Tomorrow I'm going to see a good friend of mine, who woke up one morning and found herself pregnant. She is pretty much the last female with a fully functioning set of ovaries that I ever expected to have a child, and I'm pretty sure that she would say the same for herself. This is not to say that she'll be anything but a fantastic mother, because she's going to rock (especially with my mentoring program), but just that this was not part of her five-year or ten-year plan or plan of any configuration. She may be going at this as a single mother - signs are pointing this way - but she has been very brave and forward-thinking about the whole thing. Pretty much like when she found out she was pregnant: her reaction was like, "Hmm. This was not what I was expecting, but what the hell? Bringing up a little feminist vegan hellraiser sounds kind of cool." (I don't think that she's going to need much of my mentoring after all.)
We're going to be meeting in a shopping mall in her town, a massive one, a mecca of unbridled consumption, and I'm going to have my son with me. When I first suggested meeting there, my friend was a little surprised.
"You want to meet in a shopping mall? I thought you rejected all that consumerism." She wasn't judging me, just surprised.
I explained to her that this shopping mall was really perfect, because, it being winter in Chicago, we'd be able to walk and talk, not worrying about being cold or having to break up our conversation every few minutes to duck into somewhere else. We also wouldn't have to be concerned about taking up a table for a couple of hours in a coffee shop and deal with my son when he would start to get bored. At an enclosed shopping mall, my son can run up and down the ramps and we can talk as we wander around. These are the sorts of things that never would have influenced my choices even five years ago; all that I needed was my coat and purse before bolting out the door, even less in the summer. Now that there is someone else, though, going places requires much more consideration. That first year of having a baby - and, oh, the two years after that of toddlerhood - was a challenge for someone who is spontaneous by nature. Did I have a pacifier? A back-up pacifier? Extra clothes? Extra diaper cover, just in case? A couple of toys to distract him with if he got upset and he wasn't tired or hungry? Sunblock? A sun hat? Snacks? A drink? I was not one of those mothers with a diaper bag big enough for penguin to comfortably reside in, but, still, I needed those things for our outings not to result in a disaster.
So my son will be spending tomorrow afternoon in a shopping mall. Despite my own misgivings - my disgust at the purveyors of clothing made by children in sweatships for children in wealthy nations, my distaste for the branding that is wrapping its tentacles around our children and their imaginations at such a young age - he will have a great time. I explained to my friend that he doesn't know Disney or most of that consumerist "stuff", and that doesn't matter to him: what matters to him is that he'll get to run up and down ramps and ride on escalators. I know that he is still going to be influenced by what he sees and that it will help shape his beliefs about consumption, but every day he is out of our carefully managed home environment, he is exposed to this world of materialism and consumption (of women, of animals, of junk). The best thing that I can do is try to raise a child with a healthy skepticism of mainstream values and strong convictions about the things that really matter to him: happiness, fairness, compassion and vegan cookies.
So I'm going to a shopping mall tomorrow with my son, and we're both going to be fine.