Costco started stocking toys for Christmas (as well as Hanukkah, in our house) in about September, and though I only visit the store about once every six weeks or so, I’ve still found myself wandering through the aisles out of curiosity, just to see what they have.
And it’s weird. Though I’m not at all one of those super-capitalists who just can’t get enough stuff – far from it – I found myself suddenly tempted to go nuts and fill my cart with everything in the world that I think Lily might like.
I didn’t, of course. The cooler part of my head quickly prevailed. I looked at the prices, paused to imagine how much Lily would really, actually use or enjoy whatever it was, and in most cases, I left them all stacked right where they were.
But I find it interesting that the impulse to shower Lily with gifts lies so close to the surface, despite the careful, thoughtful deliberation I apply to every other choice that I make as a consumer.
I was raised in a house where, throughout my childhood, I got a modest weekly allowance for doing my chores (and if I wanted something, I had to save up the money to buy it – which I did, quite often). Predictably, I didn’t have much wiggle room financially while a college student (though I was lucky – my parents had saved to cover my rent and tuition); and throughout my 20s, while working crummy retail and temp jobs, and living on a grad school stipend while teaching, I had no choice but to maintain my frugal lifestyle. I’d lived through a precarious time financially, when anything unexpected – a car repair, a dental procedure – put me at risk and, at the very least, forced me to ask for an extension on my rent. I didn’t want to ask anyone for help, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could stand on my own. But it wasn’t easy.
And while I find myself in a very different position these days – not because part-time entertainment journalists rake in the dough, but because the love of my life happens to be a successful attorney, and we’re both fortunate enough to be riding out this recession in steady jobs – my tightwad ways remain.
When I got pregnant with Lily, I was meticulous about considering what we REALLY, truly needed for Lily, versus what the baby industrial complex told us we “needed.” And pretty much everything Lily has worn since she was a baby, with a rare exception, has been either a gift or bought used from a mom-to-mom sale. (Many of the toys she has are from these sales as well.)
So again, given my usual behaviors, why did the consumer floodgates suddenly, inexplicably threaten to burst when I was confronted with rows of toys at the start of the holiday season?
This didn’t happen to me last year. In fact, while we gave Lily one or two gifts for the Hanukkah gathering at Joe’s parents’ place – including a rocking horse that scared the bejeezus out of her, sadly – we were woefully empty-handed when we got to my father’s house in North Carolina for Christmas. I feel pathetic admitting this, but Joe and I found ourselves standing in the office supply aisle of an Ingles grocery store on Christmas Eve, picking out some markers and construction paper and glitter glue (the latter of which my common sense eventually vetoed. A 19 month old with glitter glue? Um, no thanks.).
Of course, we both realized that Lily wasn’t old enough to particularly notice or understand what was happening on Christmas morning; so who were we doing this for? Myself, to some degree, so I could live with myself by making, at the very least, a scaled-down, symbolic nod to my family’s traditions; and maybe, too, so that my other family members wouldn’t notice that we’d come to NC with gifts for others, but not for our own child. (“Are we crappy parents?” I asked Joe at Ingles before starting to laugh, realizing the absurdity of our circumstances and mission.)
Yet with all the gifts and all the family around on Christmas morning, no one cared or noticed that our gifts to Lily were, well, kind of lame and paltry, and I felt relieved that at least she had something from us to open.
Lily’s a year older now, obviously, and much more communicative – much more fun to play with and engage with. And maybe that’s the reason I had that flash of temptation at Costco. It’s not so much that she’ll hear other kids build up Christmas, because she’s not quite there yet, either. No, it’s more likely that watching her absorb new information and really, truly play with things and other people has quickly become addicting. I love seeing her trying out musical instruments, painting on newspapers while singing, pedaling her trike down the sidewalk, etc. And I guess a fierce thirst has developed in me to see her explore the many other things the world has to offer.
Yes, part of my temporary urge to splurge surely also stemmed from how unabashedly I’ve fallen in love with Lily (which didn’t happen right away, I’ll confess, but rather happened over time); and it’s troubling that even a circumspect consumer can’t help but reflexively, in the moment, feel the desire to demonstrate her love by way of “things.” But how you respond to such conditioned impulses is probably just as important as recognizing them.
And as explanations go, feeling wildly excited about the world that’s just opening up to my child is one I’ll happily live with.