One of the reasons that children have been put on the earth is to teach adults. I get schooled frequently by mine. They don’t know it.
Last Saturday, my six-year-old son arrived home from a full day of playing at his friend’s house. He flopped on the couch in a funk, sat there for a second, then headed off to his room. I assumed the funk was occurring because he would rather still be at his buddy’s house. That was only partially true.
Several minutes later, he returned to the living room, bottom lip jutting out.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I don’t have the right kind of toys!” he moaned. “We played Army all day, and I don’t have any army stuff!”
Never mind 10,658 soldiers…
Two Hummer/Jeep things…
A pretty cool camo plane…
This black-ops guy from a Burger King kids’ meal…
And the all-purpose Nerf gun weaponry…
At that moment, I was obligated to fulfill my parental duty of launching into a monologue of “yes-you-do-have-toys-you-have-a-million-and-some-kids-in-the-world-have-none,” which is basically a variation on the classic theme, “there-are-starving-people-in-the-world-so-eat-your-peas.” The monologue usually includes a contrasting reference to Veruca Salt, the “I Want it Now” brat from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who has served as a convenient object lesson for children over the decades. She, above all, is the kid you do not want to be. Be instead the anti-Veruca.
He considered my logic for a minute, and it sufficiently silenced him enough to begin a foray into some other activity besides Army. I shook my head, mentally adding up all the Christmas and birthday detritus accumulated over six years that currently litters my house. The wrong kind of detritus?
And then I got schooled.
Because this little thought entered my head: Do I ever complain that I don’t have the “right kind of toys”? Who, me? Why, no! Of course not. I don’t play with toys!
But, I will just confess, I may have been known to open my closet and hear the words, “I don’t have anything to wear!” escape my lips, as racks of clothes stretch out before me. Which is pretty much the same thing.
We of the sophisticated adult world may not play with army toys, but we do like - Stuff. I like to window shop - and real shop - and gaze longingly at Pinterest. In fact, I had to quit Pinterest because, unlike the folks who actually use it for ideas, I found myself using it to create pin boards of stuff I wished I had or did or made - but knew I would never actually have or do or make. In essence, I was constantly reminding myself that I did not have the right kind of toys.
It is the goal of marketing to remind us that our current “toys” are not good enough, not convenient enough, not stylish enough, and not functional enough. To create some gap between the status quo and the much more attractive idea of what could be. In other words, why are you playing with matchbox cars when you could be playing ARMY? Why are you using an iPhone 4 when you could be using an iPhone5? You need better toys!
But the law of nature is this, and it’s true for children and adults: when you finally do get the toy you want, the thing’s status then shifts from desired item to status quo item. The novelty inevitably wears off. And without thinking about it, you’re looking for the next toy. Lather, rinse, repeat.
If I’m launching into parental monologues about being happy with what you have, then I guess I better make darn sure that I am living it myself.
It’s not all about the toys, anyway.