Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stuff Part II

So, I had all these thoughts running around inside my head when I read Anna Quindlen's column In Newsweek called "Why Stuff is Not Salvation." In it, she says, "Americans have been on an acquisition binge for decades. I suspect television advertising, which made me want a Chatty Cathy doll so much as a kid that when I saw her under the tree my head almost exploded. By contrast, my father will be happy to tell you about the excitement of getting an orange in his stocking during the Depression. The depression before this one." (If you'd like to read the entire column, you can read it here.)

We always want a better life for our children than the one we have and I hope that I can raise my children to be free of the stuff-want that I've suffered from. But it's not easy when your children have one set of grandparents who take them to the dollar store every time they visit -- which is often -- and buy them cheaply made toys that don't last. Because of these toy store runs, both of my kids have come to expect a trip to the store with every visit. They also don't value any of these toys and don't take care of them. It enfuriates me but I have held my tongue thus far.

And then we went to my mother-in-law's for Christmas, where she gave Bubba an absolutely fantastic artist's easel. On one side was a dry erase board, on the other a chalkboard and it had a roll of paper that fits in the middle and hangs over one side. She rounded out the gift with some dry erase markers, some chalk, and an eraser. It was a great gift. And Bubba was thrilled....for a second. He looked around for other gifts to open and upon finding that there were no more said "That's not very much stuff."

And my head exploded. I.Was.Mortified. I took Bubba into the guest room for a very serious talking to. I told him that what he said was VERY rude and that it had probably hurt his Nana's feelings. I tried to get him to imagine how he would feel if someone said something like that about his gift. I also told him that Christmas wasn't just about presents, that it was about Jesus and God's love for us. In my anger and embarrassment, perhaps I went a little overboard, but in my defense I was reacting not only to his remark, but to all these issues that had been swirling around in my head and my own struggles with stuff want.

It became obvious that I had gone overboard when a few days later I overheard Bubba absolutely berating Punkin in the other room. "You don't know anything, Punkin," he sneered. "It's not just about presents. It's about God and Jesus, too. You're just being selfish," he scolded.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's not right either. There has to be a way to balance the normal excitement kids feel about Christmas with the proper perspective on stuff. I called Bubba to me and pulled him in my lap.

"Listen, Bubba," I said. "I didn't mean for you to get the wrong idea about what I said the other day. It's okay to be excited about presents and stuff. Presents are fun. And Christmas is supposed to be fun. I just want you to understand that it's not ALL about presents. Okay?"

"Okay," he said.

And I think he got it. On Christmas Eve as we were leaving my mom's house I asked the kids "Okay, one more time...what do you hope Santa brings for you?"

"I want the car that drives on the wall, Mommy" Bubba said.

I knew the car was in Santa's bag, but I asked "Well, what if Santa doesn't bring that, Bubba?"

"That's okay," he said. "I'll be happy with whatever Santa brings." And he meant it.

"Well, he'll probably bring it," I reassured him. "You told him a long time ago that's what you wanted."

Sometimes I think about Anna Quindlen's father, happy with his orange for Christmas. And it's not that I want Bubba and Punkin to just have an orange, I just want them to be happy with what they have. I want them to have peace.

Isn't that all we ever want for our children?


AndreAnna said...


Great post. Thanks for the reminder.

Fannie said...

You may have to have a difficult conversation with family about toys and gifts, quantity vs quality, etc. It's hard enough to do right by your kids; you need the support of extended family too.

Robyn said...

Awesome post. I emailed the article to my husband who REALLY loves "stuff."

I'm over it and ready to have a more manageable household.

Leslie said...


calicobebop said...

Yes, that's a wonderful concept. I'm glad that Bubba gets it at such an early age. He'll be happier for it in the long run.

BTW, car that drives on the wall? What kind of crazy magic is that?

Katie in MA said...

Kids are like walking, talking reminders for us sometimes, aren't they? Great post. And great reminder!!

I love your quest for peace and grace this year. It's very humbling.

Dysd Housewife said...

It's SO hard in todays commercial society to convey that message. Good for you. :)

for a different kind of girl said...


As much as I stress out by the accumulated stuff in my house, by how much I want only a few things rather than a lot, I sometimes think that I perpetuate some interest in 'stuff' my kids have by getting extra things during gift-giving events, because I always want them to have 'the best, most awesome' Christmas/birthday/etc. Somewhere in all that, we all need to find a balance.

Laurel said...

It's an important lesson to learn, but oh-so-hard in a society that is drunk on overindulgence. I am grateful to be surrounded by other parents who see eye to eye with me on that issue. It makes my job so much easier to have that support. said...

Oh you are SO RIGHT! I think that's what I want for everybody. Things would be soooo much better for all of us if we were simply happy with what we have, and just tried to maintain instead of climbing over the top of it all in order to acquire MORE!
I am so very proud of Bubba for you!

Laura said...

My Uncle Tony told me the story of getting an orange in his stocking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am on the same page as you, sister. I am really struggling with my oldest (10) and his selfishness and need for more and more STUFF. And it is never enough, you know. Give a little, and they ask for more. And I have been down because I can only assume that I created this! After a bday party of mini golf, a sleep over, video games, pizza and chips, and pancakes in the morning, my son looked at me and said, "You didn't even get me a lot of presents."

I wanted to kick him.