This little light of mine

Dear flashing LED light-up bumpy ring,

I’m so sorry. I know it is no excuse, but I’d like to give you a bit of background to explain. Spur of the moment, and uncharacteristically, I decided we should go see the lights at the National Zoo on Tuesday night. Something fun, festive, and free to do as a family. I didn’t remember Memorial Bridge was down to one lane. I didn’t reckon properly on the rush-hour traffic. So we showed up to the zoo after 6:00 pm, with two hungry kids, two hungry parents, not quite enough gloves. 

We walked up the pathway – as members of the zoo we were eligible for free parking, a pass for 10 free rides, and a special gift, while quantities lasted. I had already decided that we would not need the free gift, whatever it might be. We approached the member station. The first thing my girl child did was to complement the zoo lady on her brightly flashing bumpy ring. “I love your ring,” she said. The zoo lady did not seem moved in one way or another, I don’t remember her responding at all. But she did reach over to get our free gift, a zoo tote bag containing our 10-ride pass and four individually wrapped bumpy rings. You were one of them. I told the zoo lady, as rehearsed, no thanks, no free gift needed. “You sure?” she asked, gesturing to the bag’s bottom where I saw the rings, so small, and remembered the girl child’s words, and thought, hey, relax, a couple of little rings will be fun. I took out one for each child. I pressed the buttons to start the batteries and we were off into the light-filled night, fingers blinking in delight.

As the children walked down the path, playing with their rings, I looked at the lights. “Oh, look, icicles,” I said. It was cold. “Oh, look, a seal riding a bicycle, a wolf wearing sunglasses, a polar bear eating a sandwich.” They turned the rings on. They turned the rings off. They turned the rings on. They…. 

And then, little ring, your time was done. Your battery either destroyed or some malfunction. Your seven-to-eight minute life span of functionality over forever. And the boy child was inconsolable. 

“Look – it’s a penguin wearing suspenders and jumping through a hoop of fire!” The ring was broken! 

“Look, glittery sparkles lighting the night” It’s not fair, that boy has a necklace of lights, I wanted the necklace of lights instead, like he has. 

“Smell the funnel cakes, listen to the choir singing” Tears, snot, refusal to walk, sister pretending she will give brother a turn with her ring and then not doing so, second ring confiscated and put into pocket to not cause conflict, tears, snot, cold, requisite family photo.

Waiting in line to spin too quickly in the cold night air next to the girl child, I overheard another boy whose ring had broken. He too was full of sorrow at his lost joy. 

Small squishy green ring of silicone, today I performed an autopsy. Your tiny light source made from rare earth materials, your petite battery to power the tiny light source, your bumpy green shell made from silicone, otherwise known as hydrocarbon-transformed quartz. 

I think about the giant sculptures we saw at the zoo last year. Huge, larger than life, made from garbage that had been removed from coasts of oceans around the world. It was an amazing exhibit, shared with us so we could think about the things we are putting into the sea, that don’t disappear. And here, at Christmas, that same zoo is putting little packs of sea trash into a bag so that kids can have a worse time not paying attention to the experience but, instead, focusing on a new “thing” that they were not in any way expecting to get when they came to the zoo. It would have been cool to walk around and see all of those lights. But you, little ring, became the focus, a source of friction and discontent. And now, you are a piece of garbage, which you were always destined to become. 

Rings like you do give people, many people, great joy — sometimes for several times longer than seven minutes. A brief google search demonstrates the service to humanity that a ring such as yourself, a noble use of Earth’s rare earth materials, can provide:

Michelle says: Adds a lot of fun to any party. We will be using them for a night time beach party this summer. 

Deb, who gave your brethren only three stars, writes: Bought these for a rehearsal dinner. I lit them up ahead of time so they’d look good on display and draw attention. By the time of the event, several rings only had 1 or 2 LEDs flashing. I was disappointed that they didn’t last longer. Would have been good to know life expectancy ahead of time. They were very popular though and people loved seeing the ones that worked and picking one to take home.

