Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Kids and Entitlement

"At this moment I believe God is asking us for more simplicity" 
- Pope Francis

Simplicity has been on my mind for, oh, the last 3 years. Doesn't it seem like I should have it all wrapped up and tied with a bow by now?

I don't. And I could prove it in a thousand different ways.

No matter how much I want to want less, it's a concept I embrace more in theory than in practice.
But maybe that wanting is a good enough place to start. Maybe that bone-deep itch to slough off the excess is like the mosquito bite on my right ankle - the more I scratch it, the longer it sticks around.

A few nights ago I cracked up all the way through this article, "53 Things Only '80's Girls Can Understand." 

I remembered every single "Thing" on the list except for one (what the bizz is a My Child doll??)

It took a full 24 hours for it to sink in that out of all those "things", the only one I had ever owned was a Caboodle, procured sometime around 1990, an item I miss to this day. (R.I.P.)

I'd watched the shows and read the books, but I'll be danged if I never held the coveted bottle of Eau de Cat Pee Electric Youth in my hot little claws. And the see-through jelly phone? A pipe dream. I didn't even bother.

No Care Bears, no Rainbow Brite, no Strawberry Shortcake. No Pound Puppies or Little Ponies.

I did have Barbies and a knock-off Cabbage Patch kid named Jonathon, perpetually clad in a blue and white sweatsuit I inexplicably and subconsciously recreated for myself years later in Jr. High Home Economics class.

My closet had no pinstriped jeans (finally fixed that back in 2008) and nary a jelly shoe to be found. Don't even talk to me about Esprit or Benetton. Too painful.

The strange thing is, though I pined for all of those things, I never expected them. I felt no sense of despondance or neglect over not having them. My self-esteem didn't suffer. I knew I was fully loved.

I understood, on some fundamental level, that those things simply weren't in the cards for my family. I understood from a young age that we didn't roll that way. I always knew our lifestyle was born of necessity, but looking back, I wonder if it wasn't more than that.

30-odd years later, on a muggy night in August, I struggle to decide what to pack for my trip to a third-world country. The irony isn't lost on me.

I wouldn't dare hold myself up as some model citizen, a paragon of self-restraint or contentment.

But this sort of epiphany couldn't have come at a better time, when having walked willingly into yet another monumental pay-cut, our every penny is pinched until it cries out.

I'm better for having the childhood I had. I still struggle with selfishness and greed, but I never grew accustomed to having the "next big thing". I didn't learn by osmosis to tie my self-worth to a toy. These childhood lessons made being an adult a little easier.

I'm not an expert on anything (except salsa and maybe gingham). Maybe I could have titled this "How Not to Raise Entitled Children" and it would have been more pin-worthy. The problem is, I don't really know. I amaze and confound myself daily with how little I know about parenting. I'm busy dodging discussions of $60 Lego sets and American Girl dolls and it's all a little terrifying.

But I think there are some lessons here.

Whether by necessity or pure choice, we can opt out of gift-wrapping the lie for our kids that they need the thing that "everyone else" has. We can instill lessons about necessity and budgeting without ever saying the words. We can show them the thrill of an unexpected surprise when they land Ball Gown Barbie then knock their socks clean off when we painstakingly sew floor-length flannel nightgowns for that doll that match their own. (You rocked it, Mama!)

We have a say in the way all of this goes down, and if we don't want a fourteen year old hell-bent on having the newest version of the iPhone, then maybe there are things we can do right now to steer ourselves around that land mine.

I agree with the Pope. I think God is calling us to simplicity right now, just like he was 30 years ago and 300 years ago.

It took some time, but we're finally listening.
(And so are our kiddos, whether they realize it or not.)