by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
When I was a young child, around my oldest daughter’s age, we didn’t have much. Moving into a small rental house with my newly separated mother we made do with just the essentials – if that. Let’s put it this way, I’ve drunk juice out of empty jelly jars and worn hand-me-down panties. For Christmas, I didn’t get many new things but it was okay because I really didn’t know any better.
I can still remember the thrill of finding an old, dusty white porcelain statue of a hand (with a broken pinky) left behind by the last tenant of our house in a kitchen drawer. I screamed with glee when I discovered it and then proceeded to carry it around me for weeks amazed at my good fortune. I’m positive that if there was show and tell in my school at that time, The Hand would have made a few appearances. Elby would laugh her ass off if I told her that story. “Why didn’t you go to the store and get a new toy?” she’d probably ask me. And then I’d tell her that we didn’t have enough money and I think she’d understand.
When Elby first started asking for things when we went to a store, I’d often tell her straight out that we can’t afford it. So now she’ll point to a toy and ask me, “Mommy, do we have enough money for this?” My daughter is certainly not spoiled and my husband I are do our very best to make sure she stays that way but I find with my background can be a tough road to navigate. With the holidays quickly approaching, my daughter’s list for Santa grows longer every few days. I know that I could afford to buy her everything on her list –mainly because the things she lusts after are mostly in the 14.99 price range –but I also know that it’s not healthy for kids to get everything they want –not even most of what they want regardless of the price tag.
Thanks to my background, I have solid values when it comes to money; I appreciate the hell out of the nice things I have. We own only one set of really good sheets with a high thread count. I didn’t even know what “thread count” was until I was in my thirties. Of course now that I know the difference, I love my sheets. I take nothing for granted. But I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. I also know what it’s like to pine for things I’ll never have. I distinctly remember reading Seventeen magazine and seeing Phoebe Cates modeling the cutest clogs I knew I’d never own. I never had the “right” sneakers which were Nike –with the swoosh –or the right polo shirt –which had an alligator not a tiger (hi JCPenney). I cringed coming to school in my knock-off rainbow pocket jeans when everyone else had the real deal. The other kids let me know I wasn’t fooling anyone. I don’t remember ever getting a toy “just because” let alone things I really wanted. I don’t want my daughter to feel that way if she doesn’t have to.
And so I work for the balance.
I want my children to understand that they can’t have everything they want, that people work hard for their money, that some people have less than others, and some have more –and that those who have more have a responsibility to help those that have less.
But she’s five.
She’s still going to ask me to buy her something every time we’re in Target. She’s still going to ask me for every toy she sees on a television commercial that’s aimed directly at her little demo and I’m still going to have to fight the urge to do it every time because there’s a very big part of me that wants to give her everything. I literally want to buy her the moon. It’s ridiculously over-priced by the way. If you thought buying a star was expensive…
So look, I know that we can’t load up a billion presents under the tree. My husband and I see totally eye-to-eye on this yet we still probably tend towards getting too much. But the other day Elby took a toy out of her toy box that she rarely plays with. “Maybe we could give this to one of the kids who don’t have any toys,” she said (we’d just done a drive at her school for a near-by food pantry that services the homeless in the area).
“What a great idea, Sweetie. That is so generous and thoughtful of you.”
“Yeah! And then we could get me a brand new one that I really like!”
Well, you know. We’re getting there.