Like many of you, we are raising our children outside of their passport country.
Our two oldest daughters have returned to life in the United States. We are currently in Texas for a few months to be near our second-born as she navigates the transition and finds her place in a world that she hasn’t lived in for seven years. As you can imagine, there are plenty of challenges and painful things to process.
Our youngest five children have lived almost their entire lives outside of the Unites States of America, their passport country. Our Haitian born children identify themselves as Haitian-Americans without feeling that either country is their home. Our American born children identify themselves as American-Haitians without feeling that either country is their home.
Last weekend we needed to take our two sons shopping for shoes. They only own sandals and we needed to go buy tennis-shoes for their first practice. For the first time in their lives they are playing on an organized YMCA soccer team. The excitement is palpable, although we figured out that they thought they were playing in a big lit-up stadium with thousands of fans, like on television. The reality of it being at a cruddy junior-high field without lights and only a dozen or so bored parents watching made it a little less epic than they originally thought it might be. How awesome would it be to live inside of the mind and reality of a kid that sees himself as David Beckham before he even walks onto a soccer field for the first time? (Very.Awesome.Indeed.) Excuse me while I digress.
We entered the shoe store with our sons, ages 9 and 12, and began to search for the perfect shoe in their sizes. Our younger son spotted a pair he liked. He picked up the display shoe and said, “Oh this is a size 3. Do they have other sizes, Mom?” Behind the display there were dozens of boxes of shoes, but having never shopped for shoes in a bona-fide shoe store, he didn’t know the system. “Yes buddy, these shoes behind the display are all different sizes, see here?” I replied.
We began trying shoes on together. Our older son said, “Oh, they let you untie them? That’s so nice.” A bit later our sons said, “Mom and Dad, these shoes cost so much!” We said, “Well guys, these are pretty average prices for new shoes.” They continued to marvel at the expense of shoes. Finally Noah picked up the display shoe of a pair of baby-size shoes. “Mom, you’re telling me that $84 for a pair of baby shoes is a normal price?!?” That is when we realized they thought the prices on the signs were for one shoe. “No guys, the price is for a pair of shoes.” – we explained.
My husband and I made eye contact and engaged in long conversations that silently said, “Oh dear Lord, we are entertained and horrified by this all at once. What have we done?!?”
A few minutes later, our almost always-joyful older son began to act odd. “What is wrong buddy?” He couldn’t answer. He didn’t have the ability to identify what was wrong right then. Later, when pressed, he said, “I don’t usually choose my shoes. They just come to Haiti.” We realized he had a valid point. He is 12 years old but for the last 7 years I have been buying one pair of sturdy sandals on-line each year and they usually appear to him without much discussion at all, and certainly without entering a store. He was stressed out by the multiple choices and was shutting down, not able to make a decision anymore.
We love raising our kids in Haiti. There are so many things we can shield them from, not least of which is advertising and marketing aimed directly at them. There are huge benefits to them, but as parents we realize that we’ve not done enough to prepare our kids for the future. If they are going to grow up (it seems like they insist upon this – which is a very large bummer) and leave our home they are going to need to be able to face choices, make decisions, participate in commerce, and understand a shoe store. We find it a tricky balance, teaching kids how to be wise and careful consumers, without teaching them to be overtly consumeristic. They need shoes. They don’t need to be sucked into the advertising vortex that sells them the “shoes will make you happy and more shoes will make you more happy” idea.
The shoe store is just the beginning of the adapting and practicing they all need to do. We don’t think it is the biggest deal ever that they don’t know these things automatically, but we think it is important that we try to help them learn. Luckily, we have a few months in the USA to work on some of these things.
If you need us we’ll be at Famous Footwear, learning.
How do you strike the balance? How do you teach a child that is exposed to one or two choices to be able to make a decision when hundreds of choices are offered? How do you teach your kids to shop while raising them in places where there aren’t many shopping options? How important do you think this is?
Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti