Unappreciative, ungrateful MONSTERS
One of the babies’ favorite activities is drawing. We get them pads of paper. Over time, they’ve gotten more and more cavalier about the supply of paper, because we provide more as soon as it’s used up. Last week I provided a new pad and they tore out half the pages, then refused to use the torn out pages because they were torn out. It made me absolutely livid. I’ve taken away all their paper while I decide how to proceed.
A lot of different things lead to my strong reaction. Like, I have an unreasonable ideal. I think my kids should value everything they own like Laura and Mary Ingalls valued the one stick of candy they got all year. My children don’t live in that world. Even I, who grew up in a world that resembled Ingalls Land to a much greater degree, did not value everything I was given. I remember destroying the fuck out of things because I really did not give a shit about them! At the same time that I harbor this ideal, I totally fail to live up to it. I just bought a new pair of boots despite the fact that my old ones were perfectly serviceable because the old ones weren’t stylish and I finally found a pair that met all my many requirements. A total case of I won’t draw on this paper because it’s torn out. And I should have given the money to Reverend Alden for a church bell.
I live in a world of plenty and can’t control my own acquisitiveness. My kids live in a world of plenty that I can’t control either. We rotate the toys both for our sanity and to keep them novel, but there are still far too many of them. And they have a giant shelf of books and a pretty much unceasing supply of new books and toys coming in. In fact, we have a bunch of unopened gifts in the closet right now because we cannot keep up. At Christmas we do stockings only, and I’m thinking how to word the email to the people visiting this year reminding them that stockings only means STOCKINGS ONLY, not stockings and a pile of shit on top of the stockings, and that with seven adults, one item is all they need to provide and nothing at all is always a nice choice… This is a common problem, I know, and lots of people have written lots of good stuff about it, and I don’t want to try to summarize any of it, just point to the oppressive sense of TOO MUCH that many of us live with and are bothered by and fail to find a solution to.
Back to the drawing paper. I have decided this is a good-sized case where I can actually experiment and see if I can change their behavior. I believe their degree of appreciation is adapted to the quantity of paper available. They know paper is not scarce, so they don’t value it. H1: If I make paper scarcer, the will value it more. H2: If I make paper scarcer, they will value it less. H0: If I make paper scarcer, there will be no change in how much they value paper. Value will be operationalized as time spent drawing and density of drawing (do they use both sides, every square millimeter). For the next month, they will get no brand new paper. I will let them use any scratch paper that comes into the house, such as envelopes and packing materials. Today was day one. They were very excited for the mail to arrive, I tell you what. We got two whole sheets of useable paper and several envelopes! Regardless of the long-term outcome, it certainly gave me a satisfying sense of frugality.
I know toddlers are not exactly built for appreciation, and maybe I should work on myself before fucking with my children’s lives. But my instincts tell me that something needs to change, so I’m going with my gut.