Friday, December 14, 2012

Gifts and expectations

One of the best, albeit harshest rules I learned at a young age was that life’s not fair, and you can’t have everything you want.

My mom was young, uneducated, and single with no help, frankly  I’m pretty amazed that she succeeded in keeping us in basic necessities.  There was no money for things like video games, or even a VCR.  There are a lot of things that people around me take for granted that I never had, a washer and dryer in the house, a dishwasher, or an air conditioner.  My mom didn’t have a car, we took the bus.  There was only one thing that she always found money for, and that was books.  If I wanted a book, she found a way to get it for me.

To this day I still marvel at how convenient it is for me to just throw in a load of laundry whenever I fell like it.  No more having to plan out an afternoon at the Laundromat.  I still don’t have a dishwasher, or air conditioning, or cable.  My definition of necessary is very different from other people.

I remember one Christmas I got a TV, it wasn’t big, 15’’ I think, but I remember how happy I was to have my very own TV for my room.  Now I think about how much my mom must have scrimped and saved to buy it.

This may be the reason that I have so much trouble dealing with other people’s expectations of Christmas.  This year the BF and I have dealt with some pretty harsh backlash because we have said no to overspend on gifts, and stuck to our guns.  I think we’ve gotten to the other side of the gauntlet, but it has been a pretty rough ride the past couple of months dealing with everyone’s projected expectations.

The fact is this has been a very expensive year for us, what with the move, and getting the kids set up etc.  And we just don’t have the money to be spending hundreds of dollars per kid. 

The ex told us that she had decided to buy the boys Nintendo 3DS each and she wanted us to go in on it with her.  Of course she had not asked our opinion.  We said no, absolutely not.  My BF had bought the boys a Nintendo DS each for the birthdays last year, and sent them to her house with them, despite our usual rule about not sending things over there.  Within a few months, they had lost one and broken the other.  We saw no reason that we should help pay for new ones when we had already bought two.  We told her that we were keeping Christmas simple this year, no big gifts.  She kept bugging us until November.  We didn’t contribute, and she bought them anyways because that was what they wanted.  No thought about what they needed, or the consumerist message that there are no consequences for not taking care of things, just buy new ones.

Then in October, it was the eldest birthday.  He told us that he wanted the Skylander starter game.  We had already bought him a small gift, but we looked online to see how much the game was.  When we saw that it was 75$ for the starter pack, but then there were about 50 other characters to buy at 10$-20$ each, I said no way.  Especially for a video game.  My BF hesitated, wanting to make the kids happy, but quickly came to the same conclusion as me.  We had been working on limiting screen time for months, and this would not help.  We told him that no, we would not be buy the game, and we told him why, it was too expensive.  He wheeldled and cajolled and tried everything in his eight year old’s toolbox to convince us, and finally understood that it was no.

In the end my father in law bought it for him, and you know what, he appreciated it immensly.  He started to understand the concept that things cost money, and that things are not a right, or essential, they are just things.

The kids aren’t unhappy at our house without cable, or air conditioning.  Kids adapt to what you teach them to expect out of life, and while I wholeheartedly agree in teaching them to aspire to greatness and reach for the stars, I also plan to teach them that aspiration is not expectation.  That while you should strive for more, take time to apreciate what you have.

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