On Consumerism and Daddying

I am alone.

My wife and daughter are in India, dealing with the recent passing of my father-in-law. The past two weeks have been hysterical; as the stay-at-home-and-work component of our marital pair, I’ve been responsible for organizing tickets, organizing passport renewals (thanks to Ed Markey’s office for their support!) and emergency visa authorizations. And, because I have massive amounts of work (including a Very Important Concert), I couldn’t go with them.

I am, instead, trying to clean and straighten the house, so that when they return in mid-summer there is order instead of uproar. Which means that I’m currently dealing with a problematic epiphenomenon of 21st-Century American Childhood. To wit, a serious stuffed toy problem.

My daughter is five, and I think her teddy-bear count is somewhere in the low thirties, with stuffed penguins running close behind. How in Sam Hill did this happen?

I am a dedicated anti-consumerist, or I’d like to think so. When I enter a Temple of Consumption, I hunch my shoulders slightly and fix my gaze straight ahead, a grim, put-upon expression on my face. I try to walk directly to the item I need, spend a minimum amount of time contemplating options, and get out. I am reconnoitering in enemy territory.

All this is utterly counter to the attentional style of a five-year-old. Often I’ll be taking her out to a playground or to walk in the woods — but if we also have to go into a drugstore to get some toothpaste or an equivalent domestic staple, the potential for drama is huge.

The damned impulse-grab stuff next to the cash registers is particularly appealing to her sensibilities. In a Micro Center, she fixated on a small note-clip in the shape of a penguin while I stood in line waiting to pay for my computer part. I tried to talk her out of it, but this initiative failed, as I’m sure any parent could have predicted. If I’d had my wits about me I would have told her, “No toys today” when we went in — but it was a Micro Center, not a toy store, and I honestly didn’t expect to have to fight off tiny penguins.

I’ve begun to make some toys out of wood. The day we made a dollhouse was fabulously exciting for her. She likes watching me make small wooden animals with a jigsaw, a file, a carving knife and some sandpaper, and once the basic form is completed, she gets involved with painting them. My hope is that we will be able to spend enough time doing this that she is infused with a DIY ethos.

Two cats. I did the faces all by myself, but everything else was collaborative (that is, I did the woodworking while she “helped,” and she did the painting while I “helped”).

Meanwhile, many of her friends have My Little Pony dolls and horrible Disney crap that makes me bitter and cynical (Bad Dad! Baaaad Dad! Bitter cynicism is bad for little girls!) One slightly older girl pal has been saving her allowance to buy an American Girl doll. If you are not the parent of a girl child, you do not have a clue about this. On the other hand, if you have a daughter, you’re getting American Girl catalogs in the mail, and if you’re like me, you’re hoping you can hide them before your kid gets wise. I think this line of toys is grotesque. These are extremely lifelike “children” with lots of accessories…and they come complete with interesting back-stories:

Kirsten Larson, 1854

Kirsten Larson is a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory with her extended family. She faces the hardships, challenges, and adaptations necessary to adjust to life in America such as learning to speak English. Kirsten was one of the first three dolls produced by American Girl in 1986. Unlike many of the dolls, Kirsten’s books have maintained their original illustrations (with the exception of the covers). On September 25, 2009, American Girl customers began receiving letters from the company announcing the pending archiving of Kirsten and her collection,[7] which was subsequently announced on the company’s website on September 28, 2009. Kirsten was officially ‘archived’ on the AG website on January 1, 2010.

Addy Walker, 1864

Addy Walker was the fifth doll added to the Historical line and remains the company’s only African-American character. Her character is a fugitive slave who escapes with her mother from a plantation in South Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. Addy’s stories explore themes of freedom, familial love, prejudice and racism. The six book series was written by Connie Porter and originally illustrated by Melodye Rosales and Bradford Brown, but were later redrawn by Dahl Taylor.

A stage adaptation of Porter’s Addy book series was commissioned and produced by the Seattle Children’s Theater in 2007.[8] Addy: An American Girl Story was subsequently taken on limited national tour from January through May 2008 through Kids Entertainment, Inc.


I dunno. I am unconvinced that this back-story business is anything more than a merchandising mechanism designed to convince adults (grandparents and doting aunts, I suspect) of the dolls’ utility in building a knowledge of American history. Which in turn will lead them to buy the dolls, which are usuriously priced. I understand that many adults buy them but don’t unwrap them, assuming they will increase in value over the years (“Don’t touch that doll, Tiffany! That’s gonna be your first year of college one day!”).

To add irony, there is now a homeless American Girl doll.

This whole business seems completely wrong to me. When my daughter plays with her toys, she’s making up stories. Sometimes they’re as elaborate as a Cecil B. DeMille production; every single animal she’s got is involved, sometimes flying from room to room (multiple plot threads simultaneously!). Getting a doll with a story already fixed in place seems to undermine the whole point of doll play, which is the exercise of the imagination.

And, of course, they’re all made of plastic.

Plastic, plastic, plastic.

What’s a dad to do?

When is the right time to lower the boom on consumption? When is the right time to tell your kid the awful truth about all that gaudy crap she wants RIGHT NOW?

Here’s a link to Fifty Ways To Challenge Consumerism.

And here’s a link to a good piece: What Is A Parent To Do About Children and Consumerism?

And what about you? Do you have suggestions? Pet peeves? Coping strategies? Cute kid stories?

We need to end the dominance of consumerism if we want an Earth for our children to inherit. And they need to be free of it so they can live happily:

Pressure on children to have the latest designer clothes and computer games is making them miserable, according to a study of modern childhood.

It concludes that the consumer society and failure to protect children from commercial pressures is partly to blame for deteriorating mental health among young people. Rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses have risen in the past two decades with one in ten children now suffering from a diagnosable condition.


I started late, but as of 2005, I’m a father. I honestly don’t understand how anyone with a child or children can ignore the environmental crisis. My daughter looks at me and thinks I can solve all the problems of the world. I wish I did more; I wish I bought less.

Goodnight, sweetheart. I love you.


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