I recently went to a birthday party for a two-year-old boy named Johnny. As I entered the house I had a hard time remembering what I was there for because I was experiencing a sensory overload of primary colors. Remember Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Well, here it was alive and well.
What was striking about this home was that in this approximately 2,000 square-foot house they had managed to pack in about 5,000 square feet of toys. The place was more jungle gym than house, stuffed with enough playthings to encircle the Earth several times. There was the obligatory giant tent filled with multi-colored balls and tubes that extended from one end of the house to the other. Then, in the backyard was the “real” playground, along with endless amounts of other toys, such as a mini-beach and sandbox equipped with a water gun defense system necessary to defend the empire. The yard was like a baby biosphere with more toys than blades of grass.
After taking in the sights, I felt compelled to say to Johnny’s mom, “Johnny sure does have a lot of toys”. Mom proudly responded by saying that what I was seeing was only one-third of the toys he had. Apparently, she had put most of the stuff in the basement to make room for the party. She then went on to say that she was sure my husband and I would get our child just as many toys when he or she came along. I responded politely, yet overtly, by saying, “I don’t think so.”
She then asked me one of the most telling questions that has ever been put to me: “You mean to tell me that you’re going to deny your child?” I instantly realized that any ideas I had about childrearing were so vastly different from this woman’s that continuing to discuss this issue further would be like trying to make the sun and moon embrace. Yet, in my mind, I continue to form a response to this baffling question.
I wonder if she could define what it is I would be denying my children if I refuse to buy them their twentieth Thomas the Tank Engine toy, or an even bigger, better playhouse. I wonder what response she would have when I would tell her why I believe that by “denying” my children more toys than they have cells I would actually be giving them much more.
I would give them the truth that less is sometimes more, and that beauty can be found in the little things in life. I would teach them that happiness is not found in “things” at all, but in the hearts of others and ourselves. I would teach them that, often times, giving brings much more joy than taking or having. And, that the most valuable thing you can give is yourself – your compassion, your time, your guidance, your patience.
I would show them how what is man-made isn’t always better than what is nature-made. I would give them – better yet, I would let them find – a stick, sand, and stones, and they would have endless hours of fun making sand soup and sculpting statues. I would encourage them to use their mind and heart to engage with the world around them – to use their imagination instead of waiting for playthings with voice boxes to tell them what to do.
I would teach them that life is made up of tiny moments of success, like a diamond formed over millions of years. I would remind them that if they are not patient, then they will end up with coal. I would teach them this because if children already have all the diamonds in the world, they will lose hope of finding them.
So, in the end I would have to admit that Johnny’s mom was right. I do, in fact, intend to deny my children. I plan to deny them material goods because such things can never lead to happiness, and if they do, that breed of happiness is not founded on anything worth having. I believe that any refutation of this truth is the ultimate denial.
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