How much is too much?

In the process of potty training The Boy, we have purchased a fair number of small toys that he earns as prizes when he fills up his sticker chart with stickers. The first time he filled up his sheet we were really generous and gave him an Emily wooden train from the Thomas line of trains. The next time he earned a small die cast Tow Mater from the Disney/Pixar Cars movie, then a small die cast Lightning McQueen, oh and I think there was a Toby wooden train in the mix too. Now he is requesting specific items, and we foolishly promised them to him. First he wanted Mack (the semi truck and trailer that transports Lightning McQueen in the movie), and now he wants Sally and Doc. Of course this can all be blamed on DH and me. We should have just told him that he can’t pick his potty prizes, that he just gets what he gets, but we offered specific items so now he has an expectation that he will get the specific prize he wants. Foolish, foolish, foolish parents! The hilarity comes in when you hear that in order to find Mack, we visited not one, not two, but 5 local Targets, 2 Walmarts, 2 Toys R Us stores, and called the Disney Store (not to mention some serious web sleuthing). Thankfully DH scored a Mack for somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. The Boy was happy with Mack, and is still happy with Mack, but has started telling us that he will get Sally next. The tough part is that all of these little $2.99 die cast cars are sold out everywhere because, as the nice woman who pointed DH towards the Mack at Toys R Us explained, collectors are buying them up in mass quantities. As DH and I were discussing our strategy to find Sally and Doc we finally had the discussion about all of this being too much for The Boy. We are spoiling him by giving him so many toys, and making each toy he has less special because there is always a new one that will come along next week. Heck if he really forces himself he can earn several each week, but he might end up with hemorrhoids in the process (he now gets 1 for having a dry Pull-up, 1 for peeing, and 2 for having a BM). Soon he will catch on that if he drinks mass quantities of water he will have to pee more often, but we aren’t quite there yet.

The bigger issue of course is the how much is too much issue. DH and I both grew up in families where money was an object. My often told example of how poor my family was is that when we ran out of milk we just made another pitcher of it. Yes, we drank powdered milk. Adding water to the milk flakes was a common task I performed. I’m not sure when we changed to regular milk, but it must have been somewhere in late elementary school for me. I know my parents economized as much as possible, and my brother and I didn’t get everything we asked for. However, I can’t say that I ever felt deprived. One of my favorite toys as a child was a Noah’s ark that was filled with small plastic animals (I liked the animals…no religious meaning to me!), and my Mom confessed to me recently that it was a garage sale find. I also remember receiving a homemade Cabbage Patch Doll when they were all the rage. Even though I received several real Cabbage Patch Dolls subsequently, she was always my favorite (I think I still have her in a dusty old box in the basement to subject upon my kids when they can appreciate her). I didn’t even realize that we didn’t have much money until I reached junior high, and I wasn’t even close to wearing the “right” clothes. I think I managed a pair of Guess jeans in 7th grade from a local second hand store, but I had to use my babysitting money to get them. DH can recount similar stories of getting not quite what he asked for at Christmas and his Birthday, and he has horror stories about having to buy clothes at Fleet Farm (shudder).

How do people strike a balance between feeling good that they can provide extras for their children, and providing so much that the things are no longer valued? DH and I are finding this very difficult lately. The Boy is old enough to understand that we can buy him new toys, and he realizes that he can make requests. We are smart enough (I think) to realize that we shouldn’t buy him new toys whenever he asks for them, and that we should buy him new toys far less often than we currently do. However, it is fun to buy him new toys. It is fun to watch his reaction as he flutters with excitement playing with the new thing for the first 5 minutes. Of course we realize that the new toy eventually becomes old toy and collects dust at the bottom of the toy bin. In some ways I think it would be easier if we just couldn’t afford to buy him new things so often, but as a result of our dual incomes we can afford it. We buy new things for ourselves when we want to, though we both have horribly old wardrobes, and really don’t buy much for ourselves aside from lunches out and the occasionally Caribou Coffee. We are both hoarders, and automatically invest a good chunk of our income automatically each month. Buying toys for our children will not break us financially. It could turn our kids into spoiled brats though.

