My daughter placed her new Little League gear on the checkout counter at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and I could hear my partner’s voice in my head. Does she really need all of that stuff?
Does a seven-year-old really need practice balls, batting gloves, a new bat, and new baseball mitt? Oh, and a bag of Big League Chew bubble gum? The answer is an easy no. Of course, my daughter doesn’t need all of these things. Especially since she has never played baseball before, so there’s no telling if she will even want to play next season. We went to the store to get her a mitt, the only thing she really needed to play on the coach-pitch team she is signed up for.
She was happy to come home and show off her spiffy new stuff, but she wasn’t the one who asked for anything other than the new baseball glove. I was the driving force behind the extra money spent on unnecessary things. And just like I anticipated, my partner raised her eyebrows at me as my daughter kept pulling unnecessary stuff out of her shopping bag.
I knew what my partner was getting at. Later that night, I admitted I went overboard; the equipment was more for me than my daughter. I was splurging on my inner child, the poor kid who would have given anything to have the opportunity to walk into a store and pick out a new bat to get ready for another season of her favorite sport.
I grew up poor and knew from a very young age that my family didn’t have money. We received government assistance. We accepted meals from the food shelf. We were given money from the church. Even though we had little of it, money was a huge presence in our lives.
My father was often unemployed and my mother strung a few jobs together to make ends meet; the struggle was constant. Anticipation of the next payday constantly filled our home. And the worry of when the next shoe would drop was like another worn out piece of furniture in our living room. We rested our bodies on it, knowing it needed to be replaced with something more substantial, but settled into it because it was all we had.
We couldn’t pay the phone bill on time, but we got a lot of use out of the caller ID. When bill collectors called, my brother and I were told to answer the phone to tell them our parents weren’t home. And as I got a little older, I lived in fear that the bank would take our home because the mortgage wasn’t paid. Money was always the primary thing my mother yelled about when she and my father got into one of their frequent fights.
She demanded he do more than collect unemployment checks. She needed money for food, utilities, and clothes. The kids needed new shoes and cash for Little League registration. She was out of Diet Coke and the car was running on fumes. My father seemed to need the reminder that those things didn’t pay for themselves. And for good measure, she always let my father know that his gambling habit and nicotine addiction weren’t free either.
As much as I knew and was even embarrassed by our economic status, I was still a kid. I still wanted stuff. Stuff helped you fit in, especially in middle school. I wanted the brand name sneakers instead of the Payless knockoffs. I wanted money for the book fair at school. I wanted the coolest new toys. And instead of old sneakers and the bat I found at the playground, which I had no rights to but took home anyway, I wanted new cleats and a shiny bat for baseball season.
Sports were a lifeline and escape for me. I wasn’t naturally athletic, but I was a hard worker and determined. I forced myself to become a good athlete because on the court or field, I was not only equal to my peers, but a little better. I was a valued member of my team because of the skills I offered. Unlike what I had at home, I was steady and reliable. When I stepped up to the plate or took my place on the field, I wasn’t the poor kid from the other side of town. Instead of constantly feeling like I was waiting for a handout, I was finally cashing in.
I would like to say I had an appreciation for the things I did have, but that may be saying too much because I didn’t have a lot. I recognized how hard my mother worked to provide for me and my brother. I also recognized that my father wasn’t the epitome of work ethic—or even work—so I also had a lot of resentment for what he didn’t provide.
I don’t want my children to feel what I felt as a kid, but I certainly don’t want them to grow up with a sense of carelessness when it comes to getting everything they want, when they want it. I am not looking to raise entitled kids, but it feels really satisfying to spoil them sometimes. I have worked hard for what I have, and I will be sure my kids see that without feeling the weight of my responsibilities. I know the importance of setting limits and not giving in to all of my kids’ demands and desires.
But, yeah, sometimes I go overboard buying things for my kids because I am giving myself the stuff I never got. And every time I do, I feel giddy and grateful. I somehow manage to satisfy the cravings of a poor kid’s desire.
I was living vicariously through my daughter when we walked out of the store with too much stuff. I had done it before. And I know I will do it again.