Monday, March 12, 2007

Freebies

"What kinds of fruit will you eat?" Miranda asked. "I want to get something you’ll enjoy." Miranda is one of the mentors participating in the parenting class I’ve been leading Thursday mornings. She hosted a movie night last weekend and was looking for ideas for healthy snacks. The "healthy" part, as it turned out, needed to be interpreted strictly: she had already requested that we bring baked (rather than fried) tortilla chips for the taco dip, and she had quite literally blanched at the suggestion of pop as a potential beverage, settling for chocolate milk when it became apparent that Shonagh would not drink juice.

Shonagh looked a little stumped at the question. "Well, I could eat green grapes," she conceded somewhat reluctantly. "Or – I know – strawberries with lots of whipped cream!"

Just entering her third trimester, Shonagh is one of the neediest women involved in the course. As she put it on the first day of the class, "I’ve probably got more problems than any of the rest of you here." Six months ago, she was drug-addicted and on the street; now she is moving into an apartment and preparing to have her baby. The topic of Thursday’s class was budgeting and frugality, a topic I am even more ill-equipped to teach than usual. With housekeeping and parenting, I can at least say what I’ve tried and how it has worked, but I’ve never been able to stick to a budget, and I’m not especially good at cutting corners. Making a virtue of necessity, I asked everyone to share the areas where money seems to hemorrhage uncontrollably. Groceries, toys, books, Starbucks – these were the main offenders. For Shonagh, however, the problem is Instant Bingo. "What’s the appeal?" I asked. Shonagh shrugged. "I’m pregnant. What else am I going to do?"

As I drove home Thursday morning, I reflected that Shonagh has missed out on her fair share of freebies in life. Freebies are the healthy, educational, thrifty things we do not because we should or must but simply because we want to. My grandmother, for instance, loved eating vegetables. She was obese, and spent most of her senior years in smoke-filled bingo halls, but a lifetime of enthusiastic and wholly voluntary vegetable-eating served her well: she lived past her ninetieth birthday. Vegetables were her freebie – they were good for her, but that’s not why she ate them: she did that because she liked everything about them, their colour, their flavour, and (for many years) the pleasure of growing them in her garden.

For many people, exercise is a freebie: they derive genuine pleasure from a good work-out and miss it when they’re forced to skip going to the gym. I didn’t get the Vegetable Freebie or, alas, the Gym Freebie. I did, at least, get the Fruit Freebie: unlike Shonagh, I’m quite happy to eat most fruits (with or without the whip cream), so long as somebody else goes to the effort of cutting them up (I missed out on the Cooking Freebie, and though I enjoy baking, that particular pleasure is by no means free).

Reading, obviously, is one of my main freebies (at least, it would be free if I used the library instead of Amazon, and if I remembered to return my books on time). The Crossword Freebie is another one (my mom does crosswords for Alzheimer’s prevention; I do them for fun). I think I would consider Housecleaning a freebie – I almost always enjoy cleaning my house, finding the process almost as rewarding as the product. Imposing order on disorder has a certain appeal, and, as I explained to the class during the weeks we spent on housekeeping, the trick is to do it at just the right time: after the house has become noticeably dirty (so as to maximize the contrast), but before the filth has graduated from a low-level annoyance to a source of all-out self-loathing.

Blogging is, I would argue, a freebie: it’s a frugal hobby (cheaper than therapy and cheaper than scrapbooking), and it fulfills needs that might otherwise be pursued through sketchier means (stripping? chocolate-bingeing? Oh wait, I still do that – the chocolate-bingeing, that is). Sleeping is perhaps the ultimate freebie: we love it, we need it, and it’s good for us. Sadly, reading and blogging are not always compatible with sleeping for those of us who are looking to steal time rather than to fill it.

And so, as I try to carve out a space in my life for books and blogs and crosswords, Shonagh is filling in the time until her baby is born, not knowing if she’ll be allowed to keep it, using nachos and bingo cards to keep the terror at bay.

