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.
“NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! I WANT THE STAR WARS THINGS!!! I WANT THE TRAIN THINGS!!!! I WANT EEEVVVVEEERRREEEETHIIIIIING!!!!!”
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.