As Eliza was writhing on the kitchen floor yesterday telling me I was BAD at the top of her lungs, I took a deep breath and tried to remember what it was like to really want something when I was 6. I mean really want something. Then, even with all the conjuring of my 6-year-old desires that I could possibly muster, I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I am not bad because I won’t buy you another pair of skis. You have a pair of skis that, while short, will serve you just fine for the next few weeks in ski lessons. I can’t believe we are having this conversation. Skis cost money, Eliza, and I think you can make it one more year on yours. That’s the end of this.”
“Did you know there are kids your age that live on the streets? That sew GAP t-shirts for a living in other countries? Did you know that some kids your age work long, long hours, don’t go to school and don’t know where their next meal is coming from? Did you know that you are unbelievably privileged to go to school, to have a warm house, to go to ski lessons at all?”
I know, I should have left it with “there are starving children in Africa” but her sense of entitlement struck a chord. Where does she get off?, I thought. Where did she learn about all this wanting for the sake of having?
She learned it from me, of course. And Seth. And the kids at school. She learned it from every billboard she passes. She learns it, again, every time we walk into Target.
While I know my child who doesn’t watch TV, who lives in rural Montana with seriously limited screen time, has still been bombarded with images of what she should desire for years, it’s a fairly new phenomenon in our household to hear her express her wants so vehemently.
She wants longer skis because she knows other kids have longer skis. She wants an iPad because she has friends with iPads. I understand what it’s like to want. We all do. But when I see this budding desire in her I can’t help but head down the path of starving children and sweatshops.
How do we give our children opportunities without feeding in them a sense that they are entitled to those experiences? How do we show them all the cool, lovely, heartbreaking, amazing things we want to show them in this life and teach them that there are kids, not that far removed from them, who have to take backpacks filled with food home from school on the weekends?
After the screaming and the crying, I sat Eliza down and asked her if she knew how much money skis cost.
“Two hundred twenty dollars?” she said.
“Some skis probably do cost that much,” I say. “But we can buy used skis and bindings for $85. Do you know how long I have to work for $85 dollars?”
“No,” she said as I explained the concept working each hour to earn a wage.
“Do you know how long Daddy has to work to earn $85?”
“A long time?” she said.
“Yeah, babe, we have to work a long time to make enough money to buy a pair of skis. And we just don’t have the money right now to buy you a longer pair of skis when you old ones will work just fine.”
She wandered off a little confused, I think. I wandered the other direction thinking about all of the things I have yet to teach her.