Saturday the Midgets showed no sign of sleepiness after lunch which was unfortunate, because, as it was The Second Day of Halloween (see yesterday’s post), I was ready for a glass of wine and a good long nap.
Instead, I strapped them in the Midgetmobile and headed south to Cost Plus World Market. I needed wine glasses–the last one had died dramatically on the floor the evening before due to an encounter with, I believe, the handle of the Little Helper Broom (see Passengers in Zone 4, Please Board While Doing the Charleston). And I had promised the Midgets a second try at Cost Plus, which is both a wonderful and a terrible place for the 40-inch and under set . We’d been there a few days earlier, to buy a rug, and it hadn’t gone well. Our premature retreat was accompanied by dual sputterfusses due to the Siren’s song of so many cool little cheap toys and candy arranged like….candy, 32 inches off the floor on aisles narrow enough to allow access to any stroller passenger with a 35-inch wingspan.
Foolishly, I’d promised to return in a few days, to give the Midgets a second chance at good behavior. Then, I promised, saying words I knew at the time were wrong wrong wrong, they could each pick out one of the cool little cheap toys.
So. Saturday afternoon. Back on site. And a picture of the Midgets, clapped into the double stroller, could have appeared on the Wikipedia page for “angelic.”
I found my $1.99 wine glasses. And then we rolled into the Danger Zone for their rewards. Mbot, after some hemming and hawing and then wanting what Gbot had and then changing his mind–an early sign that my plan was an incredibly shitty one–reluctantly handed the Happy Glasses with wind-up nose to the clerk. Gbot handed over his push-button twirly globe with the shark inside. Mbot decided he’d rather have Gbot’s. I told him it was too late to change his mind.
On the ride north, the situation deteriorated. Mbot stole Gbot’s twirly globe. Gbot cried. I reprimanded Mbot. Mbot cried. I heard myself saying, “I got these for you as a treat because you were so good. I got them to make you happy.” But I couldn’t quite get those last words out my mouth because they sounded so stupid. I kept stopping, trying to find words that made sense. “I got them to help make you happy…I got them…” Why? You can’t make someone be happy, and certainly a toy can’t make you happy. If there’s happiness to be had, a toy can draw it out–sometimes. What those toys were making them was miserable.
I should have known. Gbot’s birthday had been a few days before, and he’d gotten some pretty cool loot, including an Elmo Lego fire truck and fire station. Which were objects of contention from the start. An hour after we’d assembled them, an act which required each Midget pulling pieces away from the other and then crying about it, both truck and station and both Elmos were dismantled and forgotten, the pieces strewn in every corner of the room where the most harm they could do was bruise an instep.
What had I expected from the Happy Glasses? I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I had thought, I admit, that the Midgets would get a treat and be delighted by it.
But every new toy is something that has to be shared. Something new to fight over. Something that is not as desirable as what your brother’s playing with. Thorstein Veblen, who Mark Kingwell in a Harper’s article calls “the still-reigning genius of consumer economics,” argued that consumer economics is driven by a desire for distinction: not by the desire for more and better but the desire for more and better than the other guy.
I’d fallen right into the American consumerism trap. And I’d pushed it upon my children–I did it for them–and their behavior was…human. Thorsten Veblen was rolling his eyes in the grave, muttering, “I’ve already said ‘I told you so’ a hundred million times.”
Electronic scans show that the meditation of Buddhist monks trigger calmness and pleasure centers in the brain. Happiness comes from within (or from within little orange vials) and all that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The Happy Glasses were broken within five minutes of use. It took the twirly globe fell apart the next day. I celebrated as I threw them out.
So this Christmas, our household is taking a different approach to gift-giving. I’m not sure exactly what, because how pleasurable is a stocking with nothing in it? The answer to that is all about expectation: How many times do you reach into the drawer for a pair of socks and despair because none of them have candy canes inside?
Recent studies have found what everyone already knew: expectation and happiness are more closely related than toys and happiness. And if the other guys have stockings full of loot, expectations for your own rise. But however I decide to handle my consumer conundrum, Christmas this year will not involve a lot of trips to Wal-Mart, and certainly not a lot of trips to Cost Plus World Market.
Except if we need more wine glasses.
What really makes you happy? Really?