The following conversation occurred between my kids and a not-so-nice child in the somewhat recent past:
“Do you have an XBox360?
“How about a PSP?”
“I… don’t think so.”
“How about Guitar Hero?”
“No, but we have Rock Band!”
“Man, you guys are poor.”
As you can imagine, I was shocked when I heard that the definition of poor had changed so drastically over the last twenty years. When I was a kid (cue the violins and collective groans) it meant you made difficult choices: New school shoes. OR. A week’s worth of groceries. A root canal. OR Electricity over the winter. It meant that, while other kids were hanging out in their rooms playing Atari, I was scoping out the adult fiction section of the public library.
So when my kids reported to me that someone had accused them of being poor… well… I laughed until there were tears in my eyes. If it were up to me, my children would spend all their free time at libraries and museums, parks and planetariums. They would read books, walk along the river, paint me a picture, cook me a meal, and maybe do a load of laundry if they were so inclined. In other words, they would live like they were POOR.
For the most part, they actually do. We have a grant total of SIX stations on our TV, courtesy of the antenna on my roof. Plus, they are heavily tortured entertained by running and kicking balls when they aren’t in school or sleeping. But over the years, I’ve relaxed my rules and have allowed Antonia, the oldest, to bring her cell phone to my home. They both can bring their Gameboys and the iPods now as well. Originally, everything that their father had bought them had to stay at their father’s house.
Part of me wishes that I hadn’t acquiesed, that I had continued to be the bad guy, the “poor” parent in this two-home situation, if you will. While being a poor kid sucked rotten eggs, it gave me a perspective that I’ve come to deeply appreciate — rotten eggs aren’t as stinky as rotten children… you know… the kind that calls other kids poor. I wanted for my kids to have everything they NEEDED and little else.
But even with the cell phone, the Gameboy and the iPods, I’ve also come to realize that, with rules and moderation, they don’t necessarily have to be “spoiled” children. Toni and Jonah have to earn their right to use the things that they value so deeply, and I reserve the right to take any one of these items away in the event that bedrooms become unliveable or they DARE to make less fortunate peers feel small. On top of this, I don’t pay for the cell phone bill. Nor do I buy their music and video games to go along with these pricey instruments of theirs. These poor, poor children of mine have to accumulate goods in the same way that I do… they have to wait for Christmas and birthdays.
In the meantime, Toni has actually gotten a side job refereeing kiddy soccer on weekends to support her music habit. Jonah has taken to doing Toni’s chores for a pittance of her meager earnings to save up for a Pokemon Diamond game. Child labor, I know. In all seriousness, though, my hope is that someday they’ll grow up and have “poor” children, too.