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.