Reverb11: Friendship

(I loved Reverb10, where I was sent a writing prompt every day of December. It was a great way to reflect on the year and set some goals. Alas, Reverb11 is not going to happen unless I do it. So, I’ve collected the prompts from last year, exchanged a few of my own, and will select one every day.)

Prompt: Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year?

In the middle of an argument with my token conservative friend (I’m her token liberal hippie) she said “And what is with all this toy donation? Where does it say that every kid gets a toy for Christmas? Why do those parents on welfare get free toys for their kids when everyone else is scaling back? How about talking to your kids about why there won’t be toys?”

At the time I thought it was a really cold thing to say, but it’s been in my head as I watched the holiday craziness get into gear. I’ve started to think she’s right – but perhaps not in all the ways she was thinking. She meant that mom and dad should own up to their kids about how they are on welfare and only people who work have money for extras. She hates the idea that people on food stamps buy expensive junk food. She wanted to have government stores where people with food stamps could go and only buy healthy things, like bulk beans and rice. I said she should read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America before we talked further. When you are poor you don’t have time to make beans and rice… but I digress.

While I don’t see eye to eye with her on a lot of things, I do think it’s really strange that at this point in the year we are so nuts with consumerism that we buy toys for people – not food or clothes – but toys. If a kid is homeless, or both his folks are on welfare, wouldn’t he be better off with a solid meal? Why does he suddenly need a Transformer toy? When did consumption of non-essential goods become a right? When did not having the latest toy become cruel?

This Christmas morning, my adorable and well behaved nieces were allowed to start opening their presents before everyone else was ready. I was, in fact, still in the kitchen making muffins for breakfast. But for some reason the toys under the trees made their parents forget about my existence. It was completely unlike them and really hurt my feelings. The whole morning left a bad taste in my mouth. It was like watching Christmas from the outside. Watching the absolute orgy of gifts was a bit sickening and really got me thinking about how spoiled I was as a child – mountains of gifts every year! – and how I might have been a bit better off with less.

I think the toy donation thing is about more than consumerism, however. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a way for toy companies to sell more toys. I think it’s a way for companies to get us all to think that toys equal love, and that Christmas is stuff. I also think that it’s a way for us to all forget about class and injustice. We don’t want to ruin our celebrations in thinking about all the people who don’t have our resources, so we give them a toy. Because if you have a toy for your kids to open on Christmas, then we are equal. We are the same and the field is level. There is not class and all we have to do is share our stuff. Wrong. There is class. There is systematic injustice. And a toy is not going to fix it. How about instead of just getting a coloring book at the dollar store, we talk to our kids – rich and poor – about why some people have toys and some don’t?

And why don’t I make sure that my ‘gifts’ next year are donations to charities that help people out with things they really need – like trauma relief and vocational training? Now that is an idea even my token conservative friend could get behind.

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