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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.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. CJ #

    Yup. Get this. Totally do. But fuck I get to buy what I want because I have job. My kids don’t. Appreciate your crap I tell them (not in those words of course).
    Empty boxes. Mail. Yes. These are toys. And yes the endlesssupplyofpaper exists for me because, well duh, I work for state college and am taking as much as I want because I hate the state I live in and no salary increase in sight.
    I’m getting sidetracked.
    But yeah, appreciation. And too much.

    November 23, 2015
  2. So you may even have ME beat. We have very much the same issue here. Not only does g go through X0000 sheets of paper every day (95% of it is recycled paper from G’s office that is already printed on one side but still -TREES! Dioxin!), but said paper is all the fuck over my house!!!!!!

    G I do give lectures about only taking what is “needed” and using it wisely, blah blah but I love that he loves to draw (and cut out the drawings and then reassemble them into lovely 3 dimensional paper structures). I can’t help but feel that this is a nicer activity than many alternatives. So I don’t do as much as I should to restrict the waste and teach appreciation. I think this is probably good evidence that I am a hypocrite since I agree with this underlying principal very much. And the goal is so important.

    But I need to get on this because I don’t want MY kids to end up filling their closets with unnecessary boots 😉

    November 23, 2015
    • Another of their favorite activities is to cut the paper into tiny bits and sprinkle them all over the house, so there’s also an I HATE THIS MESS element to the whole thing, I won’t lie. I think you do PLENTY to teach your boys about the value of things, so I wave my wand and give you permission to not care about this one. And I may give up soon, because I also love that they love to draw. I am sad to say I don’t generate any scrap paper anymore! But my brother the architect just promised to send me a ton of building plans! The babies should enjoy that.

      November 23, 2015
      • Oh, building plans should be lots of fun to augment! I should ask my architecture sister to save some for Gwen when we see her at Christmas.

        (Gwen too does the “cut paper into small pieces”, usually followed up by “taping them onto any surface that stays still”. It really bugs Joel. I keep reminding him, and me, that it’s a REALLY REALLY CHEAP way for her to entertain herself.)

        November 24, 2015
  3. I love your honesty, bunny. And I’m curious to hear how it goes.

    November 23, 2015
  4. Very curious to see the results.

    Gwen is also an avid artist, but we haven’t faced this issue yet; she has very few coloring books and so she does treat them quite charily, and even gets multiple use out of them — after she’s colored the pages, months later she’ll find the book and then tear/cut the pages out to then cut out the images. The majority of her coloring is done on scratch paper, because we generally have about 10 reams of scratch paper on hand at any given time, the heritage of many many many years of hoarding to use when writing up proofs.

    But my sister (and mother of almost 7 kids) had a flash of brilliance when packing up Gwen’s birthday gift, and included a stack of assorted pads of notepaper, novelty post-it notes, etc., some of which Gwen took all of one morning to completely use up. I, too, grew up on frugality and remember how much I always wanted to take that sheet of stickers and put ALL of them on ONE piece of paper, but instead, I saved them and cherished them (and as a result, I STILL HAVE THEM). So I try to balance my desire to teach her that commodities are not inexhaustible with my desire to let her experience the joy of using ALL THE THINGS in one go.

    I always expected parenting would be tough. What I didn’t expect was WHICH aspects of it would be the tough ones!

    November 23, 2015
    • Jos #

      THIS. This comment exactly. 🙂

      November 30, 2015
  5. sangela71 #

    Since becoming a mother myself, I have been surprised at how early the acquisitiveness starts. The struggles you describe are ones we have in our home as well.

    November 23, 2015
  6. Steph #

    The nature of this is something I struggle with. I have to say that I get new things and keep them coming because it does something for me mentally. Then I feel guilty (another mental thing). I suppose I share this with my children. One of whom refuses to eat a slice of cheese if it’s not in a perfect square or has a crack in it and doesn’t look new. And you know what, I give in and get him new fucking cheese. But not new toys. Paper, yeah, I give an endless supply. It feels like a commodity that I have less guilt about hence the readily available recycling bin. But all this said, my kids are not learning anything from my actions other than everything is destroyable and replaceable. I also think I over compensate for having less as a child than they have currently.

    Oh so fucked up. I’ll be waiting to see how this all turns out. It’s nice to read your honesty and feel it’s okay to share our honesty with you in this comments section!

    November 25, 2015
  7. I am utterly gleeful to see that this paper nonsense is a problem in other people’s homes and not just my own. My ungrateful monsters won’t draw on any paper that has ANYTHING on the other side. Or that is slightly bent at the corner. Or that (of course) has been torn out of the pad. Or that her sister has touched. Or looked at. We have about half a pad of paper left at the moment. After that, they better get used to drawing business envelope sized butterflies.


    November 27, 2015
  8. Jos #

    I love Gemini Momma’s comment above. *SOLIDARITY* We’ve also been cutting back on the available paper in our house. It’s a relief.

    November 30, 2015
  9. Yes to this. I bring home scrap paper from work and Sebastian flat out refuses. Please update with results (assuming appropriately detailed statistical analysis, also PIE CHART). Just kidding, you are f*cking postpartum, do not do that. Just type.

    December 1, 2015
  10. Ana #

    OMG the paper. My kids have gotten into a super-elite habit of only coloring things we have printed off the internet. I find a bunch of “free coloring pages” based on their topic of interest (i.e. princesses for the older, super heroes for the younger) and print them out. They color 10-15 pages in an hour. and ask for more and more and more and more and then our entire living room is covered in paper and I have to sort through the colored in full vs. partially colored vs. uncolored. And if its partially colored, they will NOT go back and color it they need NEW ONES every day.
    Sigh. Thanks for letting me vent about this topic. It hurts me somewhere deep inside to see all the waste, and to have to just recycle paper with perfectly good drawing space left on it. But it also hurts me in another place to see my home taken over by printer paper. So straight to the recycle bin they go.
    I’ve tried limiting it, I’ve tried praising them excessively for being slow and using more of the paper, I’ve tried refusing to print them more….nothing has actually worked, and the calm we get when they are coloring away is sort of…priceless.

    December 3, 2015

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