I want my kids to grow up knowing that money doesn’t grow on trees. I want them to realize that there is a cost for all of the little trinkets they covet. I think this means that DH and I need to start putting more of the money we would spend on toys into their college accounts. We are not doing them any favors by indulging their every whim, even though they do get big smiles on their faces when we do. I want my kids to have nice things, but I don’t want them to think it is their birthright. While I entered junior high wearing the “wrong” clothes, and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me the “right” clothes, we will be able to afford the “right” clothes. The struggle will be to teach our kids that there really is no such thing as the “right” clothes or things. Our possessions do not make us good people; in fact they can make us bad people if we aren’t careful. I don’t want my kids to be ridiculed by their classmates, but I want them to be able to stand up to those who are ridiculing others. Mostly I want my kids to be above all of that junior high bullshit.

A good friend of mine was the target of a clothes chart made by several of her classmates in 5th or 6th grade. They kept track of her outfits so they could make fun of the fact that she wore the same things multiple times in one week. This friend now has the means to afford plenty of her own clothes, but it obviously left a big mark on her for many years. How do I teach my kids that making a clothes chart is a ghastly, evil thing to do? I suppose the answer is that I need to model my own behavior in such a way that they see we aren’t better than anyone else. If I can really get my kids to understand this, I will be happy. I hope for my kids to understand that life is so much more than the labels on your clothes imply. I know the answer lies in me not making a big deal out of labels, and designer outfits. Even though we can afford to buy them Polo, we need to buy them and us Target clothes as well, because it really doesn’t matter. If I can teach them that being kind to others is paramount, I think I will have done my job…and now I am rambling.



I will preface this post with the fact that I am not a Christian, and am not really sure what I believe in terms of a higher power, so take it for what it is worth. A recent topic on one of the message boards I frequent got me thinking about the Christian Bible. I make no claims to be a biblical scholar, nor have I read more than scant passages when forced to in the process of being confirmed or at the various bible camps I was tricked into attending in my youth. My view of the bible is that it is an old piece of historical fiction, or if you must it could be a loose biography based on 3rd or 4th hand accounts. I’m not basing my view on anything concrete, just vague recollections about how it was transcribed. So with my view in mind I find it mind boggling when other people quote bible verses as “proof” of some point they are trying to make. As far as I’m concerned they could be quoting Moby Dick to me, as it would have the same impact (well if they quoted Moby Dick I might be more inclined to listen). I am convinced that you can find a bible passage to support whatever agenda you are trying to push. I could probably scan through the latest novel I read to find quotes that would support my views on life as well. So what exactly does it prove? It proves nothing.

Why I am bothering to write this post at all has partially to do with the fact that I get very annoyed when people quote bible passages to me, claim to follow the teachings in it to the letter, but in reality do not follow all of the teachings. They follow some of the teachings, and use the bible as a weapon to make them feel superior to others who have “not seen the light.” They tell other people that they will be going to hell if they don’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. They say they feel compelled to share this because they want everyone else to be able to join them in heaven. I’m not quite sure why they want me to join them in heaven when clearly I am evil incarnate, and not worthy of joining them in this special place. I do take slight comfort in the fact that I will not have to spend my eternity with such close-minded people. I am fairly confident that most of my friends and family will join me in hell, so at least I will have company.

It all makes me think of a recent blog post from a friend of mine. I’d link to it, but I don’t want her to get any sort of religious wrath for what I am writing. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I am stealing a passage from her post in which she describes leadership training she is taking part in:
There are 7 levels and, according to Torbert, the largest percentages of people tend to think at the Achiever (4) or Expert (3)level. That’s great because we need experts and achievers but, sometimes it can be difficult to solve a problem when you are that close to it. Achievers and Experts tend to perceive their own way as the only way (hey, they are the experts after all) and are more interested in results rather than investigating other possibilities.

