Monthly Archives: October 2014

Branding

I never thought too hard about why I objected to branding when it came to kids’ stuff. I just found something about it instinctively inappropriate. I could never really understand people who declared: “Oh my child loves The Wiggles/Hi Five/Peppa Pig” (for the record I actually do quite like Peppa Pig but that’s another story.) I mean, as the parent surely you are the one who determines what your child is exposed to? I realise once they start school it’s a slightly different story, but I knew for a fact that MY child would NOT love “The Wiggles” because I find them intensely irritating and would therefore not let him watch them. (So far, so good). One of the mothers in my mothers group (she actually left after a couple of months but we stayed Facebook friends) declared that, at 6 months old, her daughter could say “Dora”. My first thought was “Yeah right!” and my second was “How tragic”.

I’ve always consciously tried to avoid branded toys. We accidentally ended up with a Thomas engine, which Master L refers to as “Thomas” because it took us months to notice the names of the vehicles were written on the bottom and this green engine’s name is, apparently, Luke. So we got that wrong, but who cares? I’ve always avoided branded clothes, cartoon-character and action-hero pyjamas (which is quite difficult actually), I guess because I didn’t like the idea of “forcing” my child to become a fan of something specific, preferring him to form an interest in trucks/animals/planes in their own right.

And so various scenarios have popped up over the years which have reinforced my aversion to branding and allowed me to articulate some of my specific objections

  1. Cost- When shopping for Lego for my (now 10 year old) nephew, I was shocked to see that plain-old use-your-imagination-and-build-your-own-thing Lego was half the price of Harry Potter/Barbie/Star Wars Lego. Some of the parts for the Thomas and Friends train set cost $100!!! Crazy- $100 for a kid’s toy which you can’t even use in isolation!
  2. Duplication- Identifying something with a brand encourages buying more stuff and duplicating kids’ belongings. In the last couple of weeks I have started thinking about Christmas presents for my little nephews. I liked last year’s strategy of giving experiences rather than stuff, but circumstances have made that much harder this year. So I asked my sister-in-law what she might want for her kids (who have so many toys they literally don’t know what to do with them). She told me “Any of the Thomas and Friends wooden railway set, or any Postman Pat or Fireman Sam stuff.” Now, I don’t have a particular problem with Postman Pat, I actually quite like Fireman Sam (Mr L’s first language is Welsh and so we have the Welsh-language version Fireman Sam DVDs, which helps me justify letting Master L watch them considerably) and, as it happens, I can’t stand Thomas, but it wasn’t my opinion of the particular TV shows that influenced my reaction. Whatever happened to kids having “a fire engine” or “a train set” (which Master L does, in fact, have)? Why do kids now have to have the Thomas train set AND the Chuggington train set, or Postman Pat’s van AND Fireman Sam’s jeep?? My 10 year old nephew now has millions of Lego bits and pieces because he has about 20 different Star Wars Lego models. Sadly, I’m not sure if his brain or the Lego is adaptable enough to build something non-Star Wars with the millions of bricks he has, or if he has even thought to try.
  3. Fashion status- And apart from the cost and the needless duplication of plastic and metal bits and pieces which seems to be a way of life now in our throw-away society, the branding of kids’ toys promotes a sense of fashion status very early on. I know Master L, at almost 3, is too young to be aware of this, but I bet by the time he turns 4 and certainly by the time he turns 5, he will be aware that other kids have the Thomas train set and he has the generic version and that there will be status associated with that. Having said that, I know that as a 7 year old, I always felt slightly envious of kids who had Barbie dolls and all the Barbie paraphernalia that went with it. Even with my slightly less cool Sindy doll, I almost never got the “proper” Sindy clothes for her to wear, I had to make do with the £2 version from the town market. And my friend who had a plastic doll she used to call her Sindy doll would receive scornful comments at school such as “That’s not a proper Sindy doll” (including from me). I do recall a certain sense of missing out from not having the brand-named versions of most things, although on the rare occasion we were given something “proper” (like the My Little Ponies from my uncle), I realized pretty quickly they were actually fairly boring. I don’t want to be the clichéd, uncool, crochet-wearing mother who says “Just because everyone else has it doesn’t mean you have to have it too” but by the same token, I like the fact that I’m now not really a brand-name kind of person. I don’t buy designer (very often) and if I do, it’s because it’s the best one I can find and I can justify the expense rather than simply because a specific person has lent their name to it.

So, for now, we will continue to avoid Thomas and Postman Pat and I will no doubt read this post in a couple of years and smile at my idealism. Next week for his birthday, Master L will receive a mini soccer goal post set and some yellow diggers. All wrapped in Lightning McQueen wrapping paper.

Energy

I have talked before about my changing perspective of my parents and how I hate the feeling I am turning into them. This feeling was magnified recently by a two week visit from them. My fingers were itching to post about the many issues I had with their behaviour, but I realised in essence I’d be re-hashing this post.

So instead I thought I’d try and identify what it is about them that I don’t like and don’t want to become, or pass onto my children, rather than just rant in a teen-rage style, generalised objection to their presence.

One of the things that really struck me was how very low energy they are. In the murky depths of my memory lies some reference to high vs low energy personalities during our very basic psychology lectures at uni. I’m sure there was some kind of 2 x 2 matrix (evidently popular with basic psychology theories) where high/low energy was plotted against high/low motivation, or effort or something, which correlated to overall productivity- ie you can compensate for being low energy by pulling your finger out once in a while and trying really hard to achieve something worthwhile. I can’t find any reference to this specific model on the internet, which quite possibly means I either imagined or misunderstood the entire thing, or that in the last 20 years, theories have changed. All I can find are Myers-Briggs-style introvert/extrovert scales which, while similar in concept, are not quite the same.

