Our Story Begins:
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
There are benefits to living in a nice suburb a distance from the city’s downtown. The schools are certainly worth the commute. The ability to walk to the park and be out at night without worry, all tangible benefits.
The detriments go far beyond the commute or the gas prices or the time it takes to make said commute.
We are a single-income family. I don’t say that as a pitying statement nor do I complain that I think we should have more as a family. I made the choice to stay in this community after my wife passed away three years ago and, in an effort to diminish the changes we had to face so quickly, I stayed here.
Living in a wealthy community when you’re nowhere near as wealthy as those around, you also creates a situation where you have to limit expectations for your children. Those limitations are often financial, but this time of year they apply to the man in the red suit with the long white beard, too. You see, when the high school kids are driving to school in new BMW’s and the grade school kids all have iPhones and some have iPads, it’s necessary to portray reality to my children. The reality that not everyone has that much money; the reality that we pay a very high rent to live here.
My wife made a good salary, far more than I made each year. As a result, though, my wife also wanted to outdo her Christmas plans and expectations every year. The decorations got bigger and the presents got more expansive. There were a few years that there wasn’t enough room under the tree for everything.
But after they lost their Mom, the kids realized without my lecturing or yelling that they couldn’t have everything. The tantrums that used to populate our home disappeared, almost to the day of her passing. What remains, sometimes, is an expectation that since Dad can’t get what you want . . . the big guy in the red suit will.
This came on a trip to school one morning.
“I want a Wii-U,” was my son’s line.
“Not happening,” I told him. “You already have an XBox and a Nintendo 3D. That’s more than enough. I’m not buying you a Wii-U.”
“But I want the new games that come on the Wii-U,” he said. “Besides, I’ll just ask Santa!” This was followed by the inordinate number of electronics other kids got last year and the wish lists his school mates had written up and fully expected to receive.
It’s funny, but I didn’t have to think very hard.
“Well, Santa doesn’t always give you everything you want, you should know that.” He looked at me, a bit ponderous. “He will give you what you deserve. You have two game systems. You don’t need more. He’s probably seeing what you like to do and what you’re interested in doing and will probably give you something you’d never anticipated, if you deserve it.”
This didn’t stop the questions, pushing the new Nintendo system, the viewing of every Nintendo commercial and the extolling of the Wii-U’s virtues. They’re kids, after all, that’s their job.
Just because someone else seems to get “stuff” doesn’t mean they’re happy. I can say that in the last 3 Christmases, my kids have had fewer gifts but more enjoyable Christmases. That’s been hard to come to terms with since that’s happened without their mom.
But you can’t always get what you want. It’s not even what you need. It’s what you deserve. That’s always been the lesson of Santa – good versus naughty. Now my kids are seeing the reality of that storied history and are seeing the application. So under the tree may be a lot fewer gifts…but seeing how smart, giving and wonderful they’ve been this year, I can guarantee Santa’s got some stuff that even their wildest imaginations couldn’t have anticipated.
And no . . . none of them deserved a BMW.
What about you? What do you tell your kids each year? Do you temper their expectations, or are you one of those parents fighting in the aisles for the most popular toy?
Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.