Some verbal cues that you are thinking in the Expert logic is “yes, but…” That’s a pretty good clue that you’re not really listening, or if you are, it is only to try and find fault with the other person’s argument. Achiever’s say “we can agree to disagree” which also indicates that you’re really not interested in the other person’s point of view.

This captures so clearly my frustration when I get into discussions with people who are trying to push their religious views upon me. I could come up with 1000 valid points as to why they should be more open-minded, and perhaps even concede that Christianity may not be the only way to avoid an afterlife burning in hell, but they will always respond with “yes, but…” They aren’t listening, just parroting what they have read, what they have been parroted by others, the discussion is useless. Of course on the flipside I do have to acknowledge that it is possible that they are right, that I will spend an eternity in hell because I have refused to come to jesus. I guess that is the risk I will take. It is good for me to try my hardest to see the flipside; otherwise I just go down my own path of “yes, but…” and don’t really listen to their points of view. It reminds me that it is not helpful to find evidence that the bible isn’t meant to be taken literally because then I am trying to push my own agenda. I certainly don’t have all of the answers. As much as I believe that we should strive to be good people, and try our hardest to just do as we would have others do to us, that is not enough for some. So while they might challenge me to read the bible so I can see for myself why I need to be saved, I also challenge them to read the bible and follow all of it not just the parts they have cherry picked as interesting.


International differences

Life has been busy lately, or at least it has felt that way to me. I'm actually on an international trip for work as I type, and happen to have just a few minutes before meeting some colleagues for dinner. I miss the kids terribly, but because I've been fairly busy on this trip I haven't quite reached the point of "if I don't go home this instant I will surely die from not seeing my children for so many days." Anyway, since I am in Europe for the first time in my life I thought I would explore the obvious differences I have noticed in my few days here.

1. The first thing I noticed was in getting off of the airplane when I arrived in Stockholm, people don't practice the, what I thought was universal, "let the people in front of your row out of the plane before you barrel through to get off the plane." I was a little ticked to not be able to get out of the plane when it was my turn per se, and couldn't believe that the people in the rows in front of me were allowing people from the back of the plane to get off before them. I have traveled extensively by airplane in the US, and this practice is not even questioned there. I also experienced a similar thing when trying to get off of the express train from the airport into the city, I was basically dumbfounded. My colleague thinks this might just be a big city thing, but since I have been to plenty of big cities in the US I don't think it is.

2. People assume I can speak Swedish, but are very polite when they realize I can't and quickly/easily switch to English. I am very thankful for this, and I think more than makes up for people wanting to get the hell off of the airplane.

3. It is very common for people to drink beer on their lunch breaks here. I am told it is a weak beer (perhaps what we would call 3-2 beer, but I'm not sure), but I was absolutely shocked to see my Swedish colleagues drinking beer at lunch (and more shocked that it was just included with the special they ordered). This just doesn't happen in the US, although I'm sure many people would like it to.

4. The hotel rooms don't have sheets on the beds. Instead they have thin comforters with duvet covers on them. This wouldn't even bother me except for the fact that I am so very used to cranking up the cold air in hotel rooms to help me sleep better, and here there is no A/C in the rooms. I wake up all hot and sweaty because of the comforter (if there were sheets I would just use a sheet as I just HAVE to have some sort of cover when I sleep), open the window, then stay awake because of street noise.

5. I have no concept for how much money I am spending when I use Swedish currency, this despite having converted some money and knowing that conversion rate.

6. In many ways the climate/scenery here feels like I could be in Northern Minnesota and not in Sweden at all. The trees are the same, the ducks are the same, and the weather is similar. If not for the fabulous old buildings I might even be fooled.

I'm sure there are more, but those are all I can think off right now.