It’s 5 p.m. on a weekday, rapidly approaching the convergence of three things: sundown, the need to invent dinner from the usual suspects and the collective family tank of energy hitting low. I issue the small, vague prayer: Please let us make it through the evening without complaints, personality issues or excessive protest.
Col drags himself inside, kicked out by the chill from his current practice in the hunting arts: throwing a sharpened stick into the bedraggled, December lawn, ostensibly toward some invisible mastodon.
Rose is on the couch counting her money while her pet rat explores the sofa, finding crumbs and leaving unmentionables.
“Five, 10, 15 ... 20! Mama, I have 20 dollars. Can we go buy something now?”
Rose has a thriving dog-walking business. I accompany Rose on walks, cashing in on exercise and mother-daughter time, while Rose cashes in on, well, cash.
If money can burn a hole in your pocket, Rose is ignited. She wants to buy: gum, mints, coloring books, a cheap American Girl doll knock-off, a horse necklace for her friend Dewa and an elk T-shirt she spied downtown for her daddy. And that was yesterday.
Like most Americans, Rose is drawn to exchanging hard-earned money for trinkets that provide a two-hour hit of joy before the patina of newness inevitably dulls. This is understandable. Our culture markets happiness in stuff. When the novelty of a purchase fades, we scramble in our wallets to procure the next dose of pleasure.
When Rose asks, “Can we go buy something now?” my nervous system rings in alarm. Why can’t she be the Buddha of Childhood Satisfaction, content to play stick-dolls in the powdery dirt of our yard? How I’d like to be the family united against mindless consumerism, all of us turning effortlessly away from the distraction of shiny new playthings in favor of, I don’t know, harmonizing our daily chores with Zen chants?
But honestly, even as I grit my teeth against Rose’s moneyed-up request, in my discomfort lies great opportunity. And sure, this opportunity sometimes feels akin to being led blindfolded through the ice crevasse, but here is the chance to discuss impulse purchases with my children, to invite them to notice how the glittery new thing they coveted last week is now malingering under the couch.
I ask Rose to make a list of her desired purchases, and she agrees to wait a week to see if she’s still interested before shelling out cash. We introduce the notion of “craving” to the children, how it’s normal and transient, how it often covers up feelings we want to avoid and how humans trying to satisfy unchecked cravings has brought tremendous harm to our souls and this planet. We discuss the fascinating study showing that people feel greater happiness in planning a vacation than after completing a vacation: Anticipation for the future is the drug. Dan and I model gratitude and satisfaction for what we have, even if it’s another meal cobbled together with the ubiquitous inhabitants of our fridge.
And really, this is good news: Life’s challenges present opportunity. My friend Gretchen astutely reminded me that when Rose was not invited to an upcoming birthday party (despite all the girls in her class receiving invitations), this was an opportunity for Rose to confront heartache and disappointment while ensconced in the safety of family. And after removing a pox on the 7-year old’s house, I totally agreed.
When Col is monkeying with lighters, knives and boy-dreams, here lies an opportunity for me to see the true needs of a 9-year old boy, rather than think he’s content to immerse himself in say, the language arts. When the kids are asked to hang laundry and my shirts are mildew-inducingly bunched, here is an opportunity to remind them (again) how to properly perform this chore.
Rose and I are holding hands, walking the Scotties when Rose says, “You were right, Mama.”
“I’m glad I didn’t buy that cheap American Girl doll with the clothes and stroller. After borrowing Dewa’s doll, I completely lost interest in her after a week. Plus, I’d be broke now.”
My heart expands like a parachute, lifting and then cinching back down around the two of us with enough room to hold a 7-year old’s expanding wisdom.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.