One of the things I struggle with as a parent is trying to get my kids to be content with less. Less stuff. Fewer toys. A smaller serving of ice cream.
Sometimes I feel that good parenting has to be saying “No” a lot. No to stuff, no to more toys, no to incessant whining. I’m sure that when I was a child I didn’t whine for new things every time we went out. I didn’t feel an outing wasn’t complete if I hadn’t brought home some new piece of crap to fill up the house. I got new things for Christmas and for my birthday, which were conveniently at opposite ends of the calendar. In between, barring unexpected visits from far-flung relations, I played with what I had already.
I remember, though, very much wanting to have lunch in a snack bar when we would be out on a Saturday, and to get a sausage roll, instead of the “horrible” picnic my parents would pack. Because children don’t appreciate anything, a boring sandwich in the car, watching the waves roll in over a deserted beach in County Wicklow, was not interesting to me. A lukewarm sausage roll, on the other hand, flaky and golden outside, salty and pink and spongy inside, eaten at formica tables under buzzing florescent lights – now you’re talking.
I rarely got the sausage roll, but when I did, it was a treat.
I remember trying on a new duffel coat in Dunne’s. My mother wanted the grey, because it was a sort of heathered colour that would “hide the dirt”. I wanted the navy – it was smooth and sophisticated and … oh, I have no idea why it was so much nicer in my mind than the grey one, but I wanted the navy. I tried them each on, and when wearing the navy I pranced with a spring in my step and a smile on my face; in the grey I slouched and dragged my feet. I was making them laugh, though, not really being a brat. I knew I was trying it on in both senses of the phrase.
They bought the grey one, and I wore it and thought sadly of the navy that was denied me for at least two winters.
As an only child, I probably had more than most. But we didn’t have a lot. Some years were harder than others, I know; but I never saw it in the food on the table or my Christmas presents. My parents are frugal people who hate waste and will never buy something just for the sake of it. (My mother’s handbag purchases excepted. Once or twice she shocked me to the core by buying two handbags in one day. I have not yet reached those heights of flathiúlachas.)
And now I have these children with all this stuff. They can’t go to Target without assuming the right to something from the dollar section; and I think it’s okay because it’s only the dollar section and there’s still the entire toy department for me to have to say No about. They both get an allowance now, and Dash is scrupulously saving every penny he has – not for anything in particular, but just to see how much he can get, I think. He likes to count it and gloat, Scroogelike. Mabel forgets to put her two quarters away and they float around the kitchen for a few days, or she turns them into parts of her game and I find them in the dollhouse a week later. She spent her previous amassed fortune on a mama and baby fox in Ikea a while ago, even though originally she’d been saving for an Anna or Elsa doll. But she’s not really interesting in saving for something else. It takes too long, when you’re five.
When we go to the thrift store or a yard sale, they know they can get something; though I try to enforce an exchange system – they have to bring a toy to donate. And it’s so very hard for them to choose – it’s so difficult to give up their Stuff, even when it’s totally crap stuff, because it belongs to them and they take ownership so very seriously.
It’s impossible to give your children the childhood you had. And for plenty of the time I don’t even want to. I’d still pick the sausage roll, though I’d go and watch the waves afterwards. Maybe so long as I can get them to appreciate the waves, or the flowers, or the rainbow, it’s okay to go to the yard sale once in a while too. I just need to purge these shelves when they’re not looking.