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May 2006
Editorial: Real Love is Made in China
By Maureen C. Wyse

 

My mom grew up in a world of zero waste. She didn’t grow up a hippie in a commune without processed foods, but rather, a poor Mormon. Everything, absolutely everything, was reused in some way or another. Their food stamp purchased yogurt containers were used as dishes and their stained secondhand curtains became school dresses and outfits for the six children—Sound of Music-style. Every scrap of food was fought over. To this day my mom hates both peanut butter and bean hodgepodge soup. Trash did not exist. There were never gifts at Christmas, sparing not only wrapping paper but also packaging of any kind. And certainly every piece of furniture and appliance was passed down or found. My mother’s life was less than easy.

Yet this survivalist resourcefulness did not carry over. Although mom is resistant to tossing out half-eaten leftovers until they turn moldy, trash runs rampant in the Wyse household. (Although I do have to applaud her for signing up for neighborhood recycling—thanks mom!) Every week my mom overcompensates her having nothing, by making sure we have enough three times over. There’s always enough food to feed all of Uganda simply because she never wants her family to experience what she went through.

Similarly, because her birthdays and Christmases were giftless, our celebrations are large and even a bit excessive. Always an enormous pile of presents under the tree, a stack of birthday gifts by the mantle and a pair of festive socks for absolutely every holiday. My mom especially loves novelty gifts. I have at least a dozen mini keychain board games, countless plastic doodads, a talking clock that is shaped like an alien called Nobby, a rubber chicken slingshot, a skull and cross bones umbrella hat, and other junk gathered in piles all over my house. I can’t use it. I can’t throw it away. Although this stuff may be gaudy trash to some, to me they are gifts from my mom.

My birthday recently passed and, without fail, I received a box of stuff. Star shaped post-it notes, a photo keychain, heart shaped plastic bowls and, of course, socks. As I was opening my very own, “unique” rubber ducky, complete with tattoos and devil horns, all I could think of was my mother’s face. No doubt she thought this was the most wonderful gift. She probably even showed it off to my family, saying, “Isn’t this just perfect for Moey!?” A co-worker eyed me as I held the plastic duck and said, “Your mom must really love you.” And as I turned the gift in my hand thinking of my mother’s thought and care, I looked down to the ducky’s behind and said, “Yes, real love is made in China.”

The love my mom—and many other moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, friends and loved ones—show, is often manufactured by large corporations and produced by exploited hands. The crux of the situation is: knowing how happy dearest loved ones are when giving gifts. My mom has fallen prey to consumerism simply because she never was able to before. She loves it because she can. This is the problem for so many of us. The market aimed at us to buy and consume, especially on holidays, is enormous. Gifts abound, but so does an outrageous amount of waste. We buy, we gift wrap, we receive, we throw away—it is a perpetual cycle. I love my mom, I love her intention, but at the same time, I feel horrible. In the past few years, I have expressed my thoughts on reduction, and there has been change, but at times I have to bite my tongue and realize that sometimes my mother’s joy is made in China.


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