June 1, 2006

How much is too much?

It’s true. When you have a child, you do see the future in his eyes. But what is that future? What do I envision it to be? For sure, it’s a precarious mix of Fear and Hope. I’ve hinted towards this when I discussed the Beautiful People Quandary. The thought that my own child might join the legions of a group in which I was never allowed access does give me the heebie-jeebies. On the one hand, of COURSE I would love my son to be a Beautiful Person simply because I never got to be a Beautiful Person. On the other hand, I know from experience that NOT being Beautiful made me the person I am today - I was never that little girl that people fawned over and that probably affected me. In some good ways, at least, since I always made sure to get good grades in school as I had been pegged the “smart one” early on. Although, maybe the jury is still out on that validity of that.......

AnyWAY..... Beautiful or Not, it IS probable that my son will not have to struggle much financially if our Living Situation continues on course. For sure, he will never fondly remember HIS first pair of Much Lusted After Nikes (white with a red swoosh...sigh). Nor will he hoard the precious box they came in (am I the only one who STILL has a hard time throwing away a shoe box?) How do you raise an empathetic, well-adjusted child in this day and age?

These thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. Yes, ME - the same one who bought Ridiculous Shoes for her baby son, who has a strong predilection for Gymboree and who can’t resist buying book after book for him. However, I bought the shoes for ME because I seriously doubt that Arun really enjoys them nearly as I much as I do. And I probably bought the books for ME, as well, since he can't read. Yeah, yeah, he probably doesn't appreciate the cute monkey-themed Gymboree outfit, either. However, I appreciate the fact that I can buy those things for him. I appreciate the fact that I can chauffeur him around in the Ridiculous Car in his Ridiculous Carseat. I appreciate the fact that our TV is so Ridiculous that I have to be careful how close Arun gets to it - I actually watch LESS TV because I don’t want him just randomly exposed to it. The point is that I DON’T take all these things for granted because it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t have this lifestyle. X and I come from pretty humble backgrounds - he being from a developing country and I having grown up in pitshit teeny Kansas towns. Even though we both never wanted for much and never went hungry, we HAVE seen poverty up close in our surroundings. India? Well, Duh, you say. But Kansas, you ask? Actually, I went to grade school in one of the poorest counties in Kansas. I grew up seeing kids with nothing. While the word “poverty” wasn’t a part of my grade school vernacular, I knew enough to realize that my friend K didn’t have it so good because she had no pillow and no sheets on her bed. No grass in her yard and peeling plaster in her house. Not many toys, for sure. And she wasn’t my only friend like this and certainly, not my only classmate in this situation. Furthermore, our town was so small, there was no class distinction - there just weren’t enough people. The one rich kid would have been playing by herself. The rest of us were pretty middle-class and then, there were a lot of poor kids as well. We all played together because there wasn’t much choice. Or maybe, we just didn’t know better.

So, while X and I are very aware that our life is pretty damned good right now, we are also equally aware that things could turn. No, we don’t live paycheck to paycheck and actually have no debt save for the house and car, but sometimes, Life Happens and we are acutely cognizant of that fact. We comfort ourselves knowing that it wouldn’t kill us to go back to watching The Sopranos on a 27 inch television. We know, from experience, having a big TV and fancy car are perks - not necessities.

So, how do X and I ensure our son grows into a empathetic world citizen? I don’t think it is as simple as not buying him a $25 pair of baby shoes. And yes, I suspect it comes down to looking in the mirror. The time is coming where it won't be enough for X and I to just cut checks in the name of Charity - we will need to put our money where our mouths are and actually DO something, for a change.

However, this question gets even bigger in this day and age of ensuring that “no kid ever feels bad” -- how do you raise a kid with humility? I mentioned earlier this week that I had read Generation Me by Jean Twenge over the weekend. I had been thinking for some time about the issue of kids being so self-centered these days - when I saw the book laying on our coffee table it was like I had hit a mental jackpot. I quickly stole the book from X and promptly inhaled it. The book covers the issue of why kids are so self-centered today and why this whole exercise of the boosting childrens' self-esteem has failed. For example, schools are having awards programs where EVERY kid gets an award. One of the gals I walk with used to be a teacher and when we discussed this issue, she related how at her school’s awards programs she had to give EVERY child 3 awards, even if it was for something like “Greatest Smile”. Schools are cutting things like dodge ball because of the competition. Schools are hesitant to publish honor rolls because the kids that don’t make it get their feelings hurt - which is SAD because things like awards that are EARNED give incentive for someone to strive towards something better. Why work hard if you know you are going to get an award anyway? I know that having an honor roll sure as hell made ME work harder in school.

So, what do I REALLY want for my son? Choices. And I’d like him to be knowledgeable AND conscientious enough to make the right ones. I realize that with our particular Living Situation as it is now, I will have to make extra efforts to ensure that he doesn't grow up taking his life for granted and that he is the sort of person who is considerate of others - regardless of THEIR Living Situation. And most importantly, in the end, the Very End, I’d like my son to know that it doesn’t really matter what sort of shoes you wear.

