The Best Thing We Can Give Our Kids

Mite, look at this,said one of the kids who goes to the same forest kindergarten my daughter Ruby attends. We were at the graduation party and everyone brought their own plates and utensils to enjoy the buffet of homemade curries. Ruby looked at Miku and gasped. Miku had a stainless steel child’s plate with multiple dividers. It wasn’t particularly remarkable except that it came with a plastic cover top prominently featuring Elsa and Anna from Disney’s wildly successful animation that has all the kids caught up in a Frozen obsession. Miku was showing off the chopsticks and the spoon and fork that came with the set and they also had Elsa and Anna printed on them.

Ruby learned that a common friend of ours gave Miku the Frozen plate set. This friend has always been so generous to us, showering the kids with treats and presents. Ruby looked at me expectantly and I knew where she was going when she started to say “Let’s ask her…” I held up a hand, stopped her and said firmly, “Honey, we won’t be asking for that plate okay? We just don’t do that.” She suddenly burst into tears.

I reminded Ruby that she had received some pretty stockings from that same friend, stockings she wore almost everyday since she got them, but she replied, “I don’t want the stockings. I want the Frozen plate.”

I racked my brains for something else to say. I recalled that Papa Bear (The Berenstain Bears) had some wise words when the cubs suffered from a bad case of the Gimmies. “You just can’t have everything you want all the time — life isn’t like that.” Ruby continued to cry, not hearing anything I said.  She jumped off my lap and ran out to the garden.

I mulled about the whole incident with my husband. I shared with him that I would feel extremely mortified if Ruby went up to our friend to ask her to buy a Frozen plate for her. My husband wondered where my shame was coming from: was it because it implied that we, her parents, couldn’t provide for her? (That was how he would feel if Ruby did that). Not exactly, because for me, a Frozen plate is not a necessity. It would be a different matter if Ruby went up to our friend and asked for food because we weren’t feeding her enough.

Then, I also thought that we could simply buy her the Frozen plate so that she won’t go asking for it. But I didn’t want to do that. I was well aware that it wasn’t completely an issue of money. We certainly are not wealthy but we aren’t poor either — I know that we have the money to buy a Frozen plate, overpriced as it probably will be, and part of me wants to do just that. Like most parents, I have a soft spot for my kids and melt when I see them beam, laugh, or squeal with delight. Yet at the same time, I know that a couple of days later, that Frozen plate will suffer the same fate as many of their toys — it will be just another thing in their pile of things.

I thought about what message it sends to my daughter if I do buy her the plate. Will she think that she can get anything she wants if she cries long and hard enough? Will she grow up to be spoiled and entitled? Maybe, maybe not necessarily. But it just isn’t who I am — I am someone who walks 20 minutes to save ¥180 (roughly $2 depending on the exchange rate) in train fare, someone who embraces hand-me-downs not only for the savings but also for ecological reasons, someone who asks herself several questions before buying something new — the same questions my grandfather would ask my dad and his siblings when they wanted to buy something (i.e. Do you really need it? How many times do you think you’ll use it? Is it possible to borrow from someone else? Have you looked around the house for possible alternatives? Have you canvassed for the cheapest price?).

I love my kids so much, I don’t know where my heart ends and where they begin. I want to give them the world. What is  the best thing I could give them?

As I write this, my husband’s father is dying. It is a sad time for us as we say our goodbyes, but it is also an unexpectedly beautiful time as friends and family come together to share stories, laugh and cry. My father-in-law is surrounded by so much love I can’t think of a nicer way to go. His dying is inspiring a lot of reflection in me and my husband. One of the things my husband really regrets is not knowing more of his dad’s thoughts and feelings especially at particular points in their life. He wished he had asked. He wished his dad had documented them in some form or another. It is too late to do that now. I feel the same way about my dad and my grandma. I regret not recording more of my dad’s voice as it is the one thing that seems to be fading quickly in my memory. I also still kick myself for not taking the time to record my grandma tell the story of how she survived being struck by a bayonet during the Second World War. I kept postponing it thinking she would be around for a long time. While it is futile to hope for any of this, it does serve to remind us what is probably the most precious thing we can leave to our kids — our memories, our dreams, our losses and loves.

Photo from The Guardian. Photography by Montgomery Martin/Alamy Montgomery Martin / Alamy/Alamy

Photo from The Guardian. Photography by Montgomery Martin/Alamy Montgomery Martin / Alamy/Alamy

I have recently added The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce to my list of the best children’s books. It starts out introducing Mr. Morris Lessmore whose life “was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.” Every day, he would “write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.” It is a moving tale about the transformative power of stories, and how our stories live on when we write and share them.

I take the task of recording to heart. I write about myself but I also record stories about my children, the quirky things they do and say and everything that I love about them (again, the website Moment Garden is a wonderful place to do this; they make it easy to share these moments with family members and there are options to print out moment books as well). I print out my favorite photos of them as I find we actually look through actual physical photo albums rather than digital ones that just get buried in the computer’s archives. It takes a lot of time to do these things but it is a gift I want to give them when they’re old enough to appreciate how these stories are part of who they are and what they can always bring with them.

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