My family and I are practicing agnostics. I used to call myself a Unitarian Universalist, but the truth is, I just don't do well with weekly attendance at any kind of service. So while we don't have a spiritual 'community' in the usual sense of the word, we instead engage in various volunteer activities to help build, aid and beautify the community we live in, with hopes that others will pay it forward.
This works fine for adults, but once you have kids, not having structure for spirituality makes it a bit challenging to impart your values. Especially when it comes to holidays. We have a tree and a menorah in December; we have a seder and goody-filled baskets in spring. We atone in September, even though school has just started and the kids can't really figure out what they have done wrong in such a short period of time. So we are constantly talking about what's important, what life and the lives of others mean to us, and the best way to live in the world while keeping those values in mind.
After a week of school vacation that involved outings, movies, down time, playtime and lots of fighting, Easter morning arrived. This year, the Easter Bunny decided to give, in addition to sweets, a video game cartridge to each of my kids. One had been purchased on sale some time ago, and lusted after by my youngest son for much longer. With no birthdays, loose teeth or other opportunities for gift-giving in sight for several months, the basket seemed the perfect place for it. And to avoid trauma and in-fighting, Jacob received a game as well, though his was less expensive and not specifically requested. That, however, seemed to be the rub.
Here I was thinking myself magnanimous for going a little over the top for Easter, giving them actual gifts instead of just candy; enough over the top to earn disapproving looks from Mr. Bunny. Truly, Easter is not a gift-giving holiday--why was I spoiling the children? No, I said, this is OK. Less cavities, and guaranteed fun. Ben, at least, was thrilled.
"Mom, do you think the Easter Bunny kept the receipt?" Jacob asked me.
"I really don't know, Jacob. Why? Don't you like Pokemon?" I asked, a bit miffed that he didn't appreciate the fact that he'd just gotten a gift for no reason.
"I do, but I have another game that's a lot like this one, and it's pretty lame," he answered.
And that moment was when I realized my folly. The more we give our kids, 'just because' (fill in the blank: they want it; it's on sale; it's Easter/Passover/4th of July or any other holiday that has yet to be commercialized), we're only feeding the monster. Like our attention when they were younger, no matter how much you give, it will never be enough. Mr. Bunny was right--I'm sending the wrong message. I'm spoiling them.
When Mr. Bunny announced that there would be no video game playing today, I ducked, prepared for the backlash. After all, they had just gotten new games--how could we forbid them from playing? I dreaded the rest of the day, fueled by chocolate and the knowledge that those games were so close, yet so far. I thought him unreasonably cruel.
But then I realized two things. One, it was my own fault for setting up the situation, and two, I really hate video games. I would love to get rid of all of them, as well as our television set and fill the spaces with books, games and puzzles. But I can't, so instead I give them what they want, despite my better judgment. Maybe a bag of M&Ms would have been the better route, cavities be damned.
As the day has worn on, the kids cleaned their rooms, showered, and played outside with friends for an hour and a half. Next we will switch their winter clothes for summer ones in their closets and dressers, and then make sure the bookbags are packed with all they'll need to go back to school tomorrow. The games have been put away, and will likely be forgotten until next weekend. The lesson, though, will stay with me.
At least through Memorial Day.