Arun's not even 8 months old and he's already received the “Starving Kids in India” comment from his daddy. Wait til he finds out that daddy also grew up without a bike, a TV, a refrigerator or even a CRIB. Let's not mention the cobras, either.

Already STEALING from others. See what I mean? He's outta control.


But there's hope.


Pioneer Woman said...

Dang, that high chair is waaaaay too clean. Mine kids' chairs were always caked with gunk galore.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I have blogged about this issue multiple times at my corner of crazy. My parents grew up po By the time they had us, they were wealthy, but because THEY had grown up super-po, they had no desire to shower us or themselves with designer crap, toys, Nintendos whathaveyou. For growing up in one of the wealthiest commnities in MA, I didn't look like the type of kid that belonged there in my Caldor's (Old School Walmart) Gitano jeans when all my classmates were rocking J.Crew and Gap and whatnot. Then Grunge hit and I took my after-school job money and few parental handouts to thrift stores and hey, I looked like everyone else but that was just historical accident on account of the music scene back then, not my cleverness or anything.

OTOH, my parents have been VERY generous with money for school, and even growing up, anything academically related. I got to go to 7K per summer debate camps at places like Northwestern U because my parents felt it was good for my mind. They established educational trusts for us early on, and between that and our academic scholarships, my sister and I emerged from undergrad debt-free. They helped me finance law school.

So I feel like the interim generation between Obviously PO and Obviously Monied...the one that got the middle-to upper middle class upbringing and thus enjoys her niceties that my parents aren't attached to...so what will my kids turn out like? Can 2 upper-middle class people raise a child that isn't shades of Azrael? Or will it be a Designer Baby in a Fugaboo stroller (sorry to everyone who owns one, I just think it's funny to call them that) who has absolutely no values beyond materialism, consumerism and assholism? The worst part is that if you want your kid to go to a great school (and I do), you end up with a LOT of those wealthy brats and I worry that such society will rub off on them in a way it didn't rub off on me because I have parents who are so OBVIOUSLY freaky but my freakdom is hidden under an Aveda coiffure and thus reduces the targeting. Because I know those kids, they are not my friends, but I MET the children of two extremely well salaried professionals in law school, grew up with them in high school, my sister knows TONS in med school and they are...insipid at best, horrendously entitled at worst. They also seem to be colder.

They are also extremely adept lawyers, it seems to come almost naturally to them but whatever. I'd sacrifice the future MonkeyBaby being good at law exams for a little humanity.

So that was long-winded and all but I worry about this and I don't even HAVE a baby to cuddle and love. I'd just like a kid like me, kinda geeky, had to work for some stuff, didn't have to work so hard for other things. I'd like a kid that remembers that although I can afford to buy him GAP pants, and send him to the private schools I didn't get to attend, that his grand-father grew up poor and was born at home and did his homework by oil lamp, that his great-grandfather got jailed for resisting the British and who despite his accounting background, worked as a clockmaker because of his beliefs. I'd like a kid that knows that his family, and even his mom, doesn't come from privileged stock and I'd like my kid to be PROUD of that and wear it like a badge of honour, rather than flaunting the mantle of his (in all likelihood) obvious privilege...and maybe down the line...choose to go to that state school after all.

Goofy Girl said...

My philosophy has always been to give my kid EXPERIENCES, rather than STUFF. You take your experiences with you everywhere, while the stuff sits at home in a closet, forgotten.

Anna said...

Glad to see more on this topic, as it hits close to home for me too. I sure don't know the secret, as my kid's still an experiment in progress, so if you figure it out, please let me know.

I will say that, while I grew up fairly poor, my husband grew up well-off and (dare I say) spoiled when it came to monetary things, and yet he turned out a very empathic person. However, his family was definitely "different", so he had that to contend with.

There's various levels to this, i.e. bringing up a kid that's kind and also instilling a healthy attitude toward money.

Rozanne said...

Excellent post. You *don't* need to feel guilty about living comfortably. It's crazy to think that there's some sort of virtue in being poor. It took me decades to figure that out.

Also, I don't see anything wrong w. buying baby shoes that you like. The other thing is--when you have money you can choose how you spend those $$$$, you can buy something that's more expensive but that is made by a company that pays their workers a fair wage and treats them well. The CSA is good example, too. It costs more to get your produce from them, but you're supporting local farmers *and* you're getting really good fruit and veg. Win-win!

Cagey said...

That was a Cheerios-Only meal - those are infinitely easier for cleanup.

Yes, I was curious as to what you would say. First, you mentioned rich people and I should clarify that we are NOT wealthy - just a helluva lot better off than our parents. Also, X has the attitude of your parents - his mantra with Arun is "He'd better get good grades". He will gladly sink our money into Arun's education - just like his own parents did for him. Unfortunately for Arun, X went to IIT and then to Dartmouth, so Arun better get crackin'. Um, I am only half joking, although I would be OVER the MOON if Arun chose to go my alma mater, KU. Also, I should have mentioned that any cool clothes I received were from my GRANDMA as GIFTS - like Christmas or birthdays. My parents would never, EVER buy me anything name brand. Ever. We shopped at KMart with THEM and the mall with GRANDMA. In that vein, I had the best of both worlds because for sure, I appreciated anything nice coming through the door - to this day, I carefully spray water protectant on my shoes and I am still very anal about how I do my laundry. Also, anyone who knows me in Real Life knows VERY well that I am NOT fashionable - I wear clothes til they fall apart - this is why the whole baby clothes thing took me by such surprise.

