A dollar isn’t really a lot of money to an adult. I find that in my laundry or underneath the couch. Without even realizing, I’ll accumulate a few of them by way of spare change throughout the week. You store it in ashtrays and wouldn’t notice if someone stole half of it.
To a kid, though, a dollar is the key to so many great things. Shiny things that come in plastic eggs, squishy little versions of groceries, and other assorted slime all cost just a few dollars. Discarded coins from your life could buy your kid the greatest thing ever.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you that. Type of currency aside, money played a factor in all of our childhoods. It doesn’t take much to imagine the joy of getting a dollar at eight years old because, at one time, you were eight years old. You experienced it. The magic that came with turning the knob on a red machine and having a neon bracelet you would never wear pop out in a plastic bubble is something we all shared. Of course, over time, that joy fades. You grow up and Happy Meals become nostalgia.
That’s why there’s something amazing about seeing your child’s face when they open a new interactive robot-pet or buy a pack of magic gems to spend on an app they can’t stop playing. It brings back the joy you once chased at every turn and makes you the hero of their day.
You drift back to your childhood and imagine you, as an adult, coming to you, as a kid, with a new toy. How amazing would that moment be? How amazing would the adult who made it happen be? You can be that person to your kid! It barely costs anything! What a great experience for me!
And that’s a big reason why we spoil our kids. It’s a hard truth, but it’s a real truth. We do it for ourselves. We like the feeling we get of being the “best daddy ever!” A toy egg with a plush doll jammed inside might cost pocket change. To my nine year old, though, it’s everything in that moment.
The operative phrase there is “in that moment”. Over time, the presents stop being as exciting as they once were. Soon, the joy of receiving them is gone. Now, it’s about the anxiety and pouting over the times they’re not.
Why are you whining? You just got a toy yesterday. Go play with it. Where is it?
I found myself repeating that more than I liked a few months ago. It definitely felt as though we were jumping the appreciation shark with gifts and it wasn’t her fault at all. She’s the kid. She’s doesn’t choose what we buy her and when. We, the Parents, do.
There are moments that remind me of that fact. It’s like watching her stare so intensely at a game or TV show that every word I say find itself ignored. I silently lament over how that’s a bad habit for her to get into and how I wish she wasn’t so locked away by her screens and how…well, before the third how kicks in, a voice in my head does.
Then make her stop. You’re the dad, dummy.
With that, I’ll take away her iPad and mandate some reading time or another appropriate break from the technological wonders of 2017. She doesn’t like me for it, but it’s part of being the dad. She’s supposed to get annoyed at me for not spoiling her. That’s in the job description.
That’s why I was conflicted a few weeks back when I saw they had released the Teen Titans Go Lego Dimension figure. Despite the fact that we haven’t played this video game in over a year, I knew that this accessory pack, and the new level that would come with it, would be something she would love. As I passed the toy aisle, her face flashed into my mind. She was smiling and making big exaggerated happy eyes as I handed her the bag. It would be a wonderful moment. Yes. I would be the hero.
For the first time, though, I was conscious of that fact. I realized why I was about to buy her yet another present for no reason. It was more than just a few dollars, but not by much. Still, giving it to her out of the blue, so soon after she’s gotten other things, felt wrong. I actually felt a bit selfish because, despite knowing it would spoil her, I still wanted to buy it for her because it made me feel like I was a great dad.
So I bought it, but decided to keep it in a bag behind the TV in my office for weeks. The idea was to hold off until Olivia had gone without a new purchase for a bit and then for something real to warrant a reward.
And so I waited…and waited. I always thought about it sitting there behind the TV and made special care not to give her my trademarked, “I think there’s a surprise for you in this house” nonsense. That always ends with me giving someone a present. I didn’t create fake jobs like making her put away her toys to make her fake earn it. This was for real. I didn’t say a word. I just let it sit there.
One afternoon, she was bored out of her skull and wouldn’t stop bugging me to find something for her to do. That was a hard one. It was like the tell-take heart calling to me from behind the television. Just a steady sound of, “Give her the gift. Make her stop bothering you. Give her the gift. Make her stop bothering you.” I didn’t.
Hero dad? Occupied afternoon? None of those scenarios would have really benefited her. All of them would have benefited me first and foremost. I would be the savior of toy village and have a day free of, “What fun thing is there to doooooooo!?“ My daughter, on the other hand, would learn no lessons whatsoever.
So last week, when she said she was unsure how she did on her math and science tests, I closed my eyes and silently hoped for the best. It was the first opportunity in a while and when she came home Monday with her results, I was ready for anything.
100 and 102.
If that didn’t call for a Teen Titans Go Lego Dimensions Fun Pack, nothing does. She smiled huge because she earned it. Her smile meant that much more to me because I, too, earned it. Today, we’re still in the process of exploring the new level on a game we had all but forgotten about.
Oh, but one day, we will totally forget about it. The same can be said for all those dolls, toys, figures, and collectibles that they’re begging us for today. In a few years, you’ll see them at garage sales and on Ebay, all broken and dirty. Those items we give them and their reactions, in the moment, mean nothing. Those things are just temporary.
It’s about the lessons we teach through these rewards that really means everything. Those are what last forever.