American Mom.

Via Marylee Fairbanks
on Jun 11, 2011
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I’m a normal American Mom. I drop my son at school, hurry to yoga class, swap kids stories with the bank teller, and destroy the Earth.

I wait in the school pick up line with the A/C running. I rest my head and close my eyes and an image comes to mind.  It’s been haunting me, accompanying me wherever I go. It’s a bird, oil covered and struggling in the surf.  The waves crash over him, his tar soaked wings are powerless. He suffocates.  I open my eyes and shake the image away.

The Yoga Sutras say the most difficult task is training the mind. Yoga teaches us to observe thoughts, note if they serve us, and release them. But as much as I try, I can’t release this haunting imagery.

My son jumps into the back seat and tells me about his day on our drive to the grocery store. I search the trunk for my re-useable bags, wipe down my shopping cart until it is 99.9% germ free, and roll into the produce section.

There was a time when I took pride in shopping with my little boy. He flirted with the female employees and snacked on pretzels blissfully unaware that SpongeBob and Tony the Tiger existed. But recently, he started watching television and has been transformed by the all-powerful Commercial. “Hey, I saw that on TV!” is his new catchphrase and I cringe if anyone can overhear.

By the time we get to the cereal aisle I’ve repeated “No honey, that’s junk” five times. I realize how confusing it is for him. The television advises that if he doesn’t eat it, own it or wear it, he isn’t worthy, yet his Mama, who loves him, says no.  Again, I repeat the junk mantra as we pass the monster trucks at the end of the aisle.

Finally, I agree to ice cream. A voice in my head prompts me to buy the organic, locally made from grass fed cows, low sugar ice cream. Abruptly, an image of a dolphin, stranded, on oil-smudged sand, enters my mind. His eyes bleeding and his mouth agape. My son drops the pint of chocolate ice cream into the cart and the clatter awakens me from the spell.

Conveniently located at children’s eye level is a tempting display of sparkly, plastic, ice cream scoopers. “Mom, can I please have that?  It’s not a toy and its not junk food”. I relent. I can’t say no again.  “Yeah” he cheers and tosses it on the top of the groceries, like a cherry on a Sundae.

This time, my unwelcome traveler shows up, in the checkout line. I imagine a pelican mired in a pool of oil, his eyes glazed. I feel anxious and struggle for a deep breath. I pick up the scooper, glittering on the top of my grocery pile. “Sweetie, we are not going to get this. We can scoop with a spoon. Let’s be grateful for the ice cream and let that be our special treat. The more I think about it, the more I know we need to put this back.”

“Well” he responds, “I know what to do Mom. Just stop thinking”.

Stop thinking, this is what we do. If we don’t like the news we change the channel or close the window on the desktop. We stop thinking because the alternative is to take responsibility for our choices and see our role in last year’s gulf disaster.

We are overwhelmed with labels to read, precautions to take and problems in the world. We stop thinking and convince ourselves that the government wouldn’t put it on the shelves if it were unsafe. This assumption that someone else’s choices are good for us requires less effort. We don’t care where or how things are made and disposed of. We only look to our immediate gratification and this lack of awareness has created a cheap, disposable society.

Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff project explains how this attitude was deliberately designed for us.   During the Depression era, President Eisenhower enacted a strategy called “planned obsolesce” to stimulate the economy.

Things were purposefully manufactured to last only long enough for us not to loose faith in the company.  This combined with perceived obsolescence, rapidly changing trends in appearance, fashion and electronics, created a wasteful attitude, furthered by the media and advertisements.

Leonard brilliantly points out, “After 9/11, when the country was in shock, our president didn’t advise us to grieve, pray or hope but instead told us to shop.”

Victor Lebow a retail analyst during Eisenhower’s presidency said; “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever accelerating rate.”

Little more than a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Scientists are still studying the effects of the toxic dispersants that were injected and the troubling photographs are no longer splashed across our televisions and Internet screens.

We don’t know what is happening below the surface and how our ocean has been altered.  The question is: Has it altered you?

The devastation in the Gulf can serve as our wake up call. Let the images serve us and teach us that every choice has a consequence. If we develop a consciousness about our choices and our consumption, we honor the finite resources of our planet and all the living things.

Join the mailing list at CHAKRAS YOGA

Other pieces by Marylee:  The Princess Of Garbage DaySing Out, Clara, and Letter From A Bully.


About Marylee Fairbanks

Marylee Fairbanks is a columnist for Gaiam, elephant journal, My Life Yoga, and, Her essays explore Motherhood and yoga, but mainly focus on her experiences with her young son and the many ways he helps her grow.

She is a registered yoga teacher and founder of Chakras Yoga and The 24 Things. She teaches Chakras Balancing workshops and yoga classes. Prior to having her son, she performed in Broadway musicals across the country.

