During the 2012 holiday season, my 10-month-old daughter Hazel taught me a lot about the way our belongings govern our lives. There are some things we need, a lot of things we want, and plenty of confusion in between. We tend to get caught up in all our stuff — sometimes literally, as in the following example.
I’m what you’d call an avid cyclist, which basically means that I have a lot of bike stuff: blinking lights, funny shoes, and Lycra shorts. For cold weather, I have thermal tights to wear over my shorts. On a recent afternoon I was in the midst of removing my rain-soaked tights after a wintry ride, when I saw baby Hazel had army-crawled across the room to her new favorite toy: the dogs’ water dish. A few more seconds and she was going to be as drenched as I was.
Some cycling tights have zippers running down the calves that open up the snugly elasticized ankles, allowing you to more easily pull them off over your feet. Unfortunately, my half-removed tights were the zipper-less kind. A hasty attempt to yank my feet free only left the stretchy fabric bunched up and pulled halfway inside-out, and in desperation I careened across the room with my pants around my ankles. By the time I reached Hazel she’d already begun splashing her hand in the water, but I was just in time to avert another of the impromptu dog-water baths she’s recently been giving herself.
That’s an example of my stuff getting me into trouble, but it also illustrates a bigger point: not only do babies want stuff, they want everything, and it’s nearly impossible to keep them from getting it.
Hazel has a lot of toys, but she always wants more. She just loves stuff. New stuff! Better stuff! Not that boring toy that she loved a day ago! She wants whatever catches her eye now. Usually it’s something she shouldn’t have, like daddy’s dirty boots, mommy’s smartphone, or a shiny metal dog dish, which makes a wonderfully loud clanging sound when she bangs it repeatedly against the floor, like a prisoner inciting unrest, (which, I guess, in a way, she is).
Not only does she want things, but she’s become very assertive about getting them. She will scream, cry, and wiggle out of my arms like a wet noodle to get what she wants. I know this behavior is part of a baby’s healthy development, but I can’t help but notice that it bears similarities to some of the uglier aspects of human nature that are too often on display around the holidays.
In the classic TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” good ol’ Chuck laments that the meaning of Christmas is being lost. These days it looks like that cultural deterioration has spread to include Thanksgiving, as evidenced by the ruthless, greedy behavior that erupts in retail stores across the land even before the leftover turkey in the fridge has cooled. (So much for giving thanks — maybe we should just call it “Black Friday Eve.”) While I was contending with Hazel fussing and slapping at my hands after I prevented her from playing Frisbee with my dinner plate, I was also seeing throngs of frenzied adults on the evening news getting into fights over kids’ toys.
If Hazel is so determined to get things at 10 months, what will she be like by the time she has her own credit card? She might be shaping up to be a child prodigy among holiday “door-buster” shoppers. I have chilling visions of her as a fleet-footed teenager who, with ninja-like prowess, swipes any item she desires from the clutches of less experienced consumers, and who shrieks, arches her back, and wiggles like a wet noodle to free herself from the feeble grasp of Best Buy’s part-time security force.
How did things go so wrong? Am I already a failure as a parent? Is it too late to stop Hazel from turning into the Black Friday Ninja? Maybe. But maybe it was never in my control to begin with. The constant desire for something new might just be encoded in our genes, and how can you compete with DNA?
That’s the kind of stuff I get caught up with inside my own head, but leave it to Hazel to bring me back to earth. As of just a few days ago, she wants to share all her things. From across the living room she’ll smile at me and hold a toy in the air until I come over to her. (I get bonus giggle points if, after taking the toy, I pretend to eat it.)
Everyone has the capacity for both greed and gratitude. It’s OK to want stuff — we just need to keep things in perspective, and to remember what it means to be truly thankful. Now that Hazel is here, that’s easy for me — I’m not concerned with getting anything else. What more could I want?
Well, maybe a pair of bike tights with zippers on the ankles.
Tim Perrins is a part-time, stay-at-home dad who lives with his wife and their brand-new tiny human in Park Slope, Brooklyn. More of his thoughts about babies and other things that confuse him can be found at www.Revolt