There’s a big push in our culture to get what you want. Children are told from an early age that if they really want something, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have it. Sometimes hard work is involved, sometimes only the necessary funds are required. The thing desired could be becoming a movie star or it could be a MP3 player.
Of course I intend on telling Evie that she can be anything she wants to be, including the first veternarian-ballerina-astronaut. And I will do whatever I can to help her achieve that dream. But I don’t necessarily plan on telling her she should have anything she wants. Even if she has the means. The more important lesson I plan on teaching her is that sometimes the dreaming about something you want, the admiration of it, the longing for it is better than actually having it.
On occasional long, boring Sunday afternoons Evie and I like to visit Target’s toy section. There’s nothing like walking down aisles filled with colorful, glossy boxes to stave off Monday’s impending doom. We like to ponder Barbie’s various career choices and related outfits. We pet and talk to the fluffy puppies and kitties who miraculously come to life as we walk by. We debate the merits of Moon Dough vs. Play Dough. Sometimes we make friends with another short person who will try out the pink tricycles with us.
But we don’t buy anything. And Evie’s world does not end. In fact she’s often more content after one of these non-buying sessions than she is when she is allowed to get a toy. You probably don’t believe me, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because we stay longer and play. Maybe it’s because she didn’t have to barter with her Mama for anything, trading good-girlness for a Disneyfied reward.
Or maybe Evie understands on some level that wanting many things is better than getting one thing. That the desire for, the dreaming about, the anticipation of something is always better than having it. Wanting something keeps its allure alive, pulsating with possibility and prospect. Having it kills it. The thing is now acquired. Conquered. You have to find something else to inspire desire, to light the elusive flame of the unobtained.
Thus, credit cards.
But I’m not necessarily talking about “wanting and having” from an entitlement perspective. That’s a different argument, I think. What I’m talking about is obtaining or acquiring as an event. Think about it like this: What’s better, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Christmas Day, right? Duh. Well, I would choose Christmas Eve. To me, the anticipation of the next day is always better. In fact, my idea of Heaven is a perpetual Christmas Eve. It’s nonstop wondering, hoping and a good, warm feeling brought on by perfect dreams as yet unspoilt by the finality of fulfillment. Yep, sounds about right.
All of this is not to say that Evie doesn’t have her share of toys. She has four sets of grandparents and countless aunties and uncles, after all. And I’d be a lie if I said I didn’t enjoy watching Evie’s face light up when I give her something truly fantastic.
Here’s the thing, though. We were in Walmart last Sunday, and I had done some good-girl tradin’ with Evie. Other than the cucumber she shoplifted by hiding it in my purse, Evie was a very good girl. So we went to the toy aisle. Now, this was the Cleveland Walmart, which boasts not only organic Muir Glen spaghetti sauce and a gluten-free section, but also a fabulous toy department. Evie’s little head almost exploded upon beholding the rich bounty which abided therein. We must have squealed in delight over twenty times during our visit. But when it came time to choose a toy, Evie’s delight faltered a little. I offered several different things to her, which she said she liked, but I think she really just wanted to squeal more. I could almost see the conflict going on behind those baby blues: “Mama is offering to get me a huge, mispriced Cinderella castle that is $20 more than she thinks it is. It is truly a large boon. But I would rather stay here and look at everything else for a little longer. Once I say I want something, we’ll have to leave.”
I’ll be so proud one day if Evie can finally voice this conflict, turn to me and say, “Mama, I really just want to look.”
(And don’t think I didn’t just hear all the “Yeah, right!”s, either, you cynical poopheads. I would advise you not to speak so fast. For, lo, I say unto you that I’ve underestimated Evie before, too. She’s a wonderfully surprising little girl, that one, and she’ll always prove you wrong.)
And maybe this lesson I’m trying to teach her will have other benefits, too. Maybe she’ll come to value most what costs the least. I hope she learns that “you can’t take it with you” means her shiny new convertible and fabulous mink coat will not be able to join her on her trip to Christmas Eve Heaven.