I’ve been thinking a lot about convenience lately. About all the many things I do, buy and consume in it’s name. Being the parent of a young child, especially in the early years, you feel entitled to certain conveniences because your life is already a lot of work. But something about that outlook often feels wrong to me, and I’ve been contemplating how to reconcile the way I feel with the way I live.
It’s not going to be an easy task. The desire for convenience runs deep. It’s how I was raised, it’s what our culture tells me I deserve, it’s readily available at each and every turn. Fast food drive-thrus, online shopping, grocery delivery, overnight shipping and instant gratification at every turn. It’s almost more difficult to avoid certain conveniences, and I won’t deny that I benefit from and enjoy many of them. But in an effort to keep our life simple and sweet, be mindful and intentional with my time and money, and be good steward of both my own and the world around me’s resources, I’ve found that convenience is often an excuse for me to consume mindlessly.
For example, I’ve really been wanting to get Emmett some wooden blocks lately, as he’s in a developmental stage where I feel like he’d really appreciate them. Just your basic wooden blocks, nothing fancy. I’ve had my eye on a beautiful handmade set in a Montessori magazine, but they felt too pricey. I looked them up on Amazon yesterday, but was annoyed that I’d have to wait two days for them to arrive. Two days! Preposterous! I checked online to see if they were in stock at the local Toys ‘R Us, which they were. And though it is one of my least favorite places in the whole world, it’s also a ten minute drive away and we could very conveniently have the blocks the same day. I printed out the prices from Amazon, since the store promises to match competitors, and we hopped in the car to set out on our very important block acquisition.
As I slipped into the car after depositing Emmett into his car seat, I quickly glanced at my Instagram and the first photo on my feed was one of Standing Rock, with this quote in the caption:
Every dollar and decision you make in life either funds people that want to protect or hurt our planet- the choice should be easy if one simply digs a touch deeper than living blindly, consuming without consciousness.
Oh boy. All that time reflecting and determining to consume mindfully, and there I was, caught redhanded! Jumping in my car to head to the nearest box store, just so I don’t have to wait a couple days or pay a higher price. Mindlessly planning to consume materials, without knowing who made them, what they were made with or if those folks and materials were treated well. Mindlessly choosing to buy yet another new toy for my spoiled kiddo without thinking of the effects my purchase might have on people who aren’t so easily able to buy toys for their own families.
Though Emmett and I did head in to the grocery store to grab some ingredients for dinner, we did not go to said large box store. And I determined to wait until I found either a set of blocks lovingly handmade by a real person, or a good secondhand set that we could give new life.
While working on this post, I took a few seconds to check Craigslist. Wouldn’t you know there was a nice big bunch of wooden blocks listed for $17. I emailed the lady, we picked them up, cleaned them and were happily enjoying this set by 5 p.m. How much more effort did it take to send a few emails, drive 3.5 miles to someone’s home, exchange a few pleasantries and a few crisp bills? Hardly any at all. We didn’t even end up having to wait more than a few hours after I originally planned to buy the blocks, and they were a lot more budget friendly than the ones I’d originally intended to buy. We bought a big bunch of Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles the same way a few weeks ago, and there’s just something about giving well-loved toys a second chance that really speaks to me. Very Toy Story 3.
I totally understand that we can’t always afford the time or money it takes to buy local, used, or handmade. I know there’s another side to every story and we all have our modern conveniences that we aren’t super interested in parting with. Trust me, I won’t be giving up hot showers or my electric toothbrush anytime soon.
I also understand what it’s like to be on a pretty tight budget and not necessarily be in the position to afford the level of quality you’d like to. It’s been really important to me for a long time to buy as locally and organically as I can when it comes to groceries and I’d love nothing more than to join the local food co-op that’s starting up in our little town (and I hope to, eventually!). But realistically, Trader Joe’s runs about 60% cheaper than my local options, and we are a one income family. I can get almost twice the groceries (still mostly organic!) for a lot less money and that’s just what I need to do for my family at this time. But even when circumstances prevent us from our ideal, I think we can still do our very best to educate ourselves about where things are coming from and take the extra effort when possible to eschew convenience and consume with a conscience.