37 comments:

Hairline Fracture said...

The idea of freebies is interesting to me. Mine are: eating fruit and some other healthy things; reading; writing (for the blog or elsewhere); and cooking. Definitely NOT cleaning or exercise. I get a certain amount of satisfaction from these, but it's more of a "crossed it off the list" thing. I wouldn't do them if I didn't have to.

Blog Antagonist said...

Poor thing. I feel sorry for girls like that. Nobody ever taught her about the little joys in life. I call them Spiritual Lipstick. Books for me too, blogging, yes, exercise when I'm motivated, hot bubble baths with all the trimmings (mud mask, deep conditioner, full body scrub...the works)...what else.

I had forgotten about crossword puzzles. I love them, but I haven't done one in years. Great freebie idea. Thanks!

Karen said...

Well I do like grapes and nachos, but even more than that I like npr, gardening, and listening to music. Slightly pricier fun habits are cooking (cause it's only fun when the foods really good and there's wine)and enjoying really good tea...the cookies that I eat alongside are not so much free. You are right blogging is a great freebie, but often at the expense of other good freebies. Dividing up a mother's free time is like trying to divide up one cent, you can only do in theory.

V-Grrrl said...

My freebies? I'm good at maintaining friendships, I don't like to exercise but I love to walk, I'm grateful, I find it easy to go to church most of the time, I like to read and write non-fiction.

I used to love all things domestic--cooking, cleaning, organizing. When I became a mother after 13 years of marriage, all that became a necessary evil and not something I enjoyed any longer. I'm careful with money, but it's been a while since I had to carefully budget. I might find it harder now--I'm "out of shape" for budgeting.

Karianna said...

I used to enjoy cleaning in some sense. The putting order is definitely a wonderful motivator. I would feel so happy when done, with a nice organized home.

But then as the kids and the husband would undo hard work, cleaning became a chore, especially because it is now never done!

Mary G said...

What a neat concept. I nominate making someone laugh, ironing (it's a family failing thing -- my mother ironed my kids' diapers for crumbs sake), and watching the natural world out the window. To-day the chicadees at my feeder have changed their call from 'chickadeedeedee' to 'heysweetie'. Spring cannot be far away.

Melanie said...

So, you mean if you blog - you're not supposed to spend hundreds of dollars scrapbooking for your kids?!? Oops. That is definitely NOT a freebie.

Your post made me think again of a thought that has been invading my every move lately. No matter how bad you've got it - someone's always got it worse.

I may be chubby and have horrible eating, exercising, housekeeping habits - but there are far worse things, huh?

MotherBumper said...

I wonder if Shonagh has a freebie she hasn't discovered yet. Like drawing, crafts or as you said: walking (that was my gym freebie when I was down and not quite out). I hope she finds hers. I really do.

Aliki2006 said...

Interesting concept...that of freebies. At first I thought you meant the things we are given as a matter of course--attributes and ways of living that are handed to us (these can be so varied and many people go without). Exercise, for instance, is a freebie--not because we choose it, but because it is pretty much a luxury that s me people can't afford because they are working so hard to just survive.

I too hope she finds her freebie--maybe it will be mothering!

n.b. said...

I think the only reason my husband is not annoyed at the time I spend blogging is that it is essentially free!

So, do crossword puzzles REALLY stave off Alzheimer's?

kgirl said...

not to sound totally archaic, but does your class include some kind of activity that can be both relaxing and industrious - like knitting or something?

bubandpie said...

NB - That's what they say - I make no guarantees. :)

Kgirl - We're going to spend two weeks on hobbies and "time for mom" - and the handbooks we're using include very detailed instructions on how to knit! (My grandma - not the vegetable-eating bingo-playing one, but my other grandma - taught me how to knit, but it never really "took": I don't have the patience for it myself.)

The thing about finding healthy ways to relax and nurture yourself is that they only work if you actually find them relaxing and enjoyable - it's not good if they're simply another obligation. And with Shonagh, even in the most trivial ways, the things that she enjoys aren't good for her.

