Mail comes to our house. Bills and postcards and renewal notices with some Chinese takeout menus for good measure. These things do not draw any interest from our children, except if they can be scribbled on.
Neither has the wave of kid-gear catalogs that come in the mail as well. We’ve been getting at least one catalog a day for the entire life of our children, ever since we foolishly made a baby registry at Babies R’ Us and they sold our information to a hundred different prolific direct mail marketers. Caveat emptor, registry users—they’ll be making money off your address until your kid is in college, and you’ll be recycling landfills full of catalogs you never asked for.
Yesterday, for the first time, our 4-year-old daughter noticed one of those catalogs—maybe it was Mini Boden—and immediately clutched it to her chest. “This is mine,” she said, and ran inside with it.
She then sat with it on the couch for a good 30 minutes and read it like a children’s book. Then she took a marker and starting circling things. The things she circled, she said, were things that she wanted to buy.
This has been building queasily for a little while. She’s been into money lately, putting coins in a piggy bank painted psychedelic colors. When it was time to buy her winter shoes that fit, she was incredibly engaged in the process, arguing for which shoes she wanted, then prancing around when we got home with her purchase (she didn’t get to make all the decisions, but it was definitely her idea to get the pink boots with a decal of different princesses on them).
I don’t know why this makes me sad. It certainly shouldn’t surprise me. This is the life she is growing into, a life of piggy banks and catalog shopping. My flirtations with anarchist communal living were short-lived and ill-conceived, and I am now a consumer in the American model as much as anyone. But I hate that my daughter, who like all kids seems to have infinite possibility within her, has to grow into and adopt the ways of a fallen world. Our ways diminish her.
There’s also something about shopping, about the oddly transactional nature of trying to find happiness in the purchase of a material thing, that is so… futile. I see her feeling good about her shoes and I think about how she’s going to learn that it’s not enough, that it’s a quick and false high, whether it’s shoes or a car or a house, that we get from acquiring things. These are difficult lessons in disappointment, particularly for people who are truly trapped in the maw of the earn-and-spend lifestyle. I don’t like to think about her having to feel that same kind of disappointment and confusion.
I am prattling, of course. Just because she has perfect skin and an overactive sense of wonder now doesn’t mean that I can prevent her from becoming a flawed adult.
But still: Mini-Boden?!