December 28, 2018

wherein the joneses go too far

I've mentioned before the complex I was given as a child by my neighbor-friend, a girl the same age whose parents "spoiled her rotten" (my mother's phrase) and who was perpetually showered with material possessions while I got rhythmic birthday-and-Christmas drops from an annoying leaky faucet.  I grew to believe it was wrong to have things.  What other defense was available?

It's been great fun, having that irrational mechanism in place while being all grown up and parenting The Kid.  It's not turned out so unhealthy as one might have expected; I feel the typical pressure to keep up with The Joneses while also feeling comfortable falling a certain number of feet short of measuring up.  I hold distaste for materialism, but I'm also resigned to knowing The Kid is, in fact, a kid, and is going to experience it at a sort of intense, voracious caveman level.  And I'm capable of getting mildly panicky when we fall too far short.  We've faced his angst when others have more and we refuse to match.  I don't want him to do what I did, have it rubbed in his face so often that he develops a coping mechanism, but neither do I want him to feel he has to have possessions to have worth, to look around him and measure, constantly.

It's damned difficult enough to toe that line, but we have an additional problem.

He's already met The Joneses, in the form of his friend Jason.

I'm sorry, but who in the sulfurous hell gives their child an Easter basket with contents worth about $400, in the form of video games, gift cards, and graphics card upgrades?  The chocolate was probably real, too, and not that Palmer's bunny-coin bullshit.  The Kid got an Easter basket with candy and a stuffed seal that year.  He used to love that.  The year of Jason's Easter Basket of Majesty, however, he was on the cusp of adolescence and was hit with having to cope with a healthy dose of pure jealousy for the first time.  He got through it okay, and healed, and his appetite for games seems to have suffered no injury and is, in fact, commendably robust.

He's struggled since then, playing nearly every day with Jason and hearing about the things his dad got him just for the shallow gratification of it.  There are clear echoes of my childhood neighbor's mother.  If any new tech-related thing comes out, his dad buys it for Jason.  If his dad catches wind that someone else on the planet got something that his son doesn't have, he obtains it immediately, and sometimes one for himself as well.  I've never before seen such an adult-child as that man.  He has served as a perpetual source of disharmony in our house.  After every conversation about wanting this or that so that he can play the same games and keep up, The Kid retreats to his room (politely, to his credit) and I wrestle with The Complex, and P.J. just plain gets pissed off.  And around and around we go.

This week changed everything, though.  The whole Jason paradigm jumped the Christmas Shark and lost its power over all three of us.

The Kid wanted an HTC Vive for Christmas in the worst possible way.  He began his campaign back in the summer for a VR headset, and while we led him to believe that he was going to be disappointed, we did the research and took the plunge and got it for him.  Our shared value system bristled, but we caved in under the weight of wanting to see him happy.  And he was happy.  He couldn't stop smiling, even when he tried.  He made it whole hours before asking for helping mounting the sensors in his room.

Then the reports began coming in concerning Jason.  At first, the list consisted merely of an HTC Vive of his own (he already owns an Oculus Rift but "needed the other one"), another 4K TV for his room, and the latest iteration of the Xbox One with Red Dead Redemption 2, which makes three Xbox consoles in his possession.

We chuckled.  Because of course he did.

But wait, there's more.  Then The Kid reported that there was also a Playstation Plus one-year pass, another updated graphics card (a 1090Ti, currently running at about $1,400), and four more video games.

We could tell The Kid had moved beyond jealousy into exasperation and was starting to see the whole affair as bordering on ridiculous.

Another text came in on his phone, and when he read us the message about the Nintendo Switch and the massive Steam gift card from the grandmother, it resulted in a fit of family laughter there in our living room.  Jason's Christmas Presents had turned into a game.  The Kid went back to his room and played with his Vive, and came downstairs later to report that his legs hurt from the activity, in a good way.

He also stated that he feels sorry for Jason.  That was one whopping leap for him.  On some level, he now appreciates that we have some boundaries in place.  He's realizing they're the result of being cared for and guided.

Meanwhile, a betting pool is already forming regarding the kind of car Jason will receive with his driver's license.

Merry Christmas, kiddo.  We wish your appetite for possessions was less than what it is, but like everything else we wish and think and do, it's only because we want you to be happy.  We'll continue to do our best to keep balance.  And we promise you that we will never, never ruin the world for you by laying it at your feet and depriving you of the chance to pursue it yourself.

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