Christina said...

What an interesting concept. My freebies are blogging, sleeping, and knitting, when I have time.

I hope she will find her own freebies that will make her happy and are good for her, too.

Virtualsprite said...

It's sad that Shonagh has only destructive freebies, but then again it took me a few years of therapy to rid me of mine. Maybe she'll learn and it certainly sounds like you're doing your best to teach her. Good for you!

Jenifer G. said...

I truly hope Shonagh finds her freebie. Perhaps a little guidance will do the trick and help her open up to something new.

My freebie would have to be cleaning. I love the zen-like quality of cleaning.

Yeah I'm weird.

Becky said...

I think baking would be a freebie of mine. I enjoy it... baking with a 3 year old is not. (I know he loves it, so I do it occasionally, but I get more pleasure out of baking alone.)

Working out is not - I do it because I know I should, not because I am unhappy when I get to lie in the comfort of my bed at 6 am (as I did this morning, claiming that the time change was too evil.)

I think that some freebies - like cleaning - ebb and flow with my mood. I got intense pleasure out of mopping my floor yesterday, which makes me want to question my sanity just a little. But I intended to do it the previous day and was unable to get motivated. I think that the ability to wait a day and do the floor when it was bright and sunny outside and windows were open made it more pleasurable than tackling it as an onerous task that had to be done at a time that I didn't feel up to it.

Gosh. I can't believe I can write so much about floor-mopping.

flutter said...

*SO* much cheaper than scrapbooking!!

Denguy said...

Yes, I'm an "imposing order on disorder" type of person, too.

Your post does put things into perspective.

Mary-LUE said...

I think church has always been my freebie. Because I didn't have to go and because it wasn't always easy to go, it never was a chore for me. I still love going to church (although I'm not a slave to attending). For me, it is truly an extended family. (Maybe because my family (the one I grew up with) is NOT a freebie for me.

Books are a freebie, too. Definitely.

Lady M said...

That's a great way of thinking about it - freebies. Reading is definitely one of mine, and now blogging too. For my husband, his true enjoyment of technology helps him lots of work.

bubandpie said...

Becky - I used to wait until the mood struck in order to houseclean - I'd put on loud '80's music and really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the mood only struck about once a month or so, which meant that I lived in filth, even though I enjoy cleaning. Now I clean once a week - and for some reason I usually am in the mood for it when the scheduled day arrives. I agree that there's nothing worse than mopping the floor when you're feeling too lazy for it. (See? The topic is capable of endless analysis.)

V-Grrrl and Mary-LUE - Church is a freebie for me, too - and prayer is definitely not. I expect prayer and meditation are freebies for a lot of people, but for me it's a very uncomfortable discipline.

Andrea said...

That is terribly sad. I hope she finds her freebie too. And I wish her lots of luck--sounds like she's due for some.

Beck said...

I know women like Shonagh, women who are either unable to amuse themselves at all or who have no hobbies that aren't essentially destructive. Someone I know lists "being romanced" as one of her top 3 things and you can gather what sort of life she has from that. My freebies, as you put it, are all sensible and low-key - I like reading! I like making cookies! - although I DO like instant bingo tickets, if someone else has bought them.

Mr. B&P said...

"[Blogging] fulfills needs that might otherwise be pursued through sketchier means (stripping?"

Something I should know about dear?

Mimi said...

My freebies ... hm. I'm a joiner and an organizer. I'm an academic-service dream: on all kinds of committees, and taking leadership roles on them. I can't help it. I like to organize things and know what's going on. A related freebie is that I'm curious, so I'm the one who researches stuff like weaning, introducing solid food, insulating the house, buying a cordless drill. I read really fast and if I'm interested I can learn anything about anything pretty fast.

Too bad I don't have any hand-eye coordination, or I'd fix the plumbing myself ;-)

Oh, and the cleaning? Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack very loud, and get out of my way, world!

Mad Hatter said...

