I snap. "That's it! How can you behave this way? Do you know how petty this is? Do you know that there are kids out there that never play tennis and never go to the zoo? Do you know how lucky we are to have spent this beautiful day together? It really makes me mad that you don't appreciate what you have! I expect more from you!" Now I stalk off angrily. "And furthermore, there is no TV and no dessert for a week! Maybe that will help you appreciate what you have!"
Allow me a momentary digression. We will get back to my bad behavior momentarily. My parents came to the US out of necessity, via Germany, where they sought political asylum due to my dad's involvement in the anti-communist movement. They did not speak English and did not yet have their college education - that would come later as part of their US journey. Without English, work at $1.50 per hour was par for the course. I witnessed long work hours, sometime 16 hour days, while learning English. There was no rest for the weary. Every expenditure was meticulously thought out. "We can't afford it" was an expected response to my every desire. My first trip to the GAP, although still not prolific, was a milestone in my fourteen year old brain : "We made it," I thought. "We can consider the sale rack at the GAP."
Despite the financial difficulties and limited time (school full-time, job full-time, children full-time), my parents always pushed education. This went beyond the science magnet school I attended which brought hours of homework every night and several college level classes by junior year. There had to be time for music, art, sports, as well as all day Saturdays in Polish school at the Polish consulate (then all day Sunday reading Polish literature and writing essays) all critically important. They felt that this education would empower me to see things differently, and have a life better then theirs, filled with less struggle. The idea was that with hard work, you can achieve anything. You just have to want it badly enough, and work hard enough. And if you have the combination of education and hard work, you are empowered to make your dreams come true.
It is with great difficulty, then, that I witness the emergence of a completely new youth culture in "the Millennials." Discussing with peers, we have common perceptions. When you are early in your career, you expect to be work hard, learn, earn your place and later, much, much later, earn your money. In this new generation, the idea that you are entitled to a cell phone, you are entitled to a computer, a car, a nice apartment - and all on your parents' bill - is the norm. There is an expectation that for a nine to five job, even one requires little skill, you are entitled to earn $15-20/hr. Many college students are asking for these salaries. If they don't get the money, the phone, the car, the apartment, a feeling of resentment develops. Family drama - their parents must be bad since friends are getting these things and they aren't. I did not have a cell phone until after I completed my residency. I couldn't afford it. Car, same thing. It wasn't until Isabel was sixteen months (I was thirty years old) and public transportation was more challenging, that a car became more important. It was unthinkable to ask my parents, who had worked so hard all their lives, for these things.
When this incident with Isabel occurred this weekend, it was as if a sentinel even had occurred. Is this where it starts? Here I am trying to give her the world...am I teaching her to think she is entitled to it? I want her to get things without working for every single thing, but it is also important for her to realize that she is really lucky to be in that position, to not take it for granted, and to work to make the world a place where others can be offered simple luxuries of goin' to the freakin' zoo!
Health care, good public schools - we are all entitled to those. Tennis lessons and black bottomed cupcakes on a whim, not so much.
I do realize that perhaps my response to the above event could be an overreaction, as was eloquently, calmly, and appropriately discussed during family negotiations the following day. We adjusted the punishment to just withholding dessert for a week. I had to admit I was wrong, a critical part of the dialogue itself. Admitting you are wrong, apologizing for it, especially to your child, etc - a topic for another blog entry. The most important part, however, was realizing that this conversation has to be on-going. I thought when we started making contributions to My Sister's Place, the homeless shelter for women and their children in downtown Baltimore, we would all gain perspective. Turns out this is not enough.
So, will I continue to give them the world to the best of my ability? Yes. I want them to see everything it has to offer. I want them to be empowered that way. But with it, there will be more mindful conversations about how fortunate our family is, how other families don't have even basic necessities. There were times in the distant past when that was true for their own mother. It will be a good reminder for all of us. And hopefully, they will realize they are not entitled to the luxuries they have. They are just really, really lucky and should be grateful everyday.