Only two more days until Christmas. Thank gawd. I don’t think my daughter and I can last any longer.
My daughter LOVES stuff, toys, books, jewelry, art supplies. She really loves NEW stuff. She sees something that she wants and she fixates on it. For her the phrase, “out of sigh, out of mind,” just doesn’t apply. If she decides she wants something, even if she only sees it for a second, she will remember for months and months and months.
For this reason (among others) it’s really hard to take her places. You don’t know how much shit is on display until you’re trying to avoid it. And even if you can avoid it, other kids are carrying around their shit (which I totally get, my kid is carrying around her shit too), so no place is really ever safe. The number one thing on her list for her last birthday was a mermaid doll she saw some girl walking around with at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. She was talking about it for three months.
It’d be one thing if she fixated on a thing and then, once she got it, she played with it like crazy. That is not, in fact, what happens. What does happen is she plays with it like crazy for a couple of days, and then it disappears into the ether. Except, it doesn’t disappear enough that I can get rid of it, because she will remember it again, randomly, months from when it was last seen, and have a total shit fit when she finds out it’s not around anymore.
That whole, take your kids’ toys away and they will be happier thing? That doesn’t seem to apply to my kid.
As you can imagine, this time of year is a nightmare for us. I quite literally can’t take her anywhere because every store, even ones that don’t usually sell kid stuff, have toys near the checkout. Even Safeway and Whole Foods have entire sections dedicated to toys right now. I can’t run a single errand with my daughter, lest she fixate on something and add it to her list.
She spent most of the Nutcracker sulking about a giant ($100+) wooden snow fairy statue that she saw at the gift shop that you needed to pass through to get to our balcony seats. On the way home she made up a song about we never get her anything she wants.
To say this is upsetting to me would be an understatement. I find her attitude absolutely devastating.
The reason it’s most devastating? I know I’ve played a big part in cultivating it. Her grandparents are definitely partly to blame, but I played my part too. When she was two and three and things were HARD with her, I definitely used “that shiny thing” to coax her out of her hours long meltdown or to just get us through another hour at the zoo with our friends. The offending object of distraction wasn’t always a toy–I actually have a firm policy of not buying things from gift shops–but it was someTHING that enticed her to stop being impossible so we could just get on with it. Of course now, when she’s jonsing for her “new thing fix,” she’s a total wreck until she gets it.
The thing is, I don’t know how to teach her to not want the things on which she’s fixated. How can I teach her something I never learned myself? I say all the things I assume I’m supposed to say: I validate her feeling of want, and how bad it feels, I remind her of all she has, I tell her that the feeling will pass and we can do something fun in the meantime (frequently I get fed up and yell at her to get over self already).
It’s the exact self talk I direct at myself. And it seems just as ineffective on her and it is on me.
How do I teach my daughter not to try to escape from her unhappiness in shiny new stuff, when that is exactly what I do when I feel shitty? I feel like I’m failing as a mother.
They say that the best teachers are the ones who struggled with something themselves. I think that’s true, but it’s only applicable when they’ve mastered the skill, not when they are still learning it. You can be a good math teacher if math was hard for you, but you eventually figured it out; you definitely have more empathy for struggling math students and you also probably have way more useful strategies that you perfected out of necessity for yourself. But if you still don’t really understand fractions, it’s going to be hard to teach some else how they work.
When my daughter is really struggling with vision therapy and just wants to give up, I know how to talk to her about doing things even though they are hard. I’m good at doing things even though they are hard, and the pep talk I give her usually bolsters me up. But when I’m telling my daughter to be grateful for what she has and to stop fixating on a toy that definitely won’t make her happier, my voice sounds hollow. I worry she can sense that I don’t actually believe those things are true.
The thing is I WANT them to be true, I want that self talk to work, for both her and for me. But it has never seemed to make me feel better when I’m fixating on something I want. How can I expect those platitudes to make it better for her?
I think eventually I will get it, and I will be able to tell my daughter what works for me. Or maybe I’ll be able to tell her that nothing really works but these tricks help make it better than it would be, and that will have to be enough. I’m definitely getting better, but I’m not there yet.
Last week I make the mistake of letting her go in the Swarkovski store downtown (I met her after care program at the ice skating rink), and we both found something we really wanted. If she hadn’t been with me, I might have bought mine. She’s still talking about the crystal Cinderella statue she saw, but I’ve mostly let go of the sparkly trinket that caught my eye. It took me a few days, but I eventually realized that I wanted something sparkly for my anniversary coming up, because I haven’t felt that great about my marriage and I wanted something to help me celebrate. But I realized that a shiny thing wouldn’t make me any happier in my relationship, and the object of my affection quickly lost its luster. I was pretty depressed for a few days afterward, but at least it was about a disillusionment with my marriage (something that actually matters) and not about denying myself something shiny (which does not).
So I’m getting there, taking baby steps in the right direction, and I think I might eventually arrive, but I’m worried I’ll get there too late, and the damage will already be done. I’m worried it has been done, and there’s no salvaging my daughter from this vicious cycle of obsessively wanting things an becoming miserable when she can’t have them.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and she’ll get to open one present. I already asked my mom to put the Ana and Elsa magnet set under the tree so she can fucking have it already because I can’t stand the thought of her tossing all her other presents aside because that one isn’t there (we spend the morning with my in-laws and the magnetic set will not be there). So yes, I’m giving in, I’m capitulating, it’s a Christmas present to myself, because I’m already having a hard enough time this Christmas, and I don’t need some dumb magnetic set ruining the rest of it.