Yes. That is who Mimi is. I can attest to her organizational zeal. As for the hand-eye coordination? Bollocks. I've played volleyball with her.

B&P, I don't know what to comment here other than I really love your random theories posts. Really love them. Your description of Shonagh has made me feel awkward about looking at my own assinine freebies. Rather, I am now thinking about my self-destructive tendencies.

wordgirl said...

Reading? Check. Crosswords? Check. Running and lifting weights? Check. I never thought of them as freebies before. I now have a new way to approach those things. In fact, I've got Tuesday's NYTimes Crossword going right now.

Kyla said...

Hmmm, my freebies include reading, sleeping, and blogging...and toilet cleaning. Is that one weird? I do enjoy cleaning the toilet for some odd reason.

bubandpie said...

Kyla - Toilet cleaning is the great exception to my Housecleaning freebie: I hate it, perhaps because the results are never all that good (maybe if I had a nice new toilet instead of hideously stained ones...).

Mimi - Organization in the committee-joining sense is SO NOT one of my freebies. (That's one of the reasons part-time teaching is a good fit for me.)

Mad - Yeah - the two strands of this post fit awkwardly together (that's symptomatic of the flippancy that seems to be part of my blogging persona, as I remarked at Andrea's place this morning).

I think there can be value in feeling grateful for our freebies, in recognizing them as such (rather than crediting ourselves with more self-discipline than we actually possess), and in trying to brainstorm which ones might be shared.

There's a parenting application here too - so much of our job as parents is to equip our children with as many freebies as we can by fostering their love of the outdoors and of physical exercise (most children seem to come equipped with that freebie, at least initially), by promoting a love of reading, by giving them healthy food...

A newspaper article this week reported that the local Catholic school board is starting a new program to give children fresh fruit each day - they showed the children amazed and delighted to taste oranges and pears for the first time in their lives. Made me think maybe I should pick up some pears next time I'm at the grocery store.

jen said...

and it's amazing how many freebies we take for granted.

i know girls like S. I am always humbled by them. And a bit fearful and overwhelmed.

Lawyer Mama said...

B&P - I *wish* I'd gotten house cleaning as a freebie. Hate it! I do have books, swimming, sleeping (oh yes!), blogging, and digital scrapbooking as my freebie. Much cheaper than paper scrapbooking and I don't have to worry about the 1 year old trying to cut off the cat's tail with my scissors!

nomotherearth said...

I was going to write a list of my freebies, but right now, all I can think about is how sad I am for Shonagh. Instant Bingo is the only thing she can do while pregnant to fill her time? Maybe one of my freebies is helping people to find out what their freebies are..??

nonlineargirl said...

I love the concept of freebies. I share some of your grandmother's. Gardening and veggies are so appealing. Gardening is even better these days now that the girl is interested in digging and worms. I hope Shonagh can find some that are easy on her body and mind.

Mary-LUE said...

B&P, Yeah, I understand about prayer not being a freebie. I'm the same way. Most of the "do on your own" spiritual disciplines are that way for me. (But I'm workin' on it!)

How fun to hear from Mr. B&P here!

Momish said...

I hope S. finds a freebie for herself soon, they seem so vital to me! I love crossword puzzles and watching movies. A quiet two hours curled up on the couch watching a movie is such a joy, espcially a really good one.

BA: I LOVE the notion of Spiritual Lipstick (gonna steal that one, girl)!!

Suz said...

I love the idea of freebies. Mine are similar to the ones that you list, other than the crossword puzzles. I love reading, running, and organizing most things...however, I hope that Shontagh finds her own. I once went to a bingo palor; it was smoky and oddly stressful - not sure it counts as a freebie.

edj said...

I love that your mom does crossword puzzles for Alzheimer's prevention. That's so funny. I think like that too. I forget things so easily, and I think, "Oh no! I'm sure to be high risk! I need to start doing crosswords, or work harder at my French or Arabic, etc."
Also love the concept of Freebies. That is such a good way of putting it, of thinking about it.