My 8 year old has taken a liking to Greek mythology. She fancies she is Athena. “Can you buy me that thing you put on the skin so it shimmers?” she asks. “Glitter powder” I answered. They were going to play Goddess after school. And I have an entire day to deliberate: indulge the whim and buy powder, or declare there’s enough shimmer in the house, so use her imagination?
But hours later I’m at the mall, asking for shimmers and buying it. I had left my kids for the city and guilt had hijacked all good intentions to submission. So I grab the shimmers, and capped it off with 2 lollipops and a bookmark.
Which brings me to the usual bind. I have studied enough child development literature to know that “less is more.”
Children need time to become themselves- through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff- with choices and pseudochoices- before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: “More!” (Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne.)
Except that it’s a constant battle with me and I often find myself tempted to follow the formula of my childhood. We had a wealth of toys. If you could measure love in stuff, we had it overflowing. I can’t blame the parents. Things and the quantity of it had mutated into a measure of abundance. Less of anything, and you failed in providing for the family. A deficit of toys meant less clapping of hands, more stomping of feet, and no hurrahs. Some marketing genius discovered he could feed off the parental instinct of doing everything you can for the family’s well being. And ingeniously found a way to make us equate well-being with having this and that, and two each time.
It’s always a tug-of-war amongst the need to provide, childhood formula and genius marketing, and conscious-parenting that asks you to please pause and figure out the whys first. As parents, we aspire to be bearers and benefactors of unconditional love. We want to be generous with the stuff that ushers in smiles and whoops of joy. Add marketing genius to the equation, and you have people like me, with mothering impulses going completely wonky. Especially when it’s difficult to remain steadfast against nice kids that beg: “Please mama?” Because this belief of needing to deliver what the children want, each time they want it, feeds especially on guilt. And it could be addicting: when you’re able to buy a kiss and a hug; and when you can be appeased believing you can bequeath creativity in a box.
“If toys are seen as universally beneficial, then we have an unlimited pass to buy, buy and buy one or two more. What started as a generous desire to please and provide can assume its own life. It can become addictive, feeding our own needs rather than our children’s.”
Yet whoever said kids have to be taught imagination? Or that the bigger and better toys, the bigger and better you’re set out for life? I remember fondly only 2, 3 toys from childhood (a toy typewriter, a whittling set and my neighbor’s Fashion slates.) Every other memory was of swings, on rooftops, of dancing, biking and getting burnt under the sun. And honestly, that shoe store game we played, atop and inside a smelly cabinet, throwing shoes does a hole? That game eclipsed any “It” toy of the moment.
“The toys that endure in reality and in our memory are often the simplest ones.”
Notice your children. There may be baskets of toys in the playroom. And yet, they will unfailingly play with just 1, 2 or 3 things. The same beloved toys, every time. We had a heap of gifts the other week when my immediate family came to visit. Among these were the coveted Barbies, perks from being grandchildren. But the Barbie lasted a day and maybe a quarter of the next. The next day and my children were back to ransacking the armoire of costumes and cloths, and muddying the clay.
“By simplifying the number and complexity of our children’s toys, we give them liberty to build their own imaginary worlds.”
My kids have a weakness for empty bottles and paints. They morph into magic potions or raspberry grape juice, umbrella on top. It’s P100 a hit. They have also raided my closet a zillion times, and my gowns have metamorphosed from the goddess Aphrodite to their version of Frankenstein’s monster. There’s also a preferred nook of colored pencils and paint, where paper and the spaces in your walls always run out. Every other play is at the swing, with the dogs, of dancing, or of shaping an elaborate wonderland. They’re better than me. They’ve progressed from my bland shoe store to fancy ballet productions, remodeled my study into a French cafe and built Mount Olympus in a day.
There will be whoops of joy, when you see that your pampered kids could be perfectly content with cloths, and even sticks and stones. The upside of it is a fatter wallet with less guilt. You can also stop running to the store for their (and your) fix. The toy store has never carried a love potion anyway, and its instruction manuals have overlooked imagination. Love and creativity, they have simply always been, do-it-yourself. Years from now your children will remember how they wore your gowns and that despite the stain and the tear, you smiled to exclaim: “You look beautiful!” And one day, they will remember how to build Mount Olympus in a day, even without you buying them the shimmers.
Quotes taken from: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne