When my children can’t have something they want, I tell them, “Go make it, then.” They can look annoyed at first, but then I see those mind-wheels turning, and they’re off in search of the found objects, and read and willing to cut and paste.
When they were really little, I did indulge them; at Rite Aide, those little two-dollar cars would be strategically displayed up by the cashier’s counter, so every mother with a whining little boy would have to stop, and most often, like me, would give in and buy him one. Not only did throwing that little purchase in with the necessities of shampoo and toothpaste stave off a tantrum, it gave me great pleasure – I admit, I loved to see how such a small purchase utterly brightened my boys’ day, and for a few hours became their most prized possessions, until the cars were lost under the couch or somewhere we just couldn’t find them.
But that WAS when they were little. It’s since become more complicated, starting in first grade, this year, when Ryan came out of school one day and announced, “I want a Beyblade.”
What the heck was a Beyblade?
He told me that Eric, is first-grade buddy, said if he begged for one, he would get them. Funny. Too funny.
Anyway, his birthday was coming up so I said he could wait. I thought that was the end of that.
Then just a week before Christmas, he comes out of school all excited about Pokemon cards. “Mom, you HAVE to buy me a pack!”
No, you can’t have a Pokemon cards. Christmas is around the corner, put it on your Santa list. . . .
“But you can get them at Target for five dollars!!!”
This made me stop in my tracks. I rarely ever even took him to Target, to avoid just these kinds of conversations. So how would he even know how much they cost?
“Eric has them and that’s where his mom got them.”
I saw it now: Eric and his mother are at Target, and to avoid her own scene in the middle of the store, she tosses the pack of Pokemon cards into her shopping cart.
“Christmas is COMING.”
I need them NOW.”
I felt those tiny little hairs on the back of my neck starting to stand on end. Even the hairs on the back of my hands, on my legs… “Then go home and count out your change.”
“I don’t have enough!”
Which was true. A couple of months before, he hadn’t been able to wait until his birthday for the Beyblade, so he’d spent just about all his spare dollar bills and coins on that.
“Then go home and MAKE one!”
The first time I began this mantra, was when he kept bugging me about how he wanted a DS. So I told him to go home and make one – and he did. He found a piece of small cardboard, drew on it a screen and buttons, and he had his DS. Not only was he proud of his creation, he played with it. He was content to pretend. And as far as I’m concerned, this pretend world is paramount.
Since then, he has made LOTS of stuff – all the stuff he can’t have. He made his own iphone from the cover picture that came with mine, all protected in packaging tape so that it has weathered well his hours of pretend play. This making of things has translated well into the making of just about anything that comes into his head: batmobiles, spaceships, Ben "5" watches (since he couldn't have the Ben10 one...)
As to the Pokemon cards, Ryan did come home and make a pack of those as well. And for that one afternoon, he was content with his homemade cards. But the next day, he came home again begging for them.
This time when I said no, I wasn’t prepared for the torrent of tears. Not the angry, frustrated tears I was more used to from my children when they couldn’t every something they wanted. These were tears of devastation. “I can’t battle….” He whimpered. “Everyone has them and they battle at recess. I can’t BATTLE.”
I saw it now. I saw him and his buddies sitting together on the floor. I saw Ryan watching them all battle and trading cards. I saw him being left out. I remembered this too well from my own childhood. This hollow hurtful left-out feeling.
Christmas WAS only a week away. But I knew he needed them now. The protective side of me took over. The one that kept him away from stairs when he was only still crawling. The one that tightly swaddled him in those thin hospital blankets when he was born.
I knew though, I couldn’t just buy them for him. Because as he grew, there would be bigger things he would want, and I couldn’t just buy him those things either. But he only had $2 in his piggy bank so he couldn’t buy them himself.
I told him he could pay me back the other $3 with extra chores. Because this time, it wasn’t just about him wanting stuff other kids had. It was about how he saw himself. An image that would be challenged from now on, as well as become so much more expensive and complicated.
Since then, there of course has been other stuff he wants, but nothing that has been as crucial as the Pokemon cards. His new obsession is the Ben10 watch, not because every other kid has it – which they don’t – but just because he wants it. And which he knows he won’t get any time soon, as there are no birthdays coming up and Christmas has just passed. So he not only made one for himself, he made one for everyone in the family, including Gramma, and we all feel far more safe wearing these Ben5 watches (as he calls the since they are even more powerful than the Ben10 ones...), as they have special powers of lightning, fire and electricity to ward off all bad aliens. Besides all that, they make for very striking cuff bracelets!