I was a spoiled kid.
From birth until the age of seven I was the only child in my family, with “family” referring to my parents, my grandparents on my mother’s side, three aunts, and two uncles. I was doted upon regularly. Love and affection were given to me often and everything I did was cute. Christmas was a particularly fun time of year because it revolved around me (at least, that’s how it felt).
At that time my grandparents lived on a large piece of property near the base of Mt. Helix in San Diego. My grandfather built a fully functioning train, to scale, that carried me around their backyard. Yup. Soak that in. I had my very own train.
I also had one or two Power Wheels vehicles, and Atari, a Nintendo, and all the toys I could ask for. It was a blessing, to be certain, but a setup for disappointment as, through the years, I learned that such things were difficult to attain sans grandparents. I grew to realize that not every child had what I did. I would visit my friends and be mystified at their total lack of a backyard train. I thought it was normal to have everything you wanted, and some things you didn’t. Excess was normal for me.
Eventually I grew out of it. I even came to resent it. In middle school I started fighting – often. In high school that trend continued with a penchant for selling illegal substances. In college, I began sampling some of those illegal substances. By my mid-twenties I had turned my back completely on the things I had in favor of the things I should not do. I’m not sure if it was guilt or pure rebellion, but something inside me pushed against what-I-could towards what-I-should-not. I grew to resent money for rather silly reasons. Maybe that’s just part of being a kid, or maybe not – standard or not, it was a part of me.
Now I’m a dad. I have two beautiful girls that mean the world to me. Big One is four. Little One is two. And what do I want to do for them? I want to build them a train in the backyard. I want to give them everything I had and more. If I had it my way, my two princesses would have everything and anything they want. I want to spoil them because I know that life is hard and, in some twisted way, I feel as though giving them smiles now will delay the pain of life to come. Sure, good things are coming to – I believe life is beautiful in some classically French and tragic way – but I know headaches and heartbreaks are around the corner. Because I know this, I try to squeeze in every ounce of joy I can now, before the pains come.
There is a beauty in ignorance, a sort of purity I suppose. It’s a feeling I get when I see a newborn baby, unblemished by the world. Each year/month/day brings children closer to adulthood and further away from that purity. I know life is coming and, perhaps foolishly, I am trying to stall it for as long as possible.
Christmas reminds me of this every year. Before my wife and I go shopping we look at our bank account and I quietly realize that this will not be the year I get my children a train. In all honestly, I know that I will never be able to afford that train, but I hope every year that something miraculous will happen and the funds will magically appear.
Earlier this month I looked up the train online, just to see how much it would cost. They no longer make the same train my grandfather purchased for me so many years ago, but there are others like it. However, it would appear as though my oldest child is already to big for that train. Even if I could afford it, she would be unable to use it. Big One has already outgrown my dream for her.
When I saw that her time for the train had passed I started to cry. I did not cry because she would never get the train, nor did I cry because I was unable to get it for her. I cried because, in my own mind, I has established the train as a sort of benchmark for successful parenting. In a completely ridiculous way, I had decided that every kid should have a train because I had a train. And yet, here I am, with two daughters who have no train.
Think about how ridiculous that sounds. I cried because I could not buy my daughters a train. Talk about jaded, right? A quick jaunt through the Internet reminds me how stupid I am being, how lucky I am to have what I have, and how many people around the world are suffering without food or water – and here is my dumb-ass whining about a train. Disgusting. It’s good to seek out perspective when you know you’re being stupid.
Other times perspective comes to you.
Just last weekend my kids were up visiting me in Orange County with their mother. Little One was scurrying about the house and I was coloring in the living room with Big One. I asked her, “Did you write a letter to Santa yet?”
“Yes,” she said, without taking her eyes off of her work. “I asked Santa for more coloring books.”
“Really? That’s it? Just coloring books?”
She stopped and looked at me like I was an idiot. “Dad, I love coloring books. Coloring is my favorite.”
“Huh. When I was your age I loved trains.”
She went back to her work. “I like trains, but I like coloring more. And Finding Nemo” (the film on the television at the time of our discussion, which tends to be the standard by which “favorites” are determined).
The next day my wife and kids went back to San Diego and I thought long and hard about the train. Neither of my daughters wanted the train I so desperately wanted to give them. I’m sure that, should I acquire said train, they would love it. The truth, however, is that I want to give it to them more than they want to receive it. After all this time, so many years later, I’m still as spoiled as ever. At some point in my youth I learned that not every child has a train, but I never learned that not every parent should give their child a train.
That’s the hardest part about being spoiled: the inability to spoil your own spawn. I forever live in the shadow of my parents and grandparents generosity. And, just so we’re clear, I hold nothing against the spoilage my family heaped upon me – I was blessed and see it as nothing more than that. I suppose that upbringing was good insofar as it pushes me to be family-focused, but they set the bar impossibly high. I am forever grateful for the things I was given as a kid. I remain grateful for the things I am able to give my children now, but I still have a lot to learn about humility.
Turns out, I’m a spoiled parent.