As the saying goes; we often want what we don’t have. Once ‘said object’ of desire has been attained, and/or ‘said void’ has been filled, we are often quick to move on to wanting the next thing we don’t have – a perpetuating cycle of behaviour so remarkably universal, that it remains to be considered one of the most perplexing characteristics of the subconscious human condition.
I’m not referring (in isolation), to Barbie’s expensive convertible that you’ve dreamt of owning since childhood – a want can take on many forms, and often translates to that of an emotional or physical yearning. Thankfully however, when considering the desires of a toddler; we aren’t referring to the hours spent in the bathroom dutifully turning curls into straight tresses with our hair iron, or skipping dessert in an effort to pour ourselves neatly into a nostalgic outfit from our past – these ‘need to want’ events are usually a lot less complicated. Or are they?
I recently invented ‘the surprise’ in an effort to keep my two-year-old son in good spirits and in a well-behaved state of operation during lengthy or tedious outings. How do I feel about the surprise two weeks post creation? Well, probably about as horrified as I can imagine Mary Shelly’s fictitious character, Dr Frankenstein, would have been once he realised he had in fact created a monster. Much like my son in hot pursuit of ‘said surprise’, I envisage this patchwork creature so motivated by an opportunity to live a human life that he behaves irrationally should anything stand in his way.
A perfect example of an attempted road block took place the other day, at a regular haunt in our local shopping complex – one of mine (and Percy’s), favourite places to invest. Percy had been a dream to take out – at least that’s how I remembered it as we got all of our mundane but necessary boxes ticked off – and I wanted to applaud his ability to cooperate with a ‘surprise’. At risk of having my ‘Parenting 101’ report card picked to shreds, I disclose the following events with trepidation and invite leniency when contemplating my next set of actions.
It was a ‘buy one, get one 50% off’ scenario; and so ever the savvy shopper; I took the bait and allowed my son to choose a small non-eatable surprise in the form of a toy. He chose a little blue robotic mouse – his packaging identified him as ‘Chatter’. He could squeak and giggle, and upon a sensory cue in the form of a touch or tickle; could run and twirl like a real rodent. With a niece’s birthday on the horizon, I collected a pink mouse called ‘Little Twinkle’ from the same shelf and proceeded to make a bee-line for the checkout. Percy showed an immediate interest in Chatter’s female companion, and made it a priority to get both mice safely into their glossy bags, and carefully couriered to the car. After a lengthy conversation with both on the way home, I felt proud of him for taking such good care of them and showing both responsibility and gratitude.
What happened next was like lighting a torch and waving it in front of Frankenstein’s monster. Percy saw red, and I saw the icky inner core of my surprise theory. I plucked Chatter from his colourful casing, and positioned him on the floor – what followed was momentary delight. I then continued on with Little Twinkle into the spare bedroom, adding her to a bag of other gift items for Percy’s cousin, Eva. And much like the Princess collapsing in legendary despair as I, Rumpelstiltskin, threatened the ownership of her future first born; my son melted before my eyes in a puddle of tears and fury.
The old adage of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ doesn’t cut it with a toddler. It didn’t matter where I hid that darn pink plastic piece of motorised joy in the house; my son continued to uncover it – as though he had a sixth sense for sniffing out whiskers on button-cell batteries. In the past I had caved, and practically relinquished my power in an effort to keep the peace and avoid any further under-roof cyclones. This time however, I was determined to keep my son from saying ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ – that mouse was not a ‘need’, but rather a ‘want’ – and this time it was my turn to learn the difference. If I had given in after nearly a fortnight of hide-and-seek on a grand scale, only to then gift him with Little Twinkle; what would he take from that experience?
I don’t need to join the dots for you – the pink mouse became a vessel for identifying boundaries. Not everything is attainable; and nor should it be. Some things are purchased for others to enjoy, and the feeling of gifting that special something is like nothing else. Educating our children on life lessons is often a surprise; the risk of learning more about ourselves in the process is eminent. This morning I found Chatter lying belly up underneath the sofa; he hadn’t been played with in days. As for Little Twinkle? She hasn’t been found, and the search was called off days ago.
Andy Warhol once said; “as soon as you stop wanting something, you get it” (1928 – 1987, USA). Everything changes, nothing stays as vibrant, and the things we desire most in life don’t come in ‘buy one, get 50% off’ bundles. Surprises now come in the form of a mini wrapped chocolate or a lolly after dinner – once they are consumed, we can get back to living.
We all need a little less ‘Chatter’, and want a little more ‘Twinkle’ after all – and those surprises are free.