Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kindness Day 2

Yesterday, my son woke up begging me to look at something called a Beyblade.

He'd asked for at least 24 solid hours, and we'd fobbed him off time and again, busy with other stuff.  I promised that if he got dressed for camp early, he'd have time to look for his Beyblade.

So, we looked.  Then we tried to come up with a way for him to 'earn' the money to buy one.

We finally settled on using his old year's school backpack for another 1/2 year rather than getting a new one.  In his defense, the zipper is wonky on that backpack.  But…it's still totally usable.

I thought of this as kindness on my part, because I am very settled on a few things as a parent.  They are:

1.  Our kids have too much stuff.
2.  Our kids are spoiled.
3.  We, as parents, have done this.
4.  Society's consumer slant and mass marketing campaigns have helped us.
5.  My kids (and we as adults) are happier with less.
6.  Toys these days are junk.
7.  Our perspective (as Americans) is horribly distorted when it comes to the reality of daily life for most people in the world, and I am afraid to reinforce this idea (and teach it) to my kids, who will then go out into it and one day be responsible for it.

But….and here is where the kindness comes in…..I remember being a kid.

My kids have so much less than their friends/peers.  I can't believe what people will buy for their kids these days.  A child in Maggie's class did a few chores around the house for a new Kindle Fire/HD.  That, to me, is a gift you get at Christmas, having forgone any other gifts, it being a super-special year and all.

So, my kids have much less.  I grew up this way, falling squarely into the much less category, and while I'm thankful for many of the lessons we were taught, I remember the utter embarrassment I felt when my jeans were too short, my clothes shabby, our house 'boring' and so on.  I think our cars were the greatest source of shame, and I always hoped my mother would be late in picking us up.

I know my feelings as a child were selfish and small, but that is how my world was, and I don't think that we, as adults with much wider perspectives and the maturity to see things differently, can necessarily share this perspective with our kids.  Not in the meaningful way we have experienced it.  Because, after all, we experienced it.

So I am trying really hard to strike a balance.  We don't get stuff just to get stuff.  We think about it.  We decide if we can afford it.  We decide if it's worth giving up something else for it (a new backpack).  We think it over.

Maybe I'm fooling myself.  Maybe my kids will only learn value if I take them off into the woods and make them forage for their own food.  I don't know.  But I am hoping that little decisions will add up, that little lessons on thankfulness and gratitude and not getting what you want will come together in some sort of amalgam experience, so that when they go out into the world they don't do so thinking it will be easy, that the world is their oyster, that life is without hardship, suffering, sacrifice or goodness.

I read the Beyblade reviews and I'm pretty sure that thing will break in a few days.  I was tempted to say something to my son about it, but I didn't.  Let it break.  Let him feel the disappointment when it breaks and then, when school shopping comes around, let him remember that he traded a new backpack for the new toy.  He may realize it was a bad trade. Or….he may think to himself:  that thing was totally worth it.

My kindness wasn't in buying the toy for my son.  I think of the kindness more as stopping, slowing down, looking at it with him and helping him think it through.  How could we afford it?  Was it worth it?  Did it matter?

As a parent, I think about 95% of the time I get it wrong.  But I am comforted in the fact that I'm trying.  Really hard.

We even went to Walmart before camp to see if they carried this fancy new toy.  While there I thought I'd throw in a couple cartons of donut holes for the office staff, who are so sweet with my kids.  They each picked a box and were excited to get to school.  Once there, the school's fix-it man took one look at the donuts and said he didn't need those in his belly and told the kids to go on and take them to their classrooms.

This was not the intended end-result of my random act of kindness!  I wanted the adults to have the donuts, not the kids!  I wanted them to see that we were thankful, that we were making a gesture.

But I just smiled and said we appreciate all of his help.

Maybe the biggest lesson of all is this:  You can't micromanage kindness.  :)

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