Why caregiving doesn’t always require consumerism

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For the upcoming school year, my partner and I have committed to after-school care for our friends’ two boys, ages 5 and 8, twice a week. We have no children (on purpose) and are both our own bosses. We have become accustomed, more or less, to our schedules being entirely ours: always malleable, always in our control. So it’s been interesting to figure out the kinds of things that many parents and guardians have been doing for years: how to block a calendar, how to communicate an unavailability, how to then point out that unavailability when people think, like most things in our calendars , that it is in fact negotiable. We have also sought to equip our home, for lack of a better term, in a way that prepares it for caregiving. We hang out with these friends and their kids all the time, but we spend most of that time at their house, just out of convenience for the kids. We have a few toys here (a microscope, a bunch of Play-Dohs, and of course our dogs, which are endless fun) but I feel compelled to buy a bunch of shit; basics like colored pencils, tracing paper and Glu-Sticks that they have at home, but also things that make us same After from cool aunt and uncle. I find myself wanting to be the source of all the Slime, all the glitter, new games, books and stuff that will endear them here. Earlier this week I asked for suggestions for more cool shit in this vein to accumulate, and got a ton of responses. But my friend Virginie Sole-Smith makes an essential point: these children come to us directly after school, where they have been constantly stimulated (and need to perform, in whatever capacity) for hours. Sometimes they’ll want to play Connect Four, make Slime, or build a spaceship out of old cardboard. But most of the time, they’ll just want to do exactly what I wanted to do when I came home from elementary school: eat bites of bagel, talk to no one, and either plow another babysitters club book or watch the latest syndicated episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It’s a good reminder, I think. We spend a lot of time designing caregiving, and even self-care, because buy shit. But sometimes it’s just about creating space for ourselves and others to find rest, in whatever form, without judgment. I love that I can be the person to go around with these kids when and if they need it. And I also love being able to be the person sitting across the room, in silence, as we both spend time hanging out in our own minds.

Anne Helen Petersen’s latest title, The Moms Are Not Alright, is available exclusively on Scribd Originals.

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