Aside from our adventures in block acquisition, yesterday was kind of a tough day. Emmett napped for a total of 35 minutes the entire day, and from the hours of 1:30-3:30 p.m., insisted upon being in my lap at all times. He was teething and overtired and had about a five second attention span. I was trying to write this post, so I’d set him up with an activity, get him going, and try to slip back into my desk chair to continue writing, only to very quickly be greeted with a little boy tugging on my leg and whimpering sadly. Those two hours were a near-constant whine, and I got pretty frustrated. All I wanted was to get something done! He was just making things so inconvenient.
I walked out of the room covering my ears and collapsed into the oversized armchair in my bedroom, sighing heavily. My little shadow wasn’t far behind, but in the few seconds I had alone I realized that my frustration with Emmett was actually pretty unfair. He wasn’t trying to inconvenience me, he wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t do, he just wasn’t able to entertain himself at that point in time. And realistically, if I wouldn’t have been so focused on my own plans and had been paying better attention, I would have recognized that and adjusted.
So many of my worst frustrations in motherhood have come out of times like these. Times when I wanted to do something else. Times when my expectations of a situation, or even of Emmett, were different than what he needed at the time. So many of my frustrations come out of feeling inconvenienced or put out by what is required of me. Of feeling like I don’t have what it takes or I don’t want to give what it takes.
I’m not saying we have to sacrifice every single thing in our lives for our babies, self-care is very important too, and so is time to ourselves. All I know is, when I get into those moments of feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or down right inconvenienced, the times that I chose to take a breath and let go, put my own stuff aside and try to see more clearly what it is that Emmett needs…well those are the times that always end up turning into something pretty beautiful.
I’m not especially proud of myself for running away to my room. But it did allow me a quick second to see the situation clearly. I scooped him up into my arms, grabbed a few layers for each of us and ran down the stairs. I slipped my feet into my running shoes and, still carrying him in my arms, ran out to the car to grab our Ergo. We hitched Cash up in his harness, I performed the acrobatic feat that is getting Emmett onto my back in the carrier, and we set off out the back door to take advantage of the quick break in the rain.
All we did was walk down to the stop sign at the end of our road (maybe a mile, there and back). It wasn’t anything really special. But the sun was shining, everything smelled fresh and clean, and not even 50 feet out of the house we were both calm. Emmett snuggled his hands down in the sling and lightly patted my sides as I walked along. We talked about the cars that drove past, stopped to see the antique Farmall tractor that lives in front of the pie company and even got to see some construction equipment digging in the parking lot. I let out the leash so Cash could prance around in the puddles that currently line the side of the road, and for some reason Emmett found this particularly hilarious and giggled almost the entire way back. I couldn’t help but laugh too. And our couple of challenging hours were quickly forgotten with just a few minutes outside in the fresh air.
It was not particularly convenient for me to take that walk. I got wet and muddy, and it was pretty cold. I hadn’t planned on it. And it certainly derailed my work for the afternoon. But good grief was it worth it! The rest of the day was downright pleasant, and Emmett and I enjoyed a lovely dinner together before he went (easily) to bed. All he needed was a change of scenery and a little investment from his mama. A little more mindfulness and a little less management.
I’m not writing this all out to be preachy or tell anyone what to do; more than anything I’m writing it out to remind myself. But I just really, really, really think it’s worth it. To place intention and mindfulness above convenience, slow down and make the extra effort, practice wise stewardship and conservation, and live with our eyes open to the ways our consumption impacts others. To think through our purchases, how we spend our time, and the way we interact with those we love. To make the choice to dig a touch deeper and pursue a somewhat inconvenient life.