Last year our neighbour, who was then 7, received an iPad from Santa, which totally fucking wrecks it for the rest of us. This year, Arlo has decided he wants an iPhone for Christmas, a black one, and I have, of course, decided to be logical at him, repeatedly. Thus, we have had the following conversation several times in the past weeks:
Arlo: I wonder if I really WILL get an iPhone 5 for Christmas. [smiles to himself]
Me: Hmmmm, do you think so?
Arlo: Well, it is pretty much the ONLY thing I want.
Arlo: And Santa can do anything. And
Me: But expensive electronics are really not for kids.
Arlo: But NEIGHBOUR KID got an iPad last year from Santa
Me: I think his whole family got the iPad, actually..
Arlo: But mostly HE plays with it *
Me: Anyway, there are so many toys that are appropriate for children. There’s a whole Toys R Us store full of toys. I think those are the kinds of gifts Santa likes to give.
Arlo: I guess. But I really want an iPhone 5. A black one. [smiles dreamily]
*if most of your sentences start with “but” it’s probably not a productive conversation.
We have talked about what in god’s name he would do with a smart phone, how he’d have to pay for a data plan, which he could never afford on the one dollar per week he gets in allowance, especially since he always ends up spending his spending money on candy or to pay for things like the half a tube of toothpaste he squeezed out of the tube just to see what would happen, this last just the other day. (seriously dude wtf.) We have discussed how much they cost and how fragile they are (this child drops at least four things a day). We have even discussed the angle of proprietary software, thanks to Saint Aardvark’s personal bug up the ass, er, interests.
It isn’t the point. He doesn’t care about, or even hear, arguments against. Arlo thinks Santa is real. Arlo thinks Santa is magic. Arlo thinks Santa is going to give him what he most desires, because Santa wants Arlo to be happy and the iPhone 5 (in black) will make him happy.
Or possibly, Arlo knows Santa isn’t real and this is just a massive test.
Either way, this issue has been pushing my buttons, which of course makes it super fun for the kids. Push the buttons again! Again! iPhones for children are NOT part of our family value package. $500 gifts of any kind are not how we roll. You’ve been around enough Christmases and watched me shop, you should KNOW this. Want some damn Lego. You’re SEVEN. Ask for a pogo stick.
But you want what you want, because you want it. I’ve been so sensible for so long (about material things) I forgot what it is to just want something because you want it. Yes, because other people want it, because it’s a status symbol, because of what it represents. Still. Because you want it.
These examples of how my child is different from me sneak up on me. We all joke about stuff like “oh my kid is going to be an accountant because I’m a poet..but I’ll love him anyway,” but it’s sneakier than that. It’s a kid’s job to test his parent’s values, to assert his individuality. As soon as he can figure out a way to do it. So here I am, trucking along smug as a bug about my book-reading, music-loving kind-hearted child and then he says something that makes him sound like he’s a greedy, materialistic, value-less, status-seeking brat. Is he getting it, all the stuff I’m showing and telling? Is he going to join a frat someday? How will I handle it?
Except he’s a kid, just yacking on about stuff he doesn’t understand.
(For an entertaining/infuriating time, try talking to kids under 8 about gigabytes. Hilarious. Or precious metals. Everything that sparkles is a precious metal.)
It’s all part of separation. Letting go. I can’t make him value the things I value, and I don’t value the things he values, and all of this is as it should be. He can want an iPhone and he won’t get one, and the disappointment will be hard to watch, but he’ll take it and deal with it and it will help form him. He’s himself, not a clone of me. I spend so much time looking for the similarities between us I sometimes forget to appreciate and marvel at the differences.
Postscript, several days later.
Today the kids wanted to go shopping for Christmas presents. Arlo asked me for a list of things I wanted for Christmas yesterday and then he took it upstairs. I’m going to look at it and decide what to get you, he said.
This morning he wrote a list of stocking presents he would like, for Eli to peruse, and Eli wrote a list for him. Then Arlo came over and whispered in my ear:
Today can we go to a toy store, so I can look for something for Eli’s stocking?
I MEAN COME ON. YES OF COURSE.
He went upstairs and gathered his money. He had five dollars.
I want to get him a stuffed dog. Or maybe a Lego minifigure.
OK, I said. We can find those.
After much negotiation — you really don’t want to know how much or the nature of, just be aware that in real life there were more than two line breaks between the previous paragraph and this one — Arlo and I ended up at Toys R Us while Eli and SA went to Value Village because Eli of course also wanted to get a present for Arlo for HIS stocking but only had one dollar to his name, plus of course we couldn’t be at the same store at the same time because SECRETS.
Arlo went right over to the stuffed animal department and picked up a stuffed golden retriever puppy.
This one, he said.
How much is it? I said.
Uh, I don’t know, he said.
It was eight dollars. I fronted him the extra three.
In case you haven’t seen it, this account of a 7 year old’s Christmas list is dead on and the annotations are everything I have been thinking for the past two months.