Having an only child means that, yes, I can be a tad bit indulgent.
Without being obnoxious about him, I think I have a pretty good, neat child, one that I enjoy seeing express joy and excitement over getting things. And usually, my child is extremely cognizant of what he receives and is grateful for everything.
Except one day. One day, he made a comment that flew all over me in the worst way imaginable.
“You have not spent enough money on me,” was the comment that was sounded from the backseat.
“Excuse me?” I said.
I didn’t say it because I had misheard. I said it to give him the opportunity to back up his comment. However, like his father usually did when he erroneously opened his mouth, Cole missed his golden beep-beep-beep back it up moment.
“I said, you have not spent enough money on me. I wanted to get that Minecraft toy.”
That Minecraft toy had the future potential of being a chew toy and looked about like one as well, except it carried a $10 price tag. I had nixed that immediately.
I think smoke came out of my ears. The child was on precariously thin ice and I was about to crack it.
“Cole, even if I had $60 million in the bank, I wouldn’t pay 10 bucks for that chintzy, made in China thing – it was not worth $10.”
“I wanted it. You could have bought it for me.”
I kept my mouth shut until we got home. He went into the bedroom to watch TV until dinner was ready. I was still furious.
“He’s spoiled, you know. You spoil him,” Lamar said.
How he gets so brave when standing in a kitchen full of sharp objects makes me question his logic sometimes.
I knew I spoiled my child. He was my only one. There were times I had had to tell him no and instead of being upset about it, that sweet child would grab my face in his hands and say, “Oh, sweet girl, it’s OK. I have everything I need.”
So yes, there were times I may have overcompensated and indulged him to make up for the times I wasn’t able to get him the things I wanted to.
So I could not fathom how or why this sudden, uncharacteristic outburst of informing me I had not spent enough on him had come from.
I charged into the bedroom, still feeling a little bit of smoldering from the comment.
“Cole, I want to tell you something,” I began, “I do not appreciate you saying I had not spent enough on you. That really upsets me, because you have never been that way before. Usually, you appreciate everything you have been given; so for you to make that comment makes me wonder if the extra things should just stop.”
He stood there so sheepishly, his eyes wide. I think I had scared him a little; I forget that even though I am only about five inches taller than him, I am way louder and that can be scary to a 9-year-old.
“I know that, Mama,” he said. “I am sorry. I just wanted that Minecraft toy. All my other friends have them and some other stuff I don’t have. I wanted them too.”
Here’s where it gets slippery. You don’t want to say that it’s wrong for another child to have those things. It’s not my place to say that. Commenting in just about any other way is putting a judgy-judgy opinion on the other parents and I am sure there would be some folks that would have a mouthful to say about me.
“Cole, I understand wanting what your friends have. I do. But that doesn’t mean you have to have them too. And you saying that to me, was hurtful and upsetting. That is a reflection of you – not your friends.”
“I understand,” he said quietly.
Not wanting to scar him any more than I had, I went out to finish dinner, feeling like I was failing horribly as a parent.
Yes, I understood wanting things. We all want things. But that want when you are a child was far stronger than when you are an adult and can weigh want versus need.
To children, those wants are very much a need. The need to fit in, the need to be able to play on the same level with their peers, the need to belong and feel accepted. It’s hard to be a child and want the things those toys symbolized.
Despite that fact, I still wasn’t going to spend 10 whole American dollars on a piece of terry cloth filled with polyester stuffing.
A few days later, the Minecraft thingamajig was mentioned again. Cole wanted to spend his money that he had saved up from finding extra chores to do around the house. I think he even offered to brush the dogs’ teeth to raise the money.
“Cole, let me just tell you this first, OK? You worked hard for that money. Do you think in a year, you are still going to enjoy that toy? How about in five years? Is it something that will add to Piglandia? Or joy to your life? Or is it just about the sake of saying you have it?”
He frowned and said nothing.
We walked into an antique store, just to browse and enjoy the day when Cole came across a shelf with comic books. Not any comic books either but The Uncanny X-men. He grabbed them up, checking out the titles and flipping through the pages. He put them back on the shelf, eyeing them cautiously before picking three up and announcing he would like his wallet please as he headed to the front to pay.
“Daddy! Look, I got these old comic books! How old are they?” he said all in a rush as he ran to his father outside.
Lamar looked at the date and told him one was already 20 years old, but looked to be in good condition. Cole was pleased. He was starting his comic book collection and these would surely give him some street cred.
I smiled, realizing the lesson he had learned as well. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the value and about truly enjoying what you did with it.