It was Thanksgiving. And I was in line at Wal-Mart. Not just any line, either. I was in a special line, designated by a helium balloon floating above, that indicated I was hoping to buy the toy of the season.
You could also say I was in hell. Because, Wal-Mart. On Thanksgiving.
I was about tenth in line, a line that grew and shrunk based on patience and rumors and ultimately hope. Four police officers stood at the front of the line, a sight that made my stomach do a little summersault.
They’re here to keep order, I thought to myself, in total disbelief.
But, when store employees unwrapped a pallet that had been sealed in the middle of the aisle, allowing shoppers to go after it, I saw exactly why the cops were needed. I watched as people dove into the display to grab as many pieces as they could. Some came out with both arms full, satisfied smiles stretching from ear to ear.
It must be made of gold!
There was no doubt in my mind that pallet contained gold nuggets, or autographed rookie cards of famous athletes, or ungodly amounts of cash, or (soft spot) the cure for cancer.
The pallet had towels. Bath towels. Bath towels for like two bucks, or something. And I just watched grown-ass adults go after them as if they were the golden tickets to a life free of worry, responsibility or illness.
I was there that day because, as a single mom, I knew it was my only chance to get the only toy my youngest was wishing for. I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy one from the jerks who control the black market on these kinds of things. And I lucked out. I got the toy, a robot bird thing that hatches from a hard shell.
And she loved it. And she watched it hatch. And then she played with it for, oh, maybe 90 minutes. She played with the toy she wanted so bad it drove me to Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving to witness one of the ugliest scenes of our society for 90 minutes – for the whole year.
I should have just bought them the box
It totally doesn’t make me mad, because all kids do it. I’m sure I did it, too. I’m sure almost every parent has this kind of annoying anecdote to tell. The whole “I should have just bought them the box” comment that comes when toddlers love the packaging more than the actual contents.
But it made me think I could do better. I could do better by my kids, rather than add fuel to that ridiculous consumer merry-go-round. It fundamentally changed me and the way I approach gift-giving, and I’m not even trying to be righteous here. It just struck me – hard.
So, I started a new approach earlier this year with birthdays for my three kids. And, this Christmas will be the first time I don’t buy them any toys.
None. I’m just not doing it.
And there are a few reasons why.
- Wal-Mart. That whole scene is burned in my memory, with regret. I remember walking into the parking lot that night and seeing dozens of people walking around carrying massive flat-screen TVs. It felt as if the place was being looted, which was momentarily unsettling.
Or maybe what was unsettling was the actual realization that I was witnessing the ugly underbelly of overextended consumers. It may have been a mix of the two. And, I didn’t want any part of that, ever again.
- Barbies. Not the concept of Barbie but the actual doll. My girls have dozens of Barbies. Dozens. And I hear them play, on those rare occasions when they get them out, and I wait to hear the argument that comes when one of them has only four dogs and the other has five. Or one has three babies and the other has four.
And I think to myself, “There are seven babies in this house?”
- Guns. My son has a legit arsenal of Nerf guns. They actually hang out of the toy chest he has in his room. He actually leads the neighborhood militia, arming every boy in sight, whenever a game requiring weapons breaks out. He can’t possibly need another gun. Or weapon, for that matter. And if he does, he can use a stick like the old days.
- The machine. I don’t want to feed the machine anymore. I can’t, with good conscience, allow my kids to think things matter. That’s not what I’m about, and it’s not what I want them to be about. In my opinion, they’ve been about it for too long.
I don’t want them to want things. I want them to want to do things.
The whole concept of not getting toys for Christmas blows their mind. Probably because they’re still young. They’re only 11, 9 and almost 8. I’ve told them I will invest in experiences for them instead, and when they say it back to me, their voices drop in preemptive disappointment.
Experiences, not more stuff
But, I know it’s only because they can’t wrap their heads around opening an experience. And because they’ve been conditioned over time to believe that things matter, despite me telling them otherwise. I vividly remember one Christmas when one of my kids circled the gifts she wanted in the Target catalog, and she circled so many she actually circled the child models.
She didn’t even know what she wanted. She just knew she wanted.
They’ve tasted the concept of experiences, though. When my oldest turned 11 this fall, I arranged for a weekend away, to one of the prettiest places in the world, and I armed her with a polaroid to capture the adventure.
And, when my son turned 9 a few weeks later, I made sure we had seats to experience his first concert – which was being put on by his favorite band.
Now that our home environment is different, I have a chance to change course with Christmas, too. To give moments instead of things, things that will quickly be tossed aside or donated or broken or lost or soon become “boring.”
They can’t break an experience. They can’t donate it or lose it or get bored by it. They can’t ask me to find it. I won’t have to make any exchanges, and I won’t need to run to Walgreens at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve to buy batteries.
Each of their top-secret experiences will light them up. Test their courage. Give them a memory to hold. Take them outside of their little worlds. And, what’s best? They can’t outgrow it. They can carry it with them. Forever. And they will.
Unlike that robot hatching bird thing.
This post originally appeared on thefirsttimeproject.com. You can read more of the author’s work there.
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