I talked a big game before he was born. “Any kid of mine better get used to hearing the word no,” I’d say. “I’m going to limit the TV, the toys and the sweets.”
Then my wife gave birth to him three years ago and he’s been calling the shots ever since.
He’s a sweet kid. He oozes personality and knows how to make people laugh. He dotes on his little sister and tells his mom and me he loves us just about every day.
But the boy does have one major flaw: He has way too many toys and he only wants more.
It all came to a head in December. With his birthday and Christmas just days apart, he really began giving a lot of thought to the things he wanted.
One Saturday evening at the beginning of the month, we sat down and wrote an email to Santa. “I want a Gru doll, a Randall doll, a Hawkeye doll, a puppet show theater and a Jessie doll,” we wrote on emailsanta.com, a more sophisticated approach to the lists my parents would keep on the refrigerator, with me never questioning how Santa Claus even knew what I was asking for.
Miraculously, Santa responded to us in a matter of seconds with a nearly 1,000-word email that assured Jack he’d been keeping tabs on him and knew he’d been a good big brother this year. Of course, the computer program that generated this magical response failed to give me proper instructions as to how on earth I might find a doll of Randall, the villain from “Monsters Inc.”
I was able to find the other items fairly quickly, though, and with some other gifts sprinkled in, I was certain that for the first time the kid was going to have a birthday and Christmas he wouldn’t soon forget.
There was just one problem. I needed to successfully navigate in and out of stores for several more weeks without him asking for even more things.
There were really three factors guiding my need to say no to the kid: my budget, the values I set for us before he was even born and the look on my wife’s face every time he returns home from Costco with a new toy that breaks down into more than 50 pieces and needs to be reassembled by a parent anywhere from 15 to 20 times per day.
As often as I found myself telling Jack he couldn’t get a new toy last month, I found myself relenting hours later.
One Saturday a few weeks back, I stopped into the Riverhead Target on my way home from Greenport. Three cups of coffee deep, I desperately needed to use the rest room, but knew I also needed to get in and out without buying anything for him.
Moments later, we were searching for a toy.
“How about this Finn doll?” I asked him, holding up an action figure from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“No, not that toy!”
That exchange was repeated many times as we covered each toy and sporting goods aisle several times over. Noticing the intent look on Jack’s face, a more veteran dad who was at the store with his wife and teenage daughter even leaned over to me and said, “You’re not getting out of here alive.”
When that same guy passed by again 20 minutes later, chuckling and shaking his head, I’d finally had enough.
“That’s it,” I told Jack. “We’re going home. No toy.”
His face turning red and his actions suddenly hurried, he reached for the nearest shelf and grabbed the first toy his hands could make contact with. “This is the toy I want,” he said.
“Deal,” I relented. I have no idea what this toy is, but it looks only semi-violent and he calls it Race and I can live with that.
I’m sure there’s something more wrong with me than with Jack that has led to this never-ending pursuit of toys. I know I want him to be happy, but maybe deep down there’s some hole in me I’m trying to fill by buying him all these things. But this column is appearing in Times Review publications, not Psychobabble Quarterly, so we’ll address that another time.
I will say, even more than watching the little man open his presents on Christmas, I enjoyed watching him entertain himself with all his new toys during the holiday break. There’s something about seeing this little person I helped create holding a toy in each hand and manufacturing a dialogue between the characters. More than worrying about him being too spoiled, I suppose I should just appreciate this time, when his biggest concern is deciding what toy he’ll play with next.
This Tuesday morning, with us back to work and the holidays finally behind us, Jack, ever the human alarm clock, crawled into our bed around 7 a.m. to wake us. But he also had a question.
“Mom?” he said. “Dad?”
“Yes, Jack?” we both responded with a level of enthusiasm appropriate for that time of day.
“Can I go open my presents now?”
The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].