A child’s first lesson in heartbreak over stuff.

It all started out with the best of intentions. When T. turned five last week, his grandmother sent him a crisp $20.00 bill to spend on whatever he would like. What a sweet and smart gesture! A true acknowledgement that he was a big boy – five! – and old enough to have his own money. T. and I agreed that he could take his money to Toys R Us where he could buy a special toy all by himself. So, today, holding onto some left over birthday cheer, we headed over to the recently opened Toys R Us up the road. When we got out of the car, he was absolutely fired up. He jumped up and down beside me, his $20.00 held tight in his hand. And I was excited too, I thought that he might get a good lesson about money and how to spend it. This would be fun!

Walking into Toys R Us still holds the same magic for me as it did when I was a kid. Like something out of a dream, bright primary colored toy boxes were laid out before us, as far as the eye could see, from floor to ceiling. My heart still skips a beat when I pass that wonderful candy pink aisle packed with every kind of cool Barbie stuff. I remember standing in that aisle with my own birthday money, carefully weighing my options, giddy, silly and wanting.

I asked T. where he would like to look first. He said “Star Wars stuff” so we headed there. He went straight up to the $49.00 Darth Vadar/Death Star transformer. “What about this?” “Sorry hon, too expensive.” And then pointed out what things were ok. He touched all the boxes, considering everything but he seemed a bit overwhelmed. So I said that maybe we should walk around a bit and see what else there was.

When we stopped at the Thomas the tank aisle, without any hesitation, he picked up a starter train set for $19.99 and said “I want this!” Perfect! Ok! Let’s go check out.

…”But what about the Star Wars things??”

“Um, no, hon, this train set costs $20.00. You’ve spent all of your money.”

And that’s when it happened. I could practically hear the audible snap. Greed swooped in and clutched my son’s usually rational brain – a beast took over.


He promptly burst into tears and slumped down on the platform displaying all the bikes. While C. ran up and down the bike aisle, with a bike helmet on, T. sobbed. I explained that he couldn’t have everything. $20.00 will only buy him somethings or one thing. Not everything. He was crushed. He was overwhelmed. The decision was impossible.

We finally went with the train set. As we went to check out, we steered clear of the Star Wars aisle for fear he would be set off once again. But what really made me sad was that he wasn’t giddy and excited about his purchase. He seemed resigned. Instead of getting a fun new toy, he looked like he had actually lost something. His eyes were still wet, his face was sad and walked behind me slowly. This was not the fun adventure I thought it would be. The only lesson he learned was there is so much he couldn’t have. Granted, that is a very important lesson for any child, but again, it wasn’t exactly how I thought the experience would go down when we walked in there a half hour prior.

As I have mentioned before, I try to limit too much stuff in our lives. Call it being cheap, being green, or saving space, but we honestly don’t have half the toys his friends do. And even the toys T. has, he only plays with them now and then. T. has never been a stuff guy. Presents are fun to open but he’ll leave something in its box for days and only vaguely find interest when I get his attention and ask him if he wants to open it with me. He is usually happier with a book, playing a board game, playing outside with a ball or in the sprinkler. Of course, he loves T.V. but not too much. He has always seemed “just right” with his need for any sort of excess. He has never hoarded, he has always shared well, and – shockingly – he has never begged or pleaded or demanded a toy (ice cream, yes, a toy no). Until today.

So excuse me as I unleash the mommy guilts within. But, today, I feel like I ruined a little bit of him. I let money become something exciting. I let the stuff become a fun thing to get and find and need. My heart went a little cold when he said “I want everything.” I know this is a human reaction. We all want a shopping spree. We all get excited over stuff. We all get bummed out when we can’t afford something we want desperately. Its normal, he needs to understand how buying things works and understand the value and limits of money. And, I assure you, there will be more birthday money in his future, we will set out for Toys R Us once again, and we will keep working on this lesson until it is good and learned. But, I guess, just to see his first moment where he is actually heartbroken over not getting some sort of stuff… It just didn’t feel so good.

And here’s the kicker. After lunch we pulled out the train, got it all set up (making a figure eight with train tracks is no easy feat, I mean it) and now its sitting there untouched on our family room floor. A few minutes ago, I asked him “What about your train, T.? Why don’t you play with that for a little bit?” “Its making me boring, mommy” Oh o.k. Terrific.

Stuff. We want it. We stress over it. We use money we don’t even have to buy it. We finally get it, hold it up like a trophy fish scooped out of mall’s ocean. When, most of the time, we really don’t even need it.



Filed under Birthdays, Materialism, Money, Parenting, Shopping, Toys, Unnecessary stuff

5 responses to “A child’s first lesson in heartbreak over stuff.

  1. Oh your poor sweetie. Once I saw an episode of the Rosie O’Donnell show and she had some child on the show who had a terminal disease. Rosie set up a wild toy shopping spree for him and filled a room with wall to wall toys where he could pick out whatever (and however much) he wanted. This was the heart-breaking part: He only chose one toy. He was so conditioned to not get “everything” that he just chose one toy. Then Rosie tried to explain that he could have everything and he didn’t really get it. That broke my heart.

    It can be good for people to want “everything” (not only materials) because that leads to goals and ambitions. It’s also good to have limits because that’s realistic. I’m sure your son’s not too “scarred for life,” but what a touching story. I’m sending him hugs. :o)

  2. Aww….poor thing. When my oldest son was 2 I told my dad that an empty box would be the best Christmas gift. My dad is known to INDULGE (like the pedal car BMW convertible he bought for Bird’s 3rd birthday!). My dad jokingly wrapped up an empty cardboard box, and Bird loved it. He could have cared less about the cars, stuffed puppies, trains, and various other loot. Seriously, he played with that damn box until it was shredded.

    Hasn’t stopped my dad from indulging.

  3. tcmom

    Cami – Good point about wanting everything can also mean having ambition and drive to some degree. I hope T. can always think big and venture outside the box! Or find beauty in a box – just like ilinap’s little boy! He’s over it, its me that continues to obsess. But the mommy guilts are locked back up in their cage. Onward and until the next Toys R Us meltdown, right?

  4. Aw. I suppose any kid’s first trip to buy something for himself in a toy store is bound to be overwhelming. There are so many choices — especially in a store as big at Toys R Us. Like you, I probably would have approached the shopping trip as fun and wouldn’t have been prepared for the tears, though.

  5. My T. and Z. like your T. and C. have received so many toys just through circumstance (hand me downs, birthday presents etc.) that they haven’t had much experience at the toy store either. Yesterday we went to Target to replace a much loved, lost football, and I found myself in a similar, though much milder predicament. I was having trouble finding the generic footballs and found a Spiderman version first. That was great. Z wanted it. Then we turned the corner where we found the traditional balls. I gave him a choice between the two, he chose traditional. Then I gave T the choice, Spiderman won, I gave him the ball. Z wanted ALL of them! We settled on Spiderman for each of them (which may help when one gets lost) and they were pleased. I can’t imagine how they would have dealt with the choice of ANYTHING. I think it would have blown their minds!!! Nice post.

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