Friday, October 26, 2007

The Anti-Consumerist Child

I went to the mall this week with my 6-year-old daughter, to search for components to this year's Halloween costume. She's going to be a carrot.

The things we were looking for were: orange pants. An orange or green knit cap. Orange face paint. Green pipe cleaners and some type of big green paper or something, to make fronds out of.

We purchased the last two craft items and the face paint right away, and were left cruising the department stores, hoping to happen upon orange pants or hats. My daughter saw a display of fuzzy animal slippers, cute frogs and bunnies and puppies, and pointed them out.

"Uh-huh," I said warily.

"But I don't need any slippers!" she cheerfully went on. "I've already got two pairs!"

Wow, okay. She stole my line. We went on into the children's department at Macy's, which had a display of gorgeous fancy dresses. Not pink ruffles and lace, but sophisticated, truly beautiful (and expensive) full-length satins in red-and-white patterns, or black, or sage green (my personal weakness). My daughter loves fancy dresses, and picks up a lot of them at yard sales with her dad. I stopped to admire them, ready with my explanation that, while they were beautiful, we would have nowhere to wear something so formal.

But my daughter moved purposefully right past me and the dresses, into the recesses of the children's department to search for orange pants. "Mooommm," she said impatiently. I was wasting time, looking at and touching stuff we obviously weren't going to buy.

She didn't even want a snack at the food court. "No, I can wait," she said.

Later, at another shopping center (orange pants are tough to find), she consented when I suggested stopping to refuel on a couple of tacos; and later still she spent $1.99 of her own money on a Halloween trick-or-treat bag at Kmart and asked for a quarter for the gumball machines. She's not an abnormal child.

We still didn't have all our costume components, so another trip was in the works. But... when did my kid become such a joy to shop with? I remember when, at about age four, Store Lust suddenly hit. Everything we passed-- toys, shoes, towels, can openers-- became an object of intense desire. She didn't throw tantrums, but every shopping expedition became an exhausting odyssey of rational explanation. We don't need that. We can't buy everything. We don't have the money for anything except what's on our list. They're just saying that thing is great because they want to get you to buy it, so their company can make more money. We don't need one of those.

But somehow, somewhere, all that must have sunk in. The presumption of not-buying has overtaken the drive to possess or consume. On that day and the one following (during which we still couldn’t find orange pants, but settled for orange shorts and very long orange socks), we bought only the items we were specifically looking for, plus a very few small treats (on the second day, she bought herself a 50-cent lollipop).

It’s a wonderful thing. Except she wants Heelys.

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