Easter is coming. That means the invasion of cheap plastic toys is coming too. I imagine our personal household invasion has already been purchased, sitting in plastic bags (of course!) waiting to be packed in styrofoam peanuts (the non-recyclable kind, though we always are able to donate them back to a shipping store) and shipped across the country, using who knows how much fossil fuel, just so my kids can play with them briefly and then either break or forget about them, so that they can either be dumped in the landfill or dropped off at a thrift store for some other kid to briefly take an interest in and then discard. There will be candy as well, made up almost entirely of high fructose corn syrup and artificial food dye.
Every year I beg my mom not to send this crap, and every year she does anyway. Last year, I thought I had convinced her not to send those little plastic eggs that open up so you can stuff them full of additional junk. She promised she understood my objection and would not send any of those plastic eggs. I was too trusting, or perhaps I had forgotten that my mother, who insists that everyone always follow her rules, will bend and twist my rules into something recognizable only to her. She’s great at complying with the letter but not the spirit, which is why last year, after I explained our objection to the plastic eggs, after I begged her not to be so wasteful, after I made another of my endless arguments about our minimalist and environmentalist ideals, she sent my kids GIANT F-ING PLASTIC EGGS STUFFED FULL OF PLASTIC TOYS, CUPS, AND CANDY. They were the largest plastic eggs I have ever seen. I almost think she special ordered them “Hello, plastic egg company? How big can you make those eggs? No, I need them bigger than that. Can you make them extra thick too? Are there any non-recyclable plastics? Great, use that.”
This is how I imagine my mother interprets our conversations:
I say: Mom, we are really trying to reduce the amount of toys and junk we have in the house. Please don’t send the kids any toys for easter. They don’t need them, and they don’t want them. Wildling has been an active participant in the reduction of her toys, and she is much happier with fewer things.
She hears: Mom, we are trying to stop you from being a grandparent and fulfilling your grandparently duties. We don’t love our kids, and we would like to teach them about deprivation and suffering.
I say: We have been asking you for years to please listen to us. We don’t want a lot of cheap plastic toys that were made in China. We believe that they are harmful for the environment.
She hears: I have a secret list of criteria for toys that I will allow in the house, and I will not tell you what is on it. But it changes all the time, so what was ok before is different now. I also don’t want you shopping in any of the stores that are convenient for you, which is why I pretend to be opposed to items that were made in China. But I once bought Wildling a made in China toy, so I am a colossal hypocrite and you should ignore all of my requests.
I say: No, mom, stop arguing with me. Of course we tell Will’s parents the exact same thing. But they don’t buy toys for the kids anyway, so I don’t know why you keep asking.
She hears: My strict, irrational, and hypocritical criteria only applies to you. We let Will’s parents buy whatever they want, whenever they want.
I say: Mom, we try not to give the kids foods with high fructose corn syrup or artificial food coloring. We don’t think it’s good for them, and we don’t understand why those ingredients are in food anyway. We don’t ever buy anything with HFCS or artificial food coloring, except that one time that I didn’t read the label on frozen fish (of all things! Yellow #5, really?). We aren’t stopping you from buying candy for the kids, but we would ask that you be mindful of the ingredients. If it’s something we don’t think the kids should have, Will just takes it to work and puts it in the community candy bowl.
She hears: We made up some ridiculous food criteria because we want to ruin childhood, and also we want to show off our superior label reading skills. Plus we’re hypocrites because of that one time with the frozen fish which we shouldn’t have been eating anyway, because we are vegan (NOTE: No, we aren’t, but my mom doesn’t understand that either). If you buy candy that is too much fun for the kids, we take it away and Will eats it all, probably in front of them while they cry.
I say: You know, there is a Trader Joe’s near you, and they don’t have anything with HFCS or artificial coloring, so that would be a great place to buy candy. I’m trying to make this easy on you.
She hears: I want you to go to the store a half mile further away than your usual grocery store, because I am a hypocrite who pretends to be an environmentalist but I want you to drive farther to get what I want you to buy. Also, I am insulting your intelligence since I am implying that you need to go someplace where you don’t need the literacy skills necessary to read a label, which is ridiculous because you never need to actually read the ingredients, you just need to look at the front of the packaging and see if there are any pictures of fruit on it, because that’s how you know if something is healthy.
So yeah, that’s it. That’s how my conversations with my mother go. I expect that in the next couple of weeks there will be a box arriving in the mail, and I will grit my teeth and let the kids open it and later I will sit down with Will and a glass of wine and say “Why? Why, why, why? Why can’t I get through to her?”