I’m still not entirely clear on how well my little boy grasps concepts like “tomorrow”; creature of pure id that he is, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the truth were that he lived in a permanent and eternal “now”. I do know for sure that the word “tomorrow” is not in his tiny-but-expanding vocabulary, but can he even wrap his brain around the idea of the yet-to-arrive future?
Don’t ask me. But even though I’m not sure it makes sense to him, I do stress that tomorrow exists pretty regularly. When he wants to put on his coat or his shoes at bedtime, I just say “We don’t need our coat and shoes right now, but you can wear them to school tomorrow!” This probably all goes right over his head, and if anything he divines meaning from my tone of voice, primarily the “no” part. But as far as I’m concerned, I can’t possibly start too early with the fundamental concept of delayed gratification, because if he’s anything like me it is going to be a lifelong struggle.
I remember right around the time that the very first wave of Transformers toys were released in the U.S. It was before Very Little Bro was even born, but Little Bro and I were the perfect age to immediately salivate over the prospect of owning a couple of Autobots. But the goods hit the toystore shelves in the spring, which meant that Christmas and even our birthdays (his in September, mine in October) were pretty far away. I remember Little Bro and I telling our father that we should go out and get some Transformers … because we wanted them. What more reason could we possibly need? And that was the first (and by no means last) time my father tried to acquaint us with the concept of delayed gratification. Alas, I fear he was too late.
I recently went to a comic book shop and managed to restrain myself to spending less than twenty bucks (and still managed to catch up on Blackest Night, which is about three comics away from finally ending and holy crap that is some outrageous high-dorkery right there) but at the same time I was mentally adding up a bunch of toys that pressed my WANT button and they must have totaled close to a hundred. Again, I was inordinately proud of myself for not spending a hundred dollars on geek toys even though I really, really wanted to. And I’m not ruling out the possibility that I might still go back for some (or all) of them. Sometimes the fact that I held off for a little while rather than spending the money right when the impulse first popped into my head is the closest thing to a moral victory I can claim.
So yeah, I’m a lost cause, but hopefully I can break the cycle of avarice for my son. Not that I expect it to be easy, for either of us. At the very least, I recognize potentially hazardous situations. For his first Christmas, I bought the little guy a set of kiddie Iron Man figures (because based on in utero kick counting, he really enjoyed it when his mother and I caught Iron Man in the theater) and they have remained in the box ever since. Partly this is because they are technically only safety-approved for children over three years old. Partly also, though, there is a part of me that wants to unbox those little armored guys and hang a plastic shelf in the kid’s room and set up the Hall of Armor. But I know that once I do that, then every time I’m at the store and I see another chiba-fied super hero, I’ll want to snag it and add it to the collection and my child will end up with a hundred and fifty mini superhero figures by the time he’s cleared the choking risk milestone. And I’m fairly certain that although that sounds like my dream version of childhood, there’s something a little bit wrong with that. So the struggle goes on.