When I first began The Fasting Consumer challenge, more people questioned me about birthday parties and back-to-school than about soap and toilet paper.
Because, being a Fasting Consumer as an adult is one thing, but to not buy anything when you have kids? Unthinkable. Of course, there’s the question of clothes (they’re growing, after all), craft supplies, lunch supplies, and the 13th time replacing that mysteriously lost sock, spoon, sweater, or shoe. (How does one lose a shoe, anyway?) But, no. Surprisingly, the greater concern trumping even these practical worries seemed to be The-Birthday-Party and heavens to Murgatroid, THE Back-To-School. Since when was the latter even a thing?
And when did birthday parties become more than Mom baking a cake while pals and I trashed the house and stayed up until [places pinky in the corner of mouth] “midnight” watching Home Alone 2? And when did Back-To-School became this paramount event resembling Christmas in August — a yet-but-another feather in the cap of consumer-based capitalism?
I’m not altogether sure. But, I am happy to report that The Fasting Consumer has now survived one toddler birthday, one school-aged birthday, and one back-to-school for a second-grader. And it really wasn’t that difficult. In fact, it was lovely.
My son turned two in June. We had just moved from Toronto to our temporary housing in San Jose and had the use of a pool. For my little guy, I couldn’t think of anything he would rather do than swim. On his birthday we made pizzas–his favourite meal–on the outdoor barbeques. I bought him his birthday cake only because all our bakewear was still in boxes en-route from Canada. He opened a present from my parents (a Waldorf doll), a present from Oma and Opa (a little tow-truck), and a present from my grandparents (some “big boy” underwear). He knew it was a special day. He had time to enjoy each of his presents (and enjoys them still), and the four of us had a care-free, stress-free, and wonderful time celebrating a life. Not a photo-op. Not a sea of lavish gifts. Not a chance to impress friends or neighbours or fellow parents. A fun day for a two-year-old. Period. Fasting Consumer or not, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
The whole “Back-To-School” thing puzzles me. My daughter had a backpack at the end of last year. She also had a lunch bag, a pencil bag, and a water bottle. Did they self-destruct over the summer? No; they did not. They’re just as good as they ever were. They don’t have TV characters on them, so they won’t be “outdated” and they’re of the same rugged quality that one would expect from any Mountain Equipment Co-op gear. They don’t need replacing now and my hope is that they won’t for all of elementary school. When it comes to paper and pencils and duotangs and such, doesn’t every house have a plethora of these things lurking in the depths of desk drawers and boxes? I mean, really. I had to slice a couple used pages out of the front of a few exercise books and I put new labels on some old folders, but it was no big deal. Back to school: done.
Except for one thing. We’re at a new school in a new city and I find out (with less than a week’s notice) that the school is a uniform school. Checkmate. If we’d been here longer and knew more people, I might have found a network of parents selling/swapping uniforms, but as it was, there was not much I could do. I was lucky, however, to find the exact requirements for my daughter’s uniform–in her size–at the Goodwill for a grand total of $3. She needed a second outfit for laundry days, though, and I was able to find one discounted after the first week of school for a total of $20. Not bad. Still a Fasting Consumer cheat, I realize, but dare I say an unavoidable one.
For my daughter’s seventh birthday we gave her an experience. She wanted to go horseback riding. Instead of a couple hours of quasi-organized chaos structured around gifts and loot-bags and candy and crafts and cheap plastic dollar store toys, we rented a car and drove her and a friend to a small farm north of The City. The two girls rode horses and later shared cupcakes with a few random farm kids. (I needed extra singers and they were all too happy to oblige for the small price of a frosted muffin.) That evening we had a family dinner and my daughter opened her presents from Gammy and Fer, Oma & Opa, and my grandparents. She got some new books and a new skirt (for fun) and some much needed socks and a pair of new shoes. The cool thing is, I suspect that many kids wouldn’t consider a new pair of practical everyday shoes “a gift,” especially when they are replacing shoes that are clearly too small and are falling apart. But Aurora had to wait for these shoes, knowing that because of “the game,” we couldn’t buy her new ones and that she would have to wait for Mama and Papa’s birthday present. She was counting down the days until she got her “Blundstones just like Daddy’s” and still, over a month later, seems genuinely in love with them. Cool kid. (Says an extremely biased parent.)
I do believe that the Fasting Consumer has made us all–and my daughter especially–more appreciative of what we have. I wasn’t worried about birthdays and back to school at the start of this challenge, and now, not only am I not worried, but I’m excited to have found new and wonderful ways of celebrating and to proclaim that it is possible: kids can have birthdays without their parents buying stuff, and Back-To-School? It’s really not a thing. Summer’s over. Dig-out the school bags and Go. Back. To. School. Done.
Now, about my husband’s missing bike shoes … (Yup; you probably assumed it was my kid who had lost a shoe. Nope.) … That’s another story.