Do I Really Want My Child to be Unique?

We all say we want our kids to be special and unique and to be themselves. But is this really true? What if their true selves are jerks? Or rude little punks? Should we let them be “themselves” then? If I am honest with myself, what I really mean (other than “civilizing” the primitive cave-man out of them) is, “Be yourself within these socially acceptable parameters.”

A few months ago, my MIL and I got into a rather heated argument on whether or not I would allow Cookie Monster to wear sparkly necklaces to school (the necklace symbolizing all “feminine” accoutrements such as dresses, heels, jewelry, etc.). My MIL was adamant that allowing Cookie Monster to wear a Mardi Gras necklace to school was cruel because I would be setting him up for teasing and mockery. That it was OK for him to be playing with these dress up items in the safety of our home, but that Cookie Monster doesn’t know any better and it was my job to make sure he knew what was and was not acceptable.

I think I nearly blew a gasket.

My MIL was shocked that I would let Cookie Monster go to school with the Mardi Gras necklace on. She said she would talk to Hapa Papa to make sure that didn’t happen. I was honestly surprised that the Mardi Gras necklace would be such a big deal. But to my MIL, it symbolized all the ways that children can be cruel and she couldn’t understand why I would knowingly allow my child to suffer. I was furious that my MIL would want me to suppress Cookie Monster’s natural inclinations in order to “fit in” and why she wanted to instill my son with fear about what others thought of him.

Both of us (well, I can’t speak for my MIL, but this is what I think was going on) were so riled up because of two main issues:

1) The cruelty of children (and by extension, society at large) towards anyone who is non-conforming – particularly in proscribed gender roles.
2) The desire to let our children grow up to be themselves without feeling shame about what they wish and who they are.

Now that I have had several months to cool off, the reality is not so cut and dried. After all, I may not mind Cookie Monster going to school with a harmless (to me, at least) Mardi Gras necklace, but would I be so nonchalant if he wanted to go to school in a hot pink tutu?

If I let him and he got made fun of, should I warn him? But then if he changes his mind because he doesn’t want to be teased, have I failed him and turned him into someone who cares overly about what other people think? Or is that just a glimpse of the Real World where there are always consequences (good or bad) to our actions?

If I didn’t let him, would I be crushing Cookie Monster’s pure little soul and forcing him to conform to what American society deems socially acceptable for males (a VERY narrow band, incidentally)? Would I be providing fodder for self-loathing and therapy in the years to come?

Where would I draw the line? If I did allow him and it was not allowed at the school, would I make a big stink about it so that my child would be free to be himself? What type of lesson would my kids learn if I did make a big deal? That they should fight for what they believe in? Or that rules were meant to be flouted if they made my kids feel bad or “oppressed”?

Hapa Papa says I’m a hypocrite because I am fine with Cookie Monster doing things that seem girly, but I seem far more ruthless about not letting Gamera do those things. Incidentally, that is full of crap because I let Gamera do PLENTY of “girly” things – I just don’t want her to play with Barbies for you know, reasons. Scientifically backed reasons, by the fucking way. Not that I think you’re a bad parent if you allow your kids to play with Barbies. I think the majority of little girls who play with Barbies grow up to be awesome, empowered women. It’s just my personal preference. Backed by SCIENCE. (This dig is aimed more at Hapa Papa, who reads my blog, more than any of my other readers.)

I don’t mind Gamera playing with her baby doll, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to encourage it, either. I supposed I don’t exactly encourage her to play with cars, planes, Legos, and blocks, etc. either, but I approve of it more so. What is so wrong with her playing with dolls? When I think about it, it’s super cute how Gamera puts her “baby” in time out, has her baby cry and need hugs and band aids, and breastfeeds her doll when it is hungry. She’s using her imagination to nurture and take care of her baby. That’s a wonderful thing!

Have I bought into the lie that anything to do with the home or traditional gender roles is bad?

I don’t think so. I am fine with her dressing up as a “Prin-us” (how she says, “Princess.”) with heels and sparkly everything. I am even fine with Cookie Monster doing so. (I bought some sparkly Hello Kitty shoes in HIS size because I knew he’d be so crushed if he couldn’t fit in them and would watch Gamera enviously when she wore them. That way, I also get more mileage out of them for Gamera, too.) I love it when she and Cookie Monster cook in their toy kitchen or push her cars in her toy stroller.

Sigh. Sorry, I think I rambled a bit there and I’m too tired to go back and edit this into a more coherent piece.

At any rate, how do I balance the two seemingly conflicting desires of wanting my children to be who they are yet not suffer from their peers? I suppose I have no control over how their peers or society react to and treat my children so I will just have to help my kids be as themselves as possible. I hope I have the wisdom to know when to intervene and when not to. Seems way more complicated than when I was growing up. Back then, our parents just threw us to the wolves.

Why I Buy Used: Money Series Pt 2

Now, everyone knows I do my fair share to stimulate the economy. I can be quite the profligate spender – especially when it comes to buying fruit from Costco. I have often come back from a trip to Costco after throwing down a ton of money only to be asked by Hapa Papa, “Where is the food?” Because all he can see are piles and piles of fruit. What can I say? I’m Chinese. We eat fruit. Lots of it.

But even with Hapa Papa being my personal money train, we do still live off of one income (albeit, very generous) and have a mortgage and preschool and utilities so at some point, there is a limit to my spending. One time, in despair, Hapa Papa asked, “Why don’t you love me? Do you want me to work until I die?” After that, I started to watch my spending as a way to love him. He asks for so little, you know. The least I could do was throw him a bone.

Anyhow, even though Amazon and Costco are kept in business almost single-handedly by me, I do try to limit my spending without hampering my desire to hoard and get stuff. What I do, however, is buy used.

For those of you who have had the dubious honor of coming to my house, you know that it is a giant toy store. I own pretty much every toy known to man and the beauty of it is that around 80% of them were purchased used. I’m sure my kids think my day job is a drug dealer because I constantly go to people’s houses, give them cash and get something in return. People also come to my house to buy things I sell. I don’t think Cookie Monster or Gamera realize that we can go to stores to buy toys. They think toys come from other people’s houses.

It has actually come to the point where I no longer troll craigslist or the various Facebook virtual garage sale pages because I OWN EVERYTHING. (This helps a lot because now, I don’t really buy anything anymore.) When I go to real garage sales, I go for fun and rarely spend more than $20 because again, I OWN EVERYTHING. (Of course, my house is crammed full of toys, so you know, there are downsides to owning everything.) I justify having so many toys because I will have so many children they are bound to be used.

For clothes, I often buy used to supplement clothes I buy on clearance and clothes swap with friends. I think Cookie Monster’s baby clothes have gone through at least five (soon to be six) babies so far. The majority of them have held up just fine because babies grow so quickly, they really don’t wear them long enough to do enough damage.

I buy ahead for the next year or two when clothes go on clearance at the end of each season because why pay full price for clothes if I don’t have to? Who’s going to know they were purchased on clearance? Do kids’ clothes really go out of style? (Not the clothes I’m buying.) Plus, as the kids get older, the clothes wear out more quickly because they are more actively running, jