A year ago, I did a column about The Boy's rampant consumerism. There's nothing he loves more than shopping, and sometimes it seems like it's more about the shopping itself than the actual toys. It's the thrill of the chase, the high of the buy. It's a trait that we have been trying over the past year to discourage — gently, subtly and from a place of love. Saying that we have been successful might be generous, but not as generous as the pile of toys we've accumulated since then. It's a work in progress, people. We're trying.
The other morning he was sitting at breakfast, listing all of the toys he wanted to buy that day. It was a speech we'd been hearing for a week. Every morning, we'd listen patiently, then remind him that not every day was a toy-buying day, then he'd pout, and after a few minutes of the silent treatment, he'd launch back into the list as if nothing had happened. This time, when he revved back up, I interrupted.
"I tell you what," I said, pointing my toast triangle at him. "Today is not a toy-buying day, but what we can do is put a folder on the computer where you can save all of the pictures of the toys that you like, so you can look at them whenever you want."
It was a gamble. I figured that he would either really be into it, or he'd see through the ruse and accurately point out that he couldn't play with JPEGs in a folder. I held my breath and waited while he considered the proposal.
"That's a great idea," he said, hopping out of his chair. "Let's do it right now!" I didn't want to lose the momentum, so we let our breakfasts get cold while we set up the folder.
"I'm going to call it ‘wish list,' " I said.
" ‘Wish list?' That's a great name for it!" He squealed and clapped his hands.
"Well, thanks," I said, feeling inordinately proud.
It only took about 15 minutes to put an impressive array of desirable toys into the wish-list folder. I'd been hearing The Boy repeat the same names over and over for a week, so it was easy. Then, once the folder was full, I showed him how to navigate through the slideshow so that he could look at his wish list any time he wanted. And that's what he did. He just clicked through the toys, taking them in and wishing for them.
I realized then that what he was doing was the 2010 version of what I used to do with the Sears catalog. It would arrive, and I would flip straight to the back where the toys were and while away the afternoon, thinking about what I wanted.
My personal holy grail was a boys' banana-seat bike that had a ludicrously high sissy bar and a steering wheel instead of handlebars. My parents declared it not only unsafe but unladylike, and besides, we were strictly a Schwinn family. So I knew that no matter how much I yearned, it would never be mine. But I yearned. Oh, how I yearned!
I never owned it, but the steering-wheel bike is part of my childhood, and having that Sears-catalog picture to look at gave me something to dream about.
As I sit on the sofa and watch The Boy at the computer, contentedly clicking through his wearable robot arms and Alien Creation Chambers and remote-control helicopters, I wonder what kinds of elaborate, toy-based fantasies he's spinning as he studies his wish list. I know — especially given the quality of today's toys — that what's going on in his head is a lot more fun than he'd have with the actual toys. He probably wouldn't believe me if I told him that, though, so I won't. I'll just watch and enjoy the peace and quiet for however long it lasts.