Eschewing Baby Einstein

I feel that parenting is like wandering around in a maze without a map. There are so many things to keep in balance: giving your child enough attention, but teaching them to spend time on their own too; buying the things your child needs, without overindulging wants; setting limits, but not expecting more than they are developmentally capable of; and many more. I chose the name “Charting the Labyrinth” for this blog because I hope that by sharing my experiences and discoveries I might save someone else from the same doubts or at least let them realize that they are not alone with those feelings.

Today’s quandry is: how many toys should a child have? I try to live simply and consume intentionally. The fewer things we have in our house, the less time we spend cleaning and caring for them, the more space we have, and the less money we spend. Plus, less energy is wasted on manufacturing things we don’t need. When I buy something, I try to remember to ask myself: Is this something I actually need? Would it really make me happier? Where am I going to keep this? Do I already have something I could use instead? When it comes to toys, I don’t know the answer to the first question. What is the optimal number and type of toys for a child to have? I don’t want to deprive James. I want him to have enough toys to keep him entertained and ensure good brain stimulation. But I don’t want to spend more money than necessary, and I don’t want to bring clutter into our house for no reason.

I avoid trendy toys such as most Baby Einstein products. So many of them have only one use without much room for creativity. I prefer more classic toys that allow a child to experiment, invent new uses, and pretend. Usually James is pretty happy. He will cheerfully play by himself, crawling under chairs, “reading” books, driving his trucks around the living room. It doesn’t seem like he is missing anything. Then we go to ECFE or some else’s house. There is a parking garage with a ramp for cars or a little train that he can ride on or push in front of him. He loves it. I think to myself, I should really get that for James. He is missing out because he doesn’t have a toy like that.

How have other parents dealt with this? How do you figure out if it is a honest recognition of what is best for your child that is speaking these things in your mind, or if it is just the consumerism of our culture talking? Am I simply too submerged in the “judge our worth by what we buy” mentality? How can I even start answering these questions? I don’t have the option to step outside of all cultural influences and analyze my feelings with logic alone. I don’t know of any scientific studies that have looked at this. I guess I just keep doing what I’m doing: Talking with my mom friends and muddling through.

Does anyone out there in blog-land have any suggestions?

Unreal Reality

I was listening to the radio this morning while going about my chores and heard a rebroadcast of an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift. Basically he is concerned about the rising number of unmotivated and underachieving boys. I know this is something that we have been hearing for a few years now, our boys are in trouble, but what really got to me was a comment about success in video games being more important to these boys than success in real life. This scares me.

It really irks me when someone says “sigh” instead of actually sighing or says “LOL” instead of actually laughing. The emoticon vocabulary is a poor approximation of the depth and nuance that make human interactions so special. Leave the emoticons online! Similarly, World of Warcraft should be a fun diversion, not an obsession that becomes a substitute for real life achievement. If you see the moon outside and comment with surprise that it looks a lot like the moon in WoW, you need to spend more time away from the computer.

I know these games can be great fun. Before James’ birth, my husband, my sister, my sister’s husband, and I had our own guild in WoW. I miss being able to play with them, but I’m not willing to pay for a subscription that I don’t have time to use much any more. Real life and spending time with my wonderful son take precedence over an enjoyable but ultimately meaningless experience.

There are so many areas where a drive to succeed is needed, why waste it on the virtual world? I know that in real life it takes a lot longer to make a difference, and there there are fewer accolades for those who do make a difference, but the potential reward is so much greater. Reducing poverty, slowing climate change, dealing with peak oil, resolving your-favorite-international-conflict: all of these require involvement not apathy. It is easier to be cool online, but a friendship with someone who knows and cares about the true you is much more satisfying. I believe the popularity of Brad Paisley’s song “Online” is proof that he hit a nerve for quite a few people.

I plan on reading Dr. Sax’s book, and I am sure I will have more to say when I do. For now, let’s just be careful that our virtual fun is not at the cost of things that truly matter.