that their lives have become. What do I do? Turn off the television forever? (But I love TV. I love The Daily Show, and the Sopranos, and the Office.) HOMESCHOOL THEM???? Yeah, right. Wasn't Andrea Yates a homeschooler? Two weeks of homeschooling and all of us would end up floating facedown in the bathtub. Move to another country? Where? About the only place I can think of that hasn't been infected by the American marketing machine is Darfur, and for all I know the rampaging Jingaweit are all wearing Incredibles T-shirts.
I'm going to go drown my sorrows in a two-pound box of Sees nuts and Chews.