For Christmas this year, M really, really wants a toy ATM machine. He saw it in a catalog, which arrived in the mail last month despite all my efforts to get off catalog mailing lists over the summer and fall. It's actually a fancy piggy bank, shaped like an ATM machine, that takes in your money, keeps track of your balance and includes an ATM card and a PIN number. It's one of those toys I would have scoffed at (or gagged over) if I had seen the catalog before he got ahold of it, cutting out pictures of all the things he wanted (and wanted to get his brothers--particularly a cash register) and gluing them to a few sheets of paper, which he stapled into a Christmas list book. (Things have gotten a bit more sophisticated since my day, when I used to just circle the dolls and Tonka trucks I dreamed of in the back of the Sears catalog). Even after I disappeared the catalog and the list, he continued to talk about the ATM machine. He's had this obsession with money since sometime in September, confirming my greatest fears that I would give birth to an Alex P. Keaton.
I have several problems with the ATM machine. First of all, that it is preparing my kid for a life of consumption, easy access to cash (or credit) and glorification of consumerism. Then of course, it is made of (non-renewable, non-degradable, potentially lead- or phthalate-infused) plastic. It is no doubt made in China, possibly by children not much older than M, certainly by workers who are underpaid and overworked, and have little need for ATM machines themselves. Finally, it requires batteries, and though we use the rechargeable type, they still contain toxins, and they still have a limited lifespan. Then there is the fact that M wants it so much, has instilled so many of his hopes and dreams into it, that it is inevitable it won't meet with his expectations, and the thought of his crushing disappointment is nearly more than I can bear.
But then I must ask myself, is it not part of his life's experience to taste disappointment with his own tongue? I cannot protect him from all of life's failures to meet his expectations, and surely he will be just as disappointed if the ATM machine does not appear under the tree. Also, in claiming "consumerism" and "environmentalism," am I pushing my own agenda on my child? Yes, I would like him to be a responsible user of the earth's resources, and, face it, a tree-hugger. But these lessons are best taught through example. Would saying "no" to a six-year-old's greatest Christmas dream be in any way educational, as compared to, say, delivering gifts to the underprivlidged (which, incidentally, we don't do...yet)? I can't even claim poverty--the item is expensive, by piggy bank standards ($39.99, I think), but not outside the realm of our Christmas budget.
I considered for a while, passing the buck, getting the grandparents to do the dirty deed and buy the ATM, while I could stay pure, purchasing wooden, waldorfy things that he probably wouldn't get too excited over. But that wouldn't really absolve me of my involvement in the trade deficit and the (eventual) landfill-overcrowding. The blood would still be on my hands.
So I'm sucking it up, setting all of my values aside and going online to order a toy ATM machine. My guilt isn't going to help out any exploited toy makers, or keep the oceans plastic-free, so I'm going to try to let go of that too. Because I remember being six, just a tiny bit, when Christmas was still magical. How wonderful it was to see the pile of presents from Santa on Christmas morning, completely in awe of how they appeared seemingly from thin air. I was not yet cynical, about how my friends got this or that, but I only got this dumb thing. My wants were still simple, and within my parents' means. That feeling is worth a lot, and not something I want to load down with my own baggage. Why not make my kid's greatest dream come true this Christmas morning, now, while I can. We can spend the rest of the year talking about consumerism and natural resources. And maybe I can get M to set aside some of that money in his ATM to give to those who need it more than he does, and help someone else's dream come true.