Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Great Recession

From the bean of Green Bean.

Photo courtesy of Gerben Van Erkelens

"You're old enough now to learn how to fold laundry," I tell my four and a half year old. Works like a charm. He proudly walks over to the bed and watches me demonstrate how to fold cloth napkins or pair socks. "Come get me when you're done," I instruct and hurry back to the kitchen where a pot is gurgling on the stove. Tonight's dinner. A grand total of $3 worth of ingredients - all locally grown or home made. Enough to serve us two dinners or a a few lunches of leftovers.

Giving the soup a stir, I go check in the garage. My oldest is inside helping his father load the equipment from last weekend's camping trip up in the attic. He stands up straight, puffing out his chest, and grins at me. "I'm helping dad."

"Great! When you're done, you can help make lemonade." He lets out a whoop. Making lemonade is a big boy job, and a tasty one at that.

The little guy is done with the laundry and offers up a pile of neatly folded napkins and socks tucked tightly together with their mates. He then goes to bring in the mail while I turn on the oven and put a loaf of bread in. "Look mommy!" He waves a letter with his name on it. We open it and find he's been invited to another birthday party. A party in the park. Instead of gifts, the invitation instructs us to bring food for the Second Harvest food bank. His friend "wants to share his birthday with the community."

My eyes well up for a second. I'm a sucker for these things and I stick the invite on the fridge with a magnet. I think about what this economy has done to our family, to our kids, to ourselves.

For all the bad news, the lost homes and schools unfunded, this recession has given us something worth much much more.

Crazy thirty-kid birthday parties replete with dozens of Toys R Us gifts are passe. As are teens with the newest cell phones and designer handbags. This generation will truly treasure the gifts they are given, the things they earn. They'll learn to fight for important things - like an education or a habitable climate - and let their X boxes go by the way side.

Umbrella parenting is a thing of the past. Who has time to monitor their child's every little move, to devote hours a day of quality 1:1 time playing with their child. There is work to be done, dinner to be cooked, the house to be cleaned, the garden to be tended and no reason the kids cannot help with all of it. Sure, we find time to build a Lego castle from time to time and read together every night but my kids are much happier learning how to do what we do, being responsible for chores, contributing.

Overscheduling has bottomed out. Who can afford all those expensive after school activities and schlepping kids from place to place. Park and rec classes and free time abound. As do visits to the library and time with moms and increasingly dads, who are also not working.

Tropical getaways complete with a "kids camp" are fading away in favor of a week at a local state park. There, kids hunt for banana slugs and learn to identify what poison oak really looks like. They roast marshmallows and hone the ability to craft a truly scary ghost story.

Take out, restaurants and frozen dinners are a true luxury now with homemade dinners, served family style, on every table. Responses to my recent offer of 1940s recipes on freecycle were overwhelming. The handwritten recipes eventually went to a woman who'd been out of work for a year and learned to cook to save money. She now makes dinner for her family every night from fresh, whole food ingredients. Healthier food, happier families.

Speaking of fresh ingredients, vegetable gardens (call them "recession gardens" or "Victory Gardens" they're all the same) are everywhere. Seed sales have soared and hatcheries cannot keep their chicks in stock. Two years ago, I couldn't find stuff for home canning to save my life. Now I walk past aisles of it at all the local grocery stores and Target. The Grow Your Own bandwagon is so overloaded at this point, it can barely get a move on.

Sure, this economy has been painful. But its also been a boon. We often admire the character of those who lived through the Great Depression, the earnest values and close family time of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her fellow pioneers. Those people, though, were a product of their times.

And, so too, will we be.

That is why, in my mind, this recession has been great.


balmeras said...

Love this post! I too feel like a lot of good has come out of this recession. I have seen levels of kindness and people helping others like I haven't seen in years. It gives me hope, which is a very good thing. Thanks for sharing! - Bethe

Eco Yogini said...

what a beautiful post- i am feeling extra emo today and also welled up at the 'share his birthday' part.
I loved this post.

also- fresh lemonade is AWESOME.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, but a pipe dream where I live. The recession has done none of the above where I'm at. Cell phones for 5 years olds, Playstation 3s in every household(except mine), and birthday parties here are still raking in the worthless plastic items that will get used for 3 mos. and then tossed aside as the kids move on to the next best thing. Sadly, my community and most around me have none of the things you described going on. I wish we did......truly.

The Mom said...

I also love the changes with the new economy. While we still see many big birthday parties with plastic toys, we're also seeing many more people saying no to the bigger is better mentality.

I have more people asking me questions about gardening, cooking and canning. Its wonderful that more and more people are making changes. Slowly we're getting back to where we need to be.

Jessica said...

My mother-in-law and I went on a walk to look at other people's gardens. It was great to see how many people were growing edible plants-- even just a couple of tomato plants tucked in the corner behind the flowers.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I, too, got a little sloppy reading this post. I think I'm going to have to try that for my daughter's birthday when she turns 6 next month. It's unlikely she'll go for it, but we'll see. I think having her deliver the collected goods herself will make her feel really proud. And, she gets enough crap from my family that she could certainly spare gifts from her friends.

I'm not seeing much in the way that the economy has changed people around here. It's pretty much business as usual in my area.

