21 Sep

Like one of my musical soulmates sings: I’ve been thinking a lot today.

The last post about too many activities that limit my time with my children, instructing, advising and conversing with them, brought to mind some traits that I want to ward off.  As against the evil spirits, I will hold my hands out in front of me and cross my index fingers against these cultural trends and tell them to back away from my children. Find somebody else’s life to ruin.   And that should reduce by a full .01% the chance that my children will contract the dreaded disease of worldly selfishness and consumerism.

I’m not naive.  Well, maybe just on a few fronts.   I know that I can’t protect them from everything that wants to hurt them, but I can try to explain a few things, and I can definitely try to model the kind of values I want them to absorb.  And make no mistake: they take it all in.  From me, from school, from church, from whomever and to whatever they are most exposed.

The specific disease against which I wish to innoculate them has been referred to as “the hedonic treadmill,”  the endless attempts to do more, get more, and have more.  This dreaded condition is an epidemic in 21st century American culture, and I suffer from it as much as anyone I know.  I have had it as long as I can remember, even though it was not encouraged in my family of origin.  It is best characterized as the relentless pursuit of something other than what we have.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  It’s a sickness as old as leprosy, but instead of curing this disease, we have allowed it to spread virally though our society.  We aren’t washing our hands or practicing the equivalent of good moral hygience.

We invite it to infect our families by opening the door of our last bastion of privacy, our homes, and we say “please, come in.  I will go and get the children so that I can give them to you to you to be infected.”

Every computer, television set and smartphone is a hotbed of contagion.  Every magazine and catalog that the mailman delivers breeds the idea that what we have, thanks to God’s generosity, is not enough.  I am not enough.  I don’t have enough.  My children don’t have enough.  I should want more for them.  They certainly want more for themselves – a tiny oven for baking cupcakes looks like fun!  (We already have an oven, a toaster oven and a microwave.  I have 4 crockpots.  4!  I am not immune.  I admit that I am an active carrier of the consumerist bug.)

Every commercial, every ad on the internet, every pretty photo in a home or fashion magazine drives us to want more.  A prettier house.  One whose yard hasn’t given up in despair and just admitted defeat to a Texas drought and a distracted homeowner.  A home in which all the furniture matches.  Or at least complements.  A new car every few years.  With features.  A lake house, beach house, mountain house.  The endless drive for acquisition stifles me.  I have enough dishes to feed 30 people.  Only 4 live here.  I have glasses that I purchased simply because they look pretty in my cabinets.  They do.  But is that what I want my children to learn?  That we should purchase more and more?

That the best use of time, toil and talent is to buy more stuff?  My ten year-old has owned an ipod touch for a year or two.  I was opposed, but I didn’t win that battle.  I arranged for him to have a small telephone so that he can call me when he is away from home.  Well, simply having his own telephone is not enough.  He wants an iphone.  He also wants an ipad.  I want an ipad.  My daughter wants her ears pierced and a telephone.  My four year-old wants to “just look at the toys.”  I understand that.  I love to “just look” at pretty things.  But when I do, I always end up dissatisfied with what I already have.

I know it’s human nature.  I know that to desire what we don’t have is a normal condition, but I would suggest that there was a time when ten year-olds didn’t think it was their place to have the very latest in expensive technology.  I think the problem is the advertising, the constant barrage of messages that you don’t have enough.  And it is destroying our chance at happiness.

I want to cultivate in them the art of conversation, of exploring high topics with close friends and unlucky acquaintances.  I want them to be as happy with a picnic in the park as they are at the resort-hotel-with-waterpark.  That may be highly unrealistic and out of touch, but at a minimum, I want the resort/amusement park to be a big deal, not something they get to do all the time or take for granted.  I want the big things to still be able to thrill.  Someone critical to my formation, but who has requested she not be written about, once told me “If you start wearing makeup in seventh grade, what’s left?  If you do everything NOW, what will you have to look forward to?”  She is very smart about a lot of things and I only wish I could give her proper credit.

I want us to make purchases because we have a need, not just a hole in our lives that wants to be filled.  I want to teach them to avoid credit cards not simply because they are insidious, but mostly I want them to know that the things that make one truly happy and bring value to a life can never be bought.  In my experience, the endless pursuit of the next big thing will only lead to easy boredom and the need for bigger thrills.

I can’t begin to describe for you how a forced period of slowing down, evaluating, and thinking about the Big Mysteries and Revelations have changed my interests and activities.  Yes, as Sonya (another wise one) said recently, my house needs a man.  Because while I have been slowing down and doing some heavy thinking, the yard has given up completely, the paint is chipping, the curtain rod in the front fell down and I am at a complete loss as to how to fix any of that.  But while signs of external neglect may have set in, my interior life has blossomed.  My friendships are more real, my faith is more than restored, my work is better, and my children are healthier.

I am not swearing off all shopping and home maintenance forever.  I am simply striving to put my efforts and energy where I want to see the payoff.  And for right now now, that is in the renewing of my mind and the guarding of my children’s hearts.


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