Where I Try To Pick a Course of Action

See that house, Mom? The people who live in that house have a flat screen TV. I can tell.

We, in case you can't tell, do not. We were in a very beautiful neighborhood, where people like us go when we are providing a service to people who live in very beautiful neighborhoods.

Really? I said. You can tell that just by looking?

Yup. All of these houses have flat screen TVs.

This might sound unbelievable to you, kid, but there are people in the world who are wealthy enough to live in a house like that who are not interested in television, and wouldn't spend money on a flat screen TV no matter what it cost.

Not these people in these houses. They definitely have flat screen TVs.

Well, tell me this. Can you tell by looking at the houses if the people who live in them are happy?

Yup. See that blue one? They have a flat screen TV, and they are happy. And that one on the corner? They have a flat screen and they are really happy, because they also have those cool big soccer goals there.

He had me there. OK, the people who live in that house on the corner might very well be happy.

Most people have flat screen TVs, you know Mom.

That's not true, Sam.

Yes it is: almost everyone has a flat screen TV. Except us.

Do you mean everyone in the world? Or in the United States?

OK, well, just the United States. Most people in the United States have flat screen TVs.

At this point, I am impressed that he can insert the phrase flat screen TV into almost every sentence he utters. A pronoun isn't good enough for a flat screen, apparently.

Well, there are over 300 million people in the United States, and I'm willing to bet that fewer than half of them own one.

I bet you're wrong.

Oy, this kid is tenacious! So now I'm furiously googling census and household data, searching for factual, credible data to back up my completely baseless claim.

My pre-teen talks about many things these days: cell phones, flat screen TVs, the wii and wii games, his PS2, and cars. Mercedes, for some reason. I feel sorry for him, that he has a mother who is so utterly uninterested in cool technology or in anything that smacks of having social status implications. He told me today that some people have "these things" that allow you to plug your TV, your wii, your DVD player, your PS13, and your personal assistant all in to the same device and then control all of them with one remote.

He said this like he was letting me in on a big secret that he felt obliged to share with me, to better my life and help me see the light. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was aware of this fabulously convenient option but just didn't care enough about my TV watching/gaming experience to take any steps in that direction.

* * *

A little background. A long, long time ago, in what feels like a different life, I served as a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Think Catholic Peace Corps. Sort of. Social justice action with a spiritual component. For a very short period of time, two years, I worked in homeless shelters in Washington DC and Boston. I chose to join JVC because I thought I could learn something from spending time with people afflicted by poverty and, as it turns out, by addiction and mental illness. The women and children I met during those two years gave me a glimpse into how poor people live in America, and it's not pretty. It's also not all terrible, as these people had children they loved, things they enjoyed doing, interesting things to say, and full, if difficult, lives.

When I left California to begin that work, my friends gave me a knickname. Or actually, they appended my full name with the initials O.S.J.M. If you are familiar with Catholic religious orders, then you'll likely know that initials like that after a person's name indicate to which religious order the person belongs. I was not actually in an order, but my friends, who liked to tease me that I was going off to be a do-gooder for a while -- slumming it, as they say -- created an order just for me: the Order of Social Justice Mamas.

ANYWAY (is this getting boring? I feel like this might be getting boring.), OSJM came to be a sort of joke-y way for my husband to refer to my interest in Things Social Justice and my lack of interest in Things Material. He marvels at what I do not want or need, and claims it is difficult to buy me gifts (although he always does a beautiful job). I don't think about things, and do not shop for myself much. When I do, it is usually because he has been badgering me to do so.

So. I have this kid, with a temperament vastly different from my own. And sometimes, when I listen to him talking about all of the material possessions he salivates over and believes will make his life complete, I feel like I have two choices: Either I bore him to tears with admonishments about what really matters in life and how a LG Neon will not make him a happier person OR I rip my ears off of my head so that I don't have to listen to what surely must be normal pre-teen behavior but which makes me feel like my kid must have been switched at birth or like I have failed to inculcate my values into his young mind and heart. The lecture option is not appealing, to him or to me. So I'm stocking up on gauze bandages.

Where is that middle ground? And why do I always seem to be searching for it?

* * *

Comments

Homemaker Man said…
Eh, most kids are republicans. Or at least libertarians.
HE gets older, works for his own money, has interests or a family, we'll see how long the material goods fetishism lasts.

Although . . .

We bought a smallish flat screen tv this past xmas when our old (14 yrs) one started getting all the colors wrong.

Did it make us any happier? Yes, totally. Especially since we were given a new blu-ray dvd cord and all the hi definition cables and fixins' to go with it.

I apologize.

It does and will remain our only television though.
Laurel said…
We do not have a flat screen TV. We are working through our old TV's (one with no sound that you can plug speakers into). But one of them is about to go on the fritz so I believe we will be flat screen bound (because that is all they make) in the next year or so.
Teacher Mommy said…
Huh. Maybe start paying him (small amounts) for specific jobs above and beyond expected chores. Then let him learn the value of the almighty dollar.

You can always tell him to just save up and buy his own, then.
nicole said…
i want a flat screen tv too!

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