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opportunity

2014 November 17
by Rachel Turiel


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It’s 5:00pm on a weekday, rapidly approaching the convergence of three things: sundown, the need to invent dinner from the usual suspects, and the collective family tank of energy hitting low. I issue the small, vague prayer: please let us make it through the evening without complaints, personality issues or excessive teethbrushing protests.

Col drags himself inside, kicked out by the chill from his current practice in the hunting arts: throwing a sharpened stick into the bedraggled, November lawn, ostensibly towards some invisible mastodon.

Rose is on the couch counting her money while her pet rat explores the sofa, finding crumbs and leaving unmentionables. “Five, ten, fifteen…twenty! Mama, I have twenty dollars. Can we go buy something NOW?”

Rose has a thriving dog-walking business, a true win-win: I accompany Rose on walks, cashing in on exercise and mother-daughter time, while Rose cashes in on, well, cash.

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If money can burn a hole in your pocket, Rose is ignited. She wants to buy: gum, mints, coloring books, a cheap American Girl doll knock-off, a horse necklace for her friend Dewa, and an elk t-shirt she spied downtown for her daddy. And that was just yesterday. Like most Americans, Rose is drawn to exchanging hard-earned money for trinkets that provide a 2-hour hit of joy before the patina of newness inevitably dulls. This is understandable. Our culture markets happiness in stuff. When the novelty of a purchase fades, we scramble in our wallets to procure the next dose of pleasure.

When Rose asks, “Can we go buy something NOW?” my nervous system rings in alarm. Why can’t she be the Buddha of Childhood Satisfaction, content to play stick-dolls in the powdery dirt of our yard? How I’d like to be the family united against mindless consumerism, all of us turning effortlessly away from the distraction of shiny new playthings in favor of, I don’t know, harmonizing our daily chores with Zen chants.

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But honestly, even as I grit my teeth against Rose’s moneyed-up request, in my discomfort lies great opportunity. And sure, this opportunity sometimes feels akin to being led blindfolded through the ice crevasse, but here is the chance to discuss impulse purchases with my children, to invite them to notice how the glittery new thing they coveted last week is now malingering under the couch.

I ask Rose to make a list of her desired purchases, and she agrees to wait a week to see if she’s still interested before shelling out cash. We introduce the notion of “craving” to the children, how it’s normal and transient, how it often covers up feelings we want to avoid, and how humans trying to satisfy unchecked cravings has brought tremendous harm to our souls and this planet. We discuss the fascinating study showing that people feel greater happiness planning a vacation than after completing a vacation: anticipation for the future is the drug. Dan and I model gratitude and satisfaction for what we have, even if it’s another meal cobbled together with the ubiquitous inhabitants of our fridge.

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Dia de los muertos by Rose

And really, this is all good news: many of life’s challenges present opportunity. My friend Gretchen astutely reminded me that when Rose was not invited to an upcoming birthday party (despite all the girls in her shared school class plus her two BFF’s receiving invitations), this was an opportunity for Rose to confront heartache and disappointment while ensconced in the safety of family.* And after removing a pox on the 7-year old’s house, I totally agreed.

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WTF?

When Col is monkeying with lighters, knives, glue and boy-dreams, here lies an opportunity for me to see the needs of a 9-year old boy, rather than think he’s content to immerse himself in say, the language arts. When the kids are asked to hang laundry and my shirts are bunched in a mildew-inducing pose, here is an opportunity to remind them (again, deep breath) how to properly perform this chore.

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Rose and I are holding hands, walking the Scotties when Rose says, “You were right, Mama.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad I didn’t buy that cheap American Girl doll with the clothes and stroller. After borrowing Dewa’s doll I completely lost interest in her after a week. Plus I’d be broke now.”

My heart expands like a parachute, lifting and then cinching back down around the two of us with enough room to hold a 7-year old’s expanding wisdom.

oppRatty with noodle. 

*Ironically, Rose is taking a different stance, more like Operation Get Invited. She makes cards for the birthday girl that say: You are Sush a Good Friend. Yesterday, Rose told me, “I think I’m getting closer.”

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. Laurel Foster permalink
    November 17, 2014

    Hi Rachel,
    This is the first blog I have read of yours and I truly enjoyed it and respect what you are doing with your youngsters – so beautiful. Thanks and I look forward to reading more!
    Laurel

  2. Julia permalink
    November 17, 2014

    Rachel, I love the faith and trust you have in your kids to learn about life in their own time and their own way. Your stories remind me to trust my boys. Thank you!
    Oh, and I love the cactus heart! So poignient :)
    And, what exactly IS Col lighting?

  3. Carly permalink
    November 17, 2014

    I have a daughter Rose’s age, also with an intense desire for *stuff*. I like your “write it down and wait a week” technique, and I’m going to try it, though I’m slightly terrified the result will be that she is still certain that she wants all of those things (and more) after a week.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      November 17, 2014

      Carly, that does sometimes happen. And because it’s Rose’s money, she is allowed to make that decision. She gets to experience the whole enchilada: the rush of buying something new, the indifference that comes a few days later, the regret that may arise when she wishes she had made a different decision. If you can help your daughter recognize and name all the attendant emotions around making a decision with her money, it will help her begin to make wiser choices.
      Also, Rose always puts some money aside for her “rat fund,” as the rat is entirely her responsibility. Having something to save up for builds her muscles of delayed gratification. :)

  4. Becky permalink
    November 17, 2014

    Love the write it down and wait a week – I sometimes do that myself even now! I truly felt bad for Rose not being invited to the birthday party – I can not even imagine how her feelings must have been hurt and she is mighty young to have that challenge – I mean no harm but I do hope that one day, the person who left her out has the same thing happen to her so that she will know how something like that truly can hurt a person. My mama in her 87 years of wisdom would tell me to have a gathering (she would suggest a tea party) and invite all the ones who went to the party including the person who left Rose out – because then she will be ashamed that she did that to Rose without Rose ever having to say a word. Love how Rose is such a enterprising young lady!

  5. Ellie permalink
    November 17, 2014

    This might be one of my all-time favorite posts of yours. Amen, sister.

  6. November 17, 2014

    the Rosie/Dewa c(om)munication is a Silver Two-Way Thread of Divinity in action, let me say! May it all-Ways remain so! As if, right?!

    Oh, nice pics at Sand Canyon!

    Blessed be thy Clan…

  7. November 17, 2014

    Holy thank you, Rachel. I wonder if there is an academic field that studies our “othering” of children, by which I mean, my projecting the ideal of humanity and my own self onto a six year old, and then being genuinely disappointed when she wants nothing to do with such things, or falls short of maturity levels I myself am often far off from, too.

  8. Andrea permalink
    November 18, 2014

    We are doing a similar thing right now. Boy child is learning just how hard it it to make a buck. Ya know, not all jobs pay the same. Not all jobs pay what the work is worth. And saving up for that Hideaway Pet takes for.ev.er.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      November 18, 2014

      Yes, it’s for real. Tomorrow we’re scheduled for an 8:30am walk, forecast: 20 degrees.

      • Andrea permalink
        November 22, 2014

        we had our first case of buyers remorse!
        it was very upsetting on many levels.
        for boy child, and us.
        oh capitalism, you are a complicated son of a bitch.

  9. Susan S permalink
    November 18, 2014

    My mom says nothing we learn is ever wasted.

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