From Piggy689: This is really cool it lights up and is really squishy

Will also provided some helpful perspective: These were so fun and really quite bright. For the price they were really great. We’ve used our set on 3 separate occasions and all but one ring has worked each time. The on-off button works pretty well and I love that it is squishy.

Squishy one, you won’t biodegrade. So I can either throw you into the trash or add your light and battery to my growing bag of electronic-related waste to take to the special dump for that kind of thing. Maybe you can be recycled into something that will provide a more lasting light. That is my hope for you. Just imagine, maybe you could be part of a spotlight lighting a little girl for her first violin concert. Or a light at a hospital, where a new mother is having a life-saving surgery, or a studio light where someone is painting a vision of a world where everyone has enough to eat.

I learned my lesson little ring. I promise to find a way to recycle your components because it wasn’t your fault you were made this way. There are bigger plans for your future. I loved those trash sculptures, but I don’t want to see you end up there.

Thank you. Thank you for teaching me an important lesson. I’ve learned it before, but maybe it will stick this time. Focus on the experience. Introducing an object, a new thing, into the equation almost never adds. Almost always subtracts. The kids remember the rings, the tears, not the lights.

So here is to lasting light.

With love and respectfully,

Jennifer

This piece is part of The Stuffed Project: One woman’s quest to reimagine our relationship to the material world (working title). You can learn more about The Stuffed Project or subscribe to get updates in your inbox.

7 thoughts on “This little light of mine

  1. This made me laugh and also made me sad. Story of our lives. Everywhere we go there is something to tempt children, distract and ruin the experience for all. At the tree lighting in Old Town there were flashing toys that friends had, at the international day at school kids were given passports to stamp or prizes to collect, ruining through the tables instead of appreciating what each family is sharing. Share this to the Zoo for sure, but great piece to be published ASAP.

    1. Thanks so much Mari. Since writing the piece I’ve been noticing all of the times when an object is introduced into a situation and it seems to make the experience less, makes connecting to each other more difficult. I’m sure there are psychological studies on this, need to find those ; ) Happy 2019 : )

  2. This was awesome on so many levels, I’m so glad you wrote about it!! And yes I agree with the other comment about sharing with the zoo. When we first enrolled in our Montessori school they had a sweet Halloween fair where the kids run different stations with games where the prizes were all that junk from Oriental Trading Company (the purveyors of all things straight to landfill). All of us on the school’s green committee were bummed out (ok moritified) about how inconsistent it felt with what the school was all about. After a few years of creative problem solving and trial and error (after all the kids were used to getting prizes and they had to be cheap) we finally settled on collecting old kids books from families leading up to Halloween and having kids win tokens as prizes that they could redeem for a book each from the donated book stand where parents put them all out on display. Seriously it was a highlight of my time at the school. And it just took someone speaking up to do something different. And you are pretty awesome at that if I do say so myself. And so damned funny as the post above demonstrates so well!

    1. I love this story Sarah! I was talking recently to a friend (I may write on the blog about this soon), but we were talking a bit about hopelessness and not knowing what to do in the face of x or y, not knowing how to solve the big problems. And where I landed in that conversation is that things like your story are what you do. You talk to one person, openly. You take an action, that starts very small. Changing the book fair feels so much better than sharing an angry post on FB and it actually makes a difference too. I wrote these Stuffed posts and one friend told me that she made a different choice after reading. That’s what I can do. One paragraph, one conversation. There are so many of us, if we all change a fair, if we have those discussions (lovingly, of course), that is shining a light ; ) Happy 2019 xxx

  3. Awesome piece Jennifer, hits so many important points and so relatable. I hope you are able to submit this and get it published!

    1. Thanks so much Laura! I’m still trying to learn about the kinds of places to submit this kind of piece! I very much appreciate your sharing it on FB : )

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