We often see lists of what people fear most, and some old mainstays are public speaking, death, flying, vomiting – but I bet if there was a subsection of mothers with young kids taking that survey, “spoiling my child” would be on there somewhere.
Because no one wants that. It’s not good for mommy and daddy, not good for the kid, not good for other humans. Everybody loses, right?
So nearly every parenting decision is haunted by this anxiety. Your every instinct drives you to want to see your child happy all the time – but you’ve got to teach her, too, that sometimes, you don’t get what you want, and that’s just how the world works. Period.
Then there’s that temptation to just avoid the “store showdown” all together.
This is why, when I need to buy birthday presents for other kids, I usually bend over backwards to do it on my own – on the way home from work, or on a day I’m working from home and running errands.
Today, though, as a means of getting Lily to preschool without a fight (this was one of those very occasional “but I don’t WANT to go to preschool” mornings), I told her I’d pick her and Neve up a bit early and take them shopping to pick up gifts for two little cousins’ upcoming birthdays.
In a way, this was a good thing. It got me what I wanted – a battle-free morning – and it would take care of a task that needed to happen before tomorrow afternoon.
On the drive there – we weren’t even in the store yet – Lily says, from the backseat, “Can I get something too, Mommy?”
These shopping trips are so rare for me that I’d forgotten that when I DO venture into this realm, I normally prime Lily by repeating – when the trip is first proposed, while she’s getting her shoes on, as we go out the door, as I’m buckling her into her seat, as I’m driving to the store, as we’re walking into the store – that the trip is solely for the purpose of buying gifts for other people, and that we’re not getting anything else. NOTHING ELSE. If she sees stuff she likes, which she inevitably will, we can put them on her wish list for Chrismukkah, but we’re not buying anything for her. (Daddy’s a bit of a softer touch, but Mommy tries hard to hold firm on this.)
I’d forgotten to do all that today, though, and this suddenly made the issue murkier.
Even so, I pushed for Lily to focus on picking out gifts for her cousins, which she did while squatting next to Neve in the shopping cart. (Neve, for her part, just said “Wheeee!” every time we rolled down an aisle. God bless her for being as-yet oblivious to consumerism, I thought.)
Lily asked me to go back down the doll aisle and pointed at various things that caught her eye – kind of haphazardly and desperately, as if looking to somehow thread the needle with ANYTHING that would qualify as a “small thing” in my eyes. I dryly announced how much each thing cost, and that $20, $34, $14, etc. was too much money – ESPECIALLY since she’d just gotten a huge haul of gifts at her birthday party.
I then tried to tackle the issue head-on. Yet there’s a point at which you get a bit too philosophical with a five year old (not that I could stop myself from trying), which I realized as I leaned over the cart and said something like, “Lily, you just got all those wonderful toys and games from everyone at your party. But you’re obviously still not happy, even with all that stuff, because now you’re pushing me to buy you something else. Do you see that? Doesn’t that seem to indicate that all these toys and things that you buy don’t really make you happy in a meaningful, long-lasting way?”
She looked perplexed and I thought, I’m a lunatic. Adults have great difficulty grasping this. She might, MIGHT absorb this if it’s a message I convey many times over the course of her life, but today, she was just going to keep eying that infernal My Little Pony with a comb and ask me how much it cost.
$5. Apparently both my price point and my breaking point.
Still reluctant, though, I grumpily told Lily she’d have to give me what money she had at home to help pay for it; and because I didn’t think she had enough to cover the Pony, she was going to have to set the table for dinner for the next week.
“And you can’t fight with me or Daddy about it. If you fight us, I’m taking the Pony back to the store. Are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” she nodded.
But then there’s Neve, who’s perfectly content in the cart. I tell myself that I have to think about how Lily perceives things in these situations. I can’t just buy her something and not get something for Neve, too – even though I don’t really want to buy something else, and even though she seems perfectly happy with nothing. Lily has to see them as equals. But by offering Neve something, am I teaching her, too, to start pining for things when we go to a store?
Crap. Why is everything so freakin’ complicated? Questions of fairness were instantly mangled into a mashed-up mess of money, appearances, birth order, sibling relations, spoiling both my children so badly they become raging monsters, etc.
But in the end, I couldn’t just get something for Lily, so I found some baby dolls that appeared to be $3. Fine. Neve seemed charmed, and one of the babies wore a bunny outfit. She liked it – and then we spotted a nearby box full of more babies dressed in animal costumes. Since dogs are Neve’s favorite thing in the world, we found a “dog baby.” And then I saw that these baby dolls were Cabbage Patch Cuties, or some such nonsense, and that they cost $13.
Come on. Seriously?
Oy. Just get me out of this store, I thought. NOW.
So we check out, and I’m still gently haranguing Lily about how she may think we have a lot of money, but we don’t. (She, of course, has no idea Neve’s baby costs considerably more than her Pony, which she’s helping to pay for with her own money – what is wrong with me?) And on the drive home, I’m reiterating that you can’t get something you want or like every time you go to the store, and that Lily should take note that I got nothing for myself during the trip.
On some level, I guess I’m hoping that Lily will find me so annoying to deal with when I DO finally agree to buy something for her that she’ll just opt out completely.
But that may be too much to hope for.
And when we got home, it turns out Lily DID have more than five dollars, so I took the money and told her she still needed to help set the table for dinner – which she considered a bargain. Plus, did I mention she’d gotten one big Little Pony, and two little ones, at her birthday party?
I don’t even want to think about it.
Oh, rushed solo shopping stops – why did I ever stray from you? I’m back for good.
Because sometimes, the old ways really are best.