Anyway, I must be ODing the kids on Little House on the Prairie because my son announced this morning that he had a dream last night that he killed Laura Ingalls Wilder. And, I'm guessing that was not in a good way.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

Crunchy, I'm laughing so hard about the Laura comment. Too funny!

I agree too that there are good things coming out of this recession. The thing I'm noticing most are the haves and have nots. For every person who takes note of the recession and makes positive changes in their lives and the lives of others, there's still 2 or 3 who put stubbornly their blinders on even more tightly than before. (Unfortunately, a lot of those are my family!) It saddens me, because in a blink, the tables could be turned on them.

Green Bean said...

Bethe: I agree. Kindness is definitely on the rise. People are reaching out and pitching in and hopefully realizing what they've been missing out on all along.

Yogini: Glad I'm not the only one prone to blubbering. :) Not only is fresh lemonade awesome, free of scary ingredients and refreshing. When you have a lemon tree, as we do, it's practically free! Beats the pants off of Coca Cola any day.

LJ: I'm sorry to hear that. Certainly, we still see some of the excess but its get less and less. Hopefully that will spread to your neck of the woods.

The Mom: Indeed, we are getting back to where we need to be. Like you, more and more people are asking how to preserve food or grow it or for made from scratch recipes.

Jessica: I'm with you. It's undeniable. I'm seeing so many more edibles in front yards or peeking over back fences than ever before. A definite movement is afoot.

Crunchy: We've always gone the "no gifts, your presence if your gift" route but more and more families here are collecting food for second harvest. I think that party invite was the six or seventh we've received this year that asks for food donations in lieu of gifts. The more kids do it, the more its not so strange. As to the Laura Ingalls Wilder thing, tooo funny! Ironically, I almost wrote this post as a lessons learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Sounds like me and your son are on the same wavelength.

Robbie: Yup, there are still many clinging to the way things used to be but the tide is turning!

Farmer's Daughter said...

Thanks for this post. With the baby on the way, Ed and I are trying to think of a nice way to get what we need but skip all the unnecessary crap that we don't need. I know our family and friends are happy and want to show us with gifts, but I'm not sure how to say we appreciate gifts that we'll use and need, but don't want crap!

Any suggestions? :)

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Such a warm, relaxed feeling - not having to keep up with the Joneses. Your family sounds happy!
Unfortunately, my area is also non-stop "gotta have it". Everyone is in a senseless rush, when they could be so much happier if they looked around at what they already have. Send some calmness this way!
Best wishes!

Daisy said...

Call it Victory Garden or Recession Garden, it's still my backyard garden. Cooking fresh has improved my family's health and it sure tastes better!

flowers said...

I couldn't agree more!!!!!! Great post.

Pure Mothers said...

I love this post! I couldn't agree more! Your family life sounds wonderful - reminiscent of mine from the 70's. I think the recession has been good too. It has brought us back to our roots.

Donna said...

Great post! I'm jealous that your 4 1/2 yo will fold laundry. Mine thinks that it's something to be thrown around, put on his head, hidden, whatever.

I don't think our community is quite at the level of great recession acceptance that yours is. We've got a lot of hurting people. A recent give-away of school clothes was absolutely swamped and the Salvation Army is begging for donations. It might be making people more aware and more generous, though.

Green Bean said...

Abbie: That is SO tough. Unless it's people that you're really close with, its nearly impossible to pull off. I guess you could do something kind of like the birthday party invite. Maybe let people know that you'd like to do something special for your new child - an orchard named in his or her honor, farm land set aside, or something along those lines. Another nice idea is to ask for a tree or something. My mother planted a tree for my grandmother when she passed and I think it is a lovely and living reminder of a great life.

4 Bushel: I think it hits everyone at different times and in different ways. Certainly, there are a fair share of Joneses here. But fewer and fewer as the days (and lay offs) go on.

Daisy: Hear hear!!

flowers: Thank you!

Pure Mothers: Yes, it is similar to my life in the 70s. Maybe we don't need to go back as far as the pioneers then. Just a generation or two to get back to our roots.

Donna: Yes, he's a gem. :) The other one, though, is all about throwing the laundry in the air. As to communities hurting, I think once the hurt starts, people start to find silver linings. One friend's family has had no income for over a year. Despite the extreme thrift, the struggles, she told me how happy the kids are to have everyone home. That prompted me to take a closer look. Hopefully change is growing there too.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

I've heard more and more people talking about how much happier they are now that they are making an effort to live a simpler, less expensive life. I'm hoping that the changes in attitude stick!

inadvertent farmer said...

Awesome thought provoking post...thanks so much! Kim

Melinda said...

I love that the recession has turned families toward simplifying and working - and playing - together. One thing we've noticed in the city is that people are no longer going on trips, and instead they are getting together with friends at all the new local happy hours this summer. It's such fun! Also, friends with children are having more play dates rather than hiring sitters, inviting one another over for dinner instead of going out, having potlucks instead of all-out parties. I love the community building this era has brought. Not to mention a renewed respect for elders who have lived through the Depression...

daharja said...

Thanks for such a positive look at the recession.

Here's hoping for positive change.


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