Goofy Girl,
I probably didn't do a good enough job emphasizing the LIFE STYLE, rather than just the STUFF. Already, Arun has a better lifestyle than either X and I grew up with. I didn't have cable, air conditioning (house or car) until college. I live in a much nicer house then either of my parents. I drive a nicer car. I get to take cool trips - my dad hasn't been anywhere cool since he did a quick, well-deserved sojourn in Hawaii on his way back from Vietnam. I have access to many other amenities that they never had. But I appreciate them and don't take them for granted. I just worry about raising a kid taking all of that for granted. Other than the clothes and books, I have done okay in the toy arena at least. Most of his toys are borrowed/hand-me-downs (thanks to my friends Dorothy and M!) or garage sale finds.

Yes - I agree that someone with money can grow up to be a considerate person and not spoiled. And I do have ideas about how I want to come about that with Arun. For sure, he will be pushing a lawnmower as soon as he old enough.

Cagey said...

Yes, I need to get over the whole guilt thing. I remember when I got my first job out of college being weirded out by the fact that I was making more than my mom straight out of the gate.

You hit upon something that actually DOES make me feel guilty. It is much easier to eat healthier when you can afford to buy good veggies and GOOD fish (NOT the pre-packaged frozen crap).

There has been talk of making food stamps more valuable for those types of products and I would totally support a movement like that.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

Hey! My dad's an IIT alum! Which campus? My father went to IIT-Bombay.

Molly said...

Your son is just beautiful.

Erin said...

Beautiful baby boy. I love the hair. I agree that you don't have to feel guilty about living comfortably. There's enough crap to feel guilty about day-to-day, just scrach that one off your list.

Zoot said...

Just wait, I am still asking myself all of those questions with my 11-year old. I was talking to a friend of mine who manages an outdoor store in town and said that some woman left the other day with her kid begging for some reef flip-flops and she kept telling him, "work for them and I'll get them for you" and she said that was SO RARE of an exchange. 9 times out of 10 kids are begging and whining and being rude and parents are shelling out the big bucks for whatever they want.

Also? Do you know how many times I've reminded my son that I grew up in a home with no A/C or Heat? hehee.. GOBS.

Jenn said...

I worry too. I see the differance between me and my brother. My parents were much poorer when I was little than my brother. And I feel like I understand the value of a dollar MUCH more than he does. It's hard to have the money and let them understand that. Cause today they shoes we buy them are for us, and then tomorrow they will be for both us and then, and then the next they will be for just them, and we wont realize it till it's too late.

If you figure it out, let me know!

dorothy said...

I had the same growing up experience, and I must compliment you on your use of the word "pitshit." I sort of have been wondering about this, too, considering that the little angel's situation is compounded by the fact that she's surrounded by other equally well-fortified children at Toddler High. I think that's why I don't want her to go to Toddler High's private school. I want her to go to a public school with no metal detector, for sure, but also one with varying degrees of wealth. I don't want her to thinks she's "poor" because she's at the low end of the socioeconomic scale at the private school, just because there are really, really rich kids there. I don't want her to think she can have a toy every time we go somewhere. I don't want her to take things for granted.

The way I've been dealing with it is to control volume. If she gets a new toy, an old one goes in hiding or to a friend (Arun - you aren't getting the goods just out of the genorousity of my heart - I'm also hiding this shit from the little angel, hee hee). I, like you, sent a ton of clothes down to the Hurricane Katrina babies, and the little angel and I discussed it before I did it. I think the right thing to do is to talk about how not everyone has what we have and to give freely of our excess when the right opportunity arises. I'm planning to donate a bunch of books in which she has lost interest to Toddler High again soon. They've already had two loads. Why? Because I LOVE books, and I plan to keep buying them for her, but I don't intend for her to have mounds of anything. I keep the great reads that she should have for her children, but she doesn't need every little ditty I picked up at the drugstore to amuse her on a long car trip.

Also? Who you hang out with makes a big difference, as you well know. I remember only feeling bad about my family's finances when hanging with judgmental friends who had more than I did. I don't know how we solve that problem, but you bet I'll be trying to.

Good commentary!

SRB said...

Even though I'm babyless I've thought about all the issues you brought up in your blog - I think you have a great persspective on it. Kids pick up what their parents do whether they want to or not, so watching his own mom be so conscientous (is that how you spell that word?... I dunno) will definitely shape him up to be a fine young lad I'm sure. If you have all the magical answers by the time I have a kid, I'll look you up. :)

Me said...

I really like this post. It sums up a lot of thoughts I've been having lately - about how to raise a decent, respectful, responsible kid, who doesn't take things like central air (which I didn't grow up with) for granted. As we discussed briefly, I'm beginning to wonder if moving to a more rural location would make it easier . . .