All three of my children were born during the summer which meant I had glorious maternity leaves while living in the UK and now means that for one month of the summer we have a birthday every two weeks. Our nine year old son, Cole, gets the birthday season started each year in June. This year his birthday wish list had me grappling with a couple of values related challenges and it surprised me how much time I spent thinking about the best way to handle them. How did I know they were values related? Because strong emotions were involved.
Firstly, I was having a hard time getting excited when I visualized him opening his presents since his two biggest wish list items were not going to be waiting for him. I was feeling disappointed for him. I remember wishing and hoping for things as a child. I really do love to make those same heart-felt wishes come true for my kids when possible but this year two items on his list meant that was not going to be the case.
First on his list for any gift giving occasion is a video games console. We have had a lot of discussions with Cole about this on two fronts; how video games impact his behavior (loss of appetite, loss of interest in doing anything else but playing those games, dreaming about the games etc.); and the fact that we do not feel the violence depicted in some games is appropriate for him to be exposed to. Cole is well aware of how we feel. We have shared our reasons with him and talked about it a lot! Even Cole acknowledges that he enjoys how he feels after playing outside more than how he feels after being inside playing video games.
Yet, when the birthday wish list request came in I still found myself grappling with the issue because I knew how excited he would be to have his wish fulfilled and how disappointed he would be that it wasn't amongst the presents. Even though he was saying "I know you aren't going to get me a video games console." I knew he secretly hoped that we would. But I realize that our reasons for not buying a video games console for the house is linked to strongly held values. Each time it comes up my husband and I talk it through and we come to the same conclusion. There are enough opportunities for exposure to these games outside the home, on the home computer, and we don't want to have to navigate it any more than we already do with the addition of a games console. I am fortunate that my husband feels the same way so it makes it an easy discussion.
The second present on his list was a frog. Even when we asked his older sister and little brother what Cole wanted (besides the aforementioned video games console) they both shouted out "a frog!" I love animals but we learned our lesson in Beijing with a series of goldfish, salamanders and rabbits. Despite promises ultimately the care and cost of any pet always ends up falling on the parents. Until I feel that I am taking care of everything else in my life 110% I do not have the time to take care of a pet. We decided we would get him a critter container and accessories which would mean he could catch a bunch of things outside in the woods, look at them, learn about them and then release them back into the wild.
We got to the pet shop and you can see how easily you might end up leaving with a live animal. Some of those frogs and reptiles looked very cute, his older sister kept reminding us how much he wanted a frog of his own and how upset he was going to be that we weren't "getting him the only present he really wants." We found ourselves faltering on our decision to refrain from purchasing him a live animal. I walked up and down the aisle just going back and forth in my mind about this. Thank goodness for the very helpful sales people who told us the real story about what it entails to take care of one of these pets. When they started talking humidifiers and temperature control and the life span of these animals - some live for upwards of twenty years. I just couldn't picture myself loving and caring for a frog or lizard until Cole was almost 30 years old. We walked away with the critter carrier.
Cole's birthday morning arrived, he loved all of his presents. Right away, he and his sister went out into the woods, with all of the animal catching paraphernalia, and caught exactly 99 little frogs that they just as quickly released having achieved their goal. That night while I was lighting the birthday candles on his cupcakes a tree frog jumped into the kitchen and landed on my foot. Believe me this certainly provided more excitement than any video game could have as he and his cousins ran around the house trying to catch it and take a closer look for a few minutes.
We finished the day relieved that we hadn't given in to the temptation of seeing the fleeting emotion of having your wish list presents delivered this time around. I am the type of person for whom they coined the very effective phrase "a puppy is not just for Christmas." This can apply to so many different times in life. As the children get older I know we will continue to navigate these situations, sometimes they hit you by surprise with those conflicting emotions and other times you are more prepared. Regardless, it takes time to come to the conclusion that is right for you, that you can live with, that is in line with your values. I have no regrets and that would not have been the case had we ignored our values.