by Chris de Serres
When I was a child I used to have this toy box. It looked like those large metal dumpsters in the back alley of a restaurant. I think I had enough toys to fill it. I don’t know why my mother bought me so many toys. I quickly learned that if I threw a fit in public she would capitulate and buy me the toy I wanted. My childhood seemed a procession of buying, consuming, and eventually discarding toys into that dumpster.
The toy box was in our basement. It was always kind of dark down there. I didn’t know half the toys that were in the box. They just stacked on top of each other. Every so often I climbed into it and rediscovered an old action figure or rubber ball.
As an adult, when life begins to stress me out I go to the store and buy something. There’s something about the purchase that brings me some weird sort of relief. It distracts me from pain. It provides a shot of euphoria into my veins. I would buy clothes that looked cool. I paid full price. I didn’t spend time looking for sales. Full price in some way legitimized the item. It had no value if it was 50% off. Looking back into my closet I saw so much clothes that I never even wore. They looked cool, just not cool on me.
I spent alot of money on items that served no purpose in my life. I’m better than I used to be, but old habits die hard.
Whenever I think about starting a new hobby my first thought goes to all the things I need to buy before I can start. Sometimes seeking that thrill of the purchase wins over me and $400 later I have everything I need for the activity I have since lost interest in.
I know it has nothing to do with the item itself. I know all of this materialism has darker roots. It’s connected to things like self-esteem. It’s an addiction behavior with some similarities to drug use. I can always tell i’m not doing well when I notice i’ve purchased 6 things in a given day, whether it was for clothes or a pack of gum.
It’s no surprise that my daughter is a very different creature than dear old dad. We spend our money on her experiences. She does yoga and tap dancing. I take her rock climbing. She is engaged by life. All young children are this way. They only know what is in front of them, in the moment. That’s what life is composed of, just moments.
I am able to witness all of her new moments and how she relishes each new experience as it comes. New experiences have always overwhelmed me. They caused me anxiety and stress. Yet, I see how she is energized. It’s inspiring. It’s how life is meant to be lived.
As a parent, I am always aware of my example. In my daughter’s shoes I imagine what she will remember about her dad. If she will be inspired by knowing me. I know that she can’t be what I hope for her to be without fundamentally changing myself. The life I live now speaks louder than anything I can say to her.
That huge toy box filled with material was so deep the light of the room couldn’t touch it’s bottom. It was my existential black hole. Things go in and rarely did anything come out. I’ve had many nightmares over the years about it. It always revolved around falling in and not being able to get out. I was so small and all the toys were so large crowding around me. Yet, I could never find enough things to fill this huge black space.
It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to fill the space. Far better to relax, breathe, and know only the things that are in front of me. Like this moment.