So seeing as I can’t back up my observation with any objective or at least widely observed kind of evidence or reference frame, I should probably explain what I mean with examples.

By high/low energy, I don’t necessarily mean physical energy, although high energy people do tend to be physically active as well. It’s more of a state of mind, an attitude. My parents started each of their days with us slowly, they luxuriated each morning by sitting around in bed drinking tea (two cups each) every morning, before having a leisurely shower and then eating breakfast together. Cereal AND toast. This probably represents the fact that they are retired and don’t have much to get up in a hurry for, but it was really irritating when I’d been up with Master and Miss L each morning since before 6, to then have them not be ready to get going for the day much before 10.

But I don’t think lying around in bed is what makes them low-energy, it was more their attitude that irked me than their routine. Their interactions with the kids, for example. They would sit and watch them play. Everything was very passive. There might be a bit of book reading. There was some wandering around the garden after them, watching them do stuff. There was a lot of “Hmmm?”-ing and “Oh, yeeees!”ing and “Really?”-ing. While I know it’s not fair to compare them to Mr L’s parents (I’m not sure why I say it’s not fair, but anyway), the difference was startling. My mother in law, in response to Master L’s requests for the same story/game/train-track-build 100 times over, would respond with “Come on then!” put down her tea, get shoes/books/other paraphernalia ready and engage enthusiastically in said requested activity, regardless of convenience (or some would say hassle) factor. My own mother’s response would typically be “Well not now darling, I’m eating breakfast” or “Yes ok in a minute, let me just finish my tea”. Not once did my parents initiate an outing that involved the kids (“Shall we go to the park? Do you want us to take them out somewhere? We thought we might go to xyz and give you a chance to rest”).

The evenings were similar. 5 o’clock was beer-o’clock. Watch the kids eat dinner. Watch the kids in the bath. Watch, watch, watch, while I got out food, pyjamas, nappies, milk, books, then hung up towels and took dirty clothes and empty cups and bottles downstairs where they waited around murmuring “is there anything we can do to help?”. That’s a little unfair, a few loads of washing up were done and some toys were put away… But as far as I’m concerned, all the washing up needs to be done at some stage and all the toys need to be put away, so I did the rest.

I know, I know, they’re the grandparents and I am the parent. They’ve done their dash, they’ve raised their kids (with daily declarations from my mother about what hard work it is and not one acknowledgement of any of it being worth the effort, I got the distinct impression they felt slightly smug and wanted to point out what they had been through and what I had now chosen to enter into). There is no rule of grand-parenting, that says you are obliged to change nappies (my Mum changed about 4 in that 2 weeks) or buy gifts or take grandchildren on outings or get up early to entertain them and have the throw Weetbix at you…. But there is also no rule in my house that says “Feel free to come and stay for 2 weeks while my husband is away, under the auspices of helping out, only to encumber me with two more mouths to feed and voices to listen to”. Again, harsh and perhaps a slight exaggeration, but that’s how I felt at times, that it would actually have been easier if it was just me and the kids.

But I digress, this is meant to be a discussion of high/low energy personalities, if such a thing exists. By nature (or nurture) I think I am probably low energy. Yeah ok, so being constantly tired etc doesn’t help but it’s not like I thought I’d be getting 8 hours a night with 2 kids (or even 1): I knew what I was in for. And it’s not like pre-kids I was one of those crazy can’t-sit-still kinds of people either. Luckily, Mr L is (again, probably by nurture) high-energy. Until now, I thought I was just free-loading off his energy. He suggests something and I say “Yeah! Let’s! Great idea!”, knowing that he has the tenacity and drive to make things happen and see them through that I just can’t seem to summon de novo (typified in several of our holidays with kids). But having looked after my parents for a week, I think maybe some of his energy and high-energy personality may have rubbed off on me. There were days when my parents were happy to just sit. The record was 6 hours sitting reading in the sun…. like who does that???!!! And it was me going “Right, I’m going out for a walk” or, knowing we were all sluggish and bleuch, dragging everyone out for some fresh air cos I knew it would make us feel better. Filling the gap between afternoon sleeps and dinner with a bike ride or trip to the park. I mean it’s all relative, and like the introvert/extrovert axis, put me in a room of low energy people and I probably seem like an absolute dynamo, but put me in an over-achievers’ convention and I’ll be the one in the corner groaning “Do we HAVE to?”

And so, what have I learned? As a child, I remember many quiet, often boring hours spent waiting. Waiting for my parents to wake up/finish dinner/finish their tea, wanting to spend longer riding bikes or at the park, but always being hurried on because my parents wanted to get home (to more tea and books and TV). I would have loved to go camping or walking or sailing or a whole host of activities. I would have loved (and benefitted from) the chance to go running with one of my parents or done things in the evenings other than watching tv. One of the best holidays we went on as kids was to a place called Centerparcs, where there were activities all day- we played badminton, went sailing, swimming… it was awesome. So different from our usual sit-around existence. A few years I got to go to day camps which were run at school and they were so much fun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my parents to have run a holiday-camp at home, and I do think kids need to be encouraged to find their own entertainment sometimes, but there’s a balance.

Most of all, I don’t want my kids to sit around all their childhoods and then look back and say “I wish I’d been given the opportunity to do that. And that. And that.” And I don’t want them to look at me when I retire, or when I visit my grandchildren and say “Far out she’s hard work, when’s she going home?”, I want them to say “Wow, she’s so great with the kids, we really love having her here.”