Welcome to How I Got Radicalized, a series from GEN that tells the story of a cultural moment that made you drastically rethink how society works.
We laughed about the Beanie Babies. There were hundreds of them, piled onto shelves in my little sisters’ bedroom. The shelves were high up, but there were just a few Beanies truly off-limits, the Princess Diana bear, a platypus, Weenie the dachshund. The rare babies had plastic covers over their tags. Princess Diana Bear was supposed to stay in a plastic case, but was often found lollygagging with the commoners. My siblings and I played with the Beanie Babies, but they weren’t our toys. This was the ’90s and those pellet stuffed animals were my stay-at-home mom’s personal investments.
My mom didn’t graduate college. She had me in her early twenties and three more kids followed. My dad was the breadwinner and she was the homemaker. As we got a little older, she sought a way to participate in the economic world outside our home. She always floundered. There was no solid ground for a full-time homemaker to find financial footing. She dabbled in a few multilevel marketing schemes (MLMs), which promised to let her continue caretaking while giving her personal economic stability. I remember her making food for a Longaberger Basket party; cheese spreads, crackers, and a company story that sold enough baskets to save a Moses for every generation of the human story. But she found MLMs were exploitative and unprofitable, an unpersuasive combination.
My mom is what we now call a “creative.” Her DIY home projects would have net her 500,000 followers in today’s influencer market. She refinished found objects for our house. She made an old chicken crate into our coffee table. As a kid, I slept in a cast iron bed she found half-buried in a hill in New Mexico. She brought it back to California where she powdercoated it before setting it up in my room. In my memories of my childhood, my mom is in our front yard sanding something on a tarp. Mom was always producing something in our home, but the…