Friday, April 11, 2014

The Trouble with Talking Toys

As any parent knows, toys that talk, play music or make any sound whatsoever are annoying as hell. Anyone who gives a gift that makes sound to a child should first have to listen to said toy on repeat for three hours and then decide if it's a good gift. Spoiler alert: it's not. But children love them and grandparents love to buy them as retribution.
This is not the problem I am referring to, however. These toys are trying to kill me via heart attack. When Emmet was one-ish I was putting groceries into the car and a man's muffled voice said something right behind me. My heart stopped, and I turned to face my attacker. No one was there. The voice came again... turns out I had a transformer car in my purse telling me to "transform and roll ooouuuuttt!"
Last fall, we were driving in the car and Emmet was quiet in the back in deep thought. Then he says, "Mama..." pensive pause... "Mama, (do you) have a Buzz?" Seeing as I was newly pregnant, driving a car, and it was three o'clock in the afternoon - I gathered he was referring to the Lightyear rather than the Cabernet variety. So I (wistfully) responded, "No, buddy, unfortunately Mama does not have a Buzz." To which he said, " I don't have a Buzz, either, Mama - I just have a Woody." Thank you Toy Story for that completely inappropriate conversation - which actually has nothing to do with what I'm talking about, I just think its funny. He, of course, gets a talking Buzz and Woody for Christmas from his grandparents. Fast forward to four days ago when he dunks Woody into a bucket of rainwater after explicitly being told that talking toys can't get wet. Woody went to the toy hospital to dry, along with a Lightning McQueen that I had to disassemble. I checked it every so often to see if it still worked and it did. Once it was completely dry, I gave it back to Emmet, he pulled his string, but no talking. Oh well, I thought this was a good lesson for him to learn. HOURS later as we were getting up from naptime, we hear from downstairs, "Howdy, Partner!" and "Yeehaw!" Our Woody is apparently possessed, talking only when he wants to. This has gone on for a few days now, and Woody seems to be getting chattier with each passing day. I sent Chad this text today, "The Woody Doll is talking a lot in the playroom by himself. So, it's just me and the voice of Tom Hanks here at the house... totally normal."
I guess I'm off to bury him in the backyard, lest I be chopped up while I sleep - I mean, I remember the ghost stories from 4th grade. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


It is easy to believe we don't have any power in today's world. With vast international corporations attempting to drive all of our consumer decisions, greedy bankers playing Russian roulette with our money, the ever widening wealth inequality, and corrupt politicians in the news every other day, it is a wonder we don't feel defeated all the time. And yes, some people have much more power  through position and wealth than the regular folks. But all of us are given 24 hours a day with which to cast a vote and a voice with every dollar we earn and spend. And as Americans, its a lot more dollars than we think. Most first world citizens are in the Top 1% of wealth in the world and we do about 90% of the consuming.

If asked, most Americans would report they value things like family, friends, church, honesty, freedom, equality, etc. But I'm not sure that is the picture of what we appear to value through our actions. And that is what we call cognitive dissonance - the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes as relating to behavioral decisions. It's something we all experience, but have become skilled at putting out of mind. But here's what our behaviors show we value.

With every reality show we watch - we are telling TV corporations, "I value this! Make more shows where women are fighting over something no one cares about, where country people's simple ways are mocked with or without their knowledge, where the most cutthroat person is revered."

With every purchase of a drive-thru burger and fries we let the fast food industry know, "I value convenience over health and taste! I would rather spend $2.50 now and pay for diabetes treatment later."

With every "five minutes" on our smartphones that turns into 2 hours we are telling ourselves, our family and our friends, "I value social media over actual conversation and relationship! Being with real people is too complicated, so I'll just look at other's people fake lives, show them my fake life and catch up with whatever wisdom famous people want to share with me on Twitter."

With every dollar we spend at companies with un-ethical business practices we reassure them, "I value cheap stuff over poor people! Sure, I know there are men, women and children working in horrible conditions for very little money to keep this product so cheap for me, but I can easily turn a blind eye. It's as if I am not also a citizen of the same world."

With every diet pill and cosmetic fix-it-all we buy, we are asserting to the company, ourselves and women all over the world, "I believe you when you tell me I am not okay! I don't feel pretty enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my skin. I will do whatever it takes to try to live up to an unrealistic image of beauty."

With every purchase we make that we can't afford we insist, "I've bought the lie! This shiny new thing will surely make me happy and fulfilled, even when all of the other things haven't."

When we fill our calendar to the brim with activities and to-dos (however noble they seem) we tell our minds and bodies, "Busy is important! I have to be all of the things to all of the people without being anything for myself. My well-being is second-tier to being important; rest and pleasure must be sacrificed! Busy is my badge of honor!"

I'm a total buzz-kill, I know. It's easy to feel like my small contribution doesn't matter - it's just a 30 minute show or a $20 shirt, I feel that way too. But if I used my time and money to reflect my actual values, instead of furthering the cognitive dissonance between my heart/mind and the life I'm living, and you did too, and enough people started making changes - things might happen. We are never going to rid ourselves of these things completely, but I think companies would take notice. They don't really care all that much about their product, they just want to spend as little as possible to sell it to you for as much as possible. So if the market speaks, they will listen... although probably begrudgingly.

Or maybe we would realize we don't actually care what they are selling us. Maybe we will see we don't understand the difference between needs and wants. Maybe we would find better things to do with our time that left us feeling more enriched instead of drained and miserable. And maybe less stuff and more time enjoying the gifts we've been given would actually make us happy. It's a radical idea, and I know I'm not the first to have it, but maybe it's worth pursuing. I want to take back my power.

"You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say." Paul Coelho in The Alchemist

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." Jesus, Luke 6:24

"The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world." Dr. Paul Farmer

"The trouble is, you think you have time." Buddha

"Mother Teresa didn't walk around complaining about her thighs - she had shit to do." Sarah Silverman

"The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart, and being thoughtful, and being generous. Everything else is crap, I promise you. It's just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don't buy it! Be smart, be thoughtful and be generous." Ashton Kutcher

"Do small things with great love." Mother Teresa

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Elie Wiesel