Marylee lives in Massachusetts with her husband, son, and dogs.

Find her on her website and follow her on twitter.


49 Responses to “American Mom.”

  1. That's one of the many reasons we dumped our tv. Three years and it's bliss not hearing "I saw that on tv".

  2. Masterfully written, Marylee. Thank you.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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  3. janeray1940 says:

    Well intended but not well fact checked: "During the Depression era, President Eisenhower enacted a strategy called “planned obsolesce” (sic) to stimulate the economy."

    President Eisenhower was in office from 1953 through 1961, during the booming postwar economy. The Depression, at least in the United States, was from 1929 through the early 1940s. The president throughout most of the Great Depression was FDR.

    • Marylee says:

      Thanks for that correction! See? I should have spent less time in front of the TV and more time studying my American history in high school!

  4. Candice says:

    we too are TV free. Commercials are just too much with three little ones. I feel your pain (and love your article). I abhor the "use once and toss" culture we live in, but still can't be 100% planet friendly. We do what we can and hope it's enough, and are role models to friends, family and our little ones that things like paper towels, kleenex, foil, ziploc bags, plastic toys and anything else "disposable" are not necessary. As I tell my sons: where do we throw it away to? Where is "away?" There is no away. It is all here, under our feet, in our water and the air we breathe.

    • Franny says:

      really? tv-free? remote control to what then?
      "But today? Today I ordered pizza, handed the remote control to the kids and poured a nice, big, cold gin and tonic. Somedays are like that. So today, gin. Tomorrow, I’ll finally get off to yoga. Because dear god, tomorrow at least won’t be today." – Candice Garrett – April, 26th, 2011.

      Also – your response to a comment to this article:
      "But you know what I don't do? I don't make myself to be something I am not. "

      A bit inconsistent, eh?

  5. Debi says:

    Excellent and thoughtful article, Marylee. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  6. Hassan says:

    Hi ML, It does get better as the kids get older but only if you steer them the right way! My oldest daughter who is 12 read the "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" by Michael Pollan two years ago and has not touched anything that's not local since then. Amazing for someone her age.

    Like always great work — please keep up the good work.

  7. Candice says:

    we couldn't do it when we lived in the redwoods. Too dark and wet during the winter! But we moved to the coast and that was that.

  8. marylee says:

    Oh I wish i thought of that "programming" for this article.. perfect. Its tough with a busy little one. So easy to plunk him in front the show for an hour while I get some work done.. I need to do better..

    Thanks Patrick for writing and for reading.

  9. Janet says:

    Children are smart. My children are probably older than your son and they now say, "Those commercials are just trying to get us to buy something." Also, we make big financial sacrifices to be able to afford organic food from smaller food companies that don't have much advertising budget.

  10. marylee says:

    thanks Janet.. I hope one day my boy will see it for what it is too!!

  11. Enjoyed reading this Marylee! It doesn't get any easier as the kids get into school + extracurricular activities. Great that you're conscious and so true that many just avoid the news—there's a reason they coined the phrase "ignorance is bliss."

    You might enjoy my recent elephant post about how my son inspired me…


  12. Marylee says:

    Thanks Lynn! Clicking now!

  13. marylee says:

    thanks bob!

  14. JIm says:

    Brilliant piece, Marylee. Thank you.

  15. Jack says:

    Marylee….thank you for your article. I still remember the Gulf Spill. Fukushima is for many now the straw that has broken our backs, and continues to. I am posting a link here to Hands Across the Sands, which is a peaceful protest against off-shore drilling. Anyone can organize this event in your neighborhood.

    If you don't mind, I am also posting a link to my article, which goes deep into many of ideas you present:



    • marylee says:

      Its so difficult and feels quite overwhelming. You feel that the little things you do are scarcely enough and I sometimes give in to things which i later regret (like the cheap toys in the birthday gift bags.) I often feel like a hypocrite struggling between giving in to a child's wish and doing what I know is right in the long term for ALL concerned.

      I will check out your articles. Thanks for reading and namaste

  16. Jack says:

    I understand your feelings. I am doing an article on this hands across america event as i feel it is such a perfect and wonderful way to join together as a family, to share with our children the heart of a larger cause, to band together as community, and to voice ourselves in a deeply moving way. Please check it out…and maybe share with your children if you feel to….we are in this together, so let's stay strong and courageous….belssings to you and us all…Jack

  17. […] Jill Its actually not so hard.. i wrote a piece called american mom… in it i talk about THe Story Of Stuff an how we are manipulated to purchase at all […]

  18. Thoughtful and thought-provoking article, Marylee, thank you for sharing 🙂 Aloha

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