I am sitting on my couch right now, looking at a large stack of gifts belonging to Brooklyn, that are sitting off to my left, near the stairs. The stack includes presents from friends and family from her birthday party on Saturday and presents from family and friends for Hanukkah. Off to my right sits another stack of unopened presents for what remains of Hanukkah. The stack is obviously not as big as it was on Night One, but there are still presents there. Hidden in the rafters of the garage are two more large presents that I am debating even giving to her, or possibly just returning to the store. You can say it, she has too much.
When we started cleaning out B's playroom to turn it into Kensi's room, I was struck by the number of unopened toys that were there. Not unopened because B didn't ask from time to time to open them, because she did, but unopened because whenever she did ask me, the time wasn't right or I have some other random reason for not allowing her to open that particular gift. Several of those gifts have long since been outgrown, and to open others would just be to perpetuate the excess that she currently lives in. Yes, she has too much.
But I'm not writing about Brooklyn's excess right now, other than to briefly comment on how blessed she is. Rather, I am struck by another thing that occurred to me recently, something for which I have no explanation.
While out shopping on "Black Friday" with my Mom, we stopped at Kohl's because something in the ad had caught her eye. A 1/2 hour after finding that thing, we were standing in the interminable line which wrapped around the store, working our way to the check out at the front. Somewhere about 1/2 way there, we passed a pile of pottery wheels for kids. I pointed it out to Mom and asked her if she remembered that Santa had once brought me a pottery wheel for Christmas. I think I was in the third grade, or somewhere around there. I'm not sure why Santa thought to bring me that pottery wheel, but I was very excited at the idea of getting to use it, to create something with my own two hands. It came complete with the clay, just add batteries (and some water for moulding, of course.)
In those days, we had to ask for permission to do pretty much anything, especially if what we wanted to do involved the possibility of any kind of mess, and most certainly if what we wanted to do required batteries, which for some strange reason were rationed more strictly than gasoline was in the early 70s. I remember asking very soon after opening my pottery wheel (maybe even Christmas night) if I could try it out. I was told "no!" Over the ensuing days, weeks and months, I would ask from time to time if I could use my pottery wheel, and the answer was always the same, "NO!" I was never given a reason why, just told to "listen" and "put it away." Every so often, I would take the wheel out of the box and stick batteries in it, just to see it turn round and round. I can still picture the box, becoming dusty and caving in from being stacked with some of my other prize possessions, and the smaller box of clay inside, getting hard and unyielding.
I never did get the chance to play with that pottery wheel. When we moved after my Dad passed away, the box with the pottery wheel moved with us and took up a spot in my closet. I think it was still there when I cleaned out my room when Mom sold the house and moved to California, although I can't remember now what I might have done with it. It seemed odd to me even just a few years ago, that Santa would go through all of that trouble to bring me that gift, and my parents would not let me even enjoy it.
Fast forward to my life now, complete with a 5 year old who has more toys than she knows what to do with. Glimpse briefly at the stack of gifts now sitting on the floor, many of which require batteries or some other adult assistance or outside parts. Consider the playroom currently filled with legos, a toy kitchen (complete with food and pots and pans), and the stack of coloring books and crayons that litter most stationery surfaces in the house. In this world of excess, does she really need to open the latest doll/ game/ jewelry kit right now?
Here is where I had a bit of an "ah ha!" moment. I caught myself being my Dad. Scary enough when we women find ourselves turning into our mothers, carrying those large purses, stuffed with kleenex and crayons, a spare diaper and gum, telling our children to "stop that or your face will freeze that way!" and experiencing the various other genetic injustices nature heaps upon us, but to catch ourselves doing something our Dads might have done (or did do)? That is just too much!
I can only imagine what my Dad's thought process was when he would prevent or forbid us from playing with new toys. (And don't even get me started on all of the lip gloss and jewelry that B got with presents... my Dad would have confiscated and trashed it all - a move I am seriously considering!) Maybe he thought to extend the joy of the birthday or Christmas, by rationing the presents over time Maybe he thought we would appreciate those gifts more if we had to wait to use them. Maybe he hoped to experience them with us and so wanted us to wait for a time that he could play with the toys with us, but the time never became available. It's hard to say.
For me, my reasoning is usually a little more selfish. I remember not having much as a kid. I remember Christmas being the only time for new clothe or toys and even then in limited quantities. I remember trying to ration things on my own. My fear when B asks to open something is that she will break it and then it will be gone forever. In trying to limit what she opens or plays with, on some strange subconscious level, I suppose I'm trying to preserve the excess that I didn't have, maybe in the hopes that she will come to appreciate how good she's got it.
Then again, she is 5. She is not going to suddenly wake up and discover that she is an incredibly lucky little girl and begin to treat her things better (although we work to teach her to respect her things.) I know that some awareness of her place in life comes later, and through hindsight, just as it did for me. I suppose this is one of those "life lessons" we get to endure as parents. This one for me is the lesson in letting go, and allowing her to be a kid and play with her things as she wants to. She will do so with the knowledge that if it gets broken, then she is done and the toy will not be replaced. Maybe if I can let go on this level, I'll be a little better prepared to let go when she is 18 and going off to college? (O.k., let's not get ahead of ourselves.)
So, in the end, I suppose she will get to play with her toys - other than those that we donate to Toys for Tots or some similar charity. Of course, she has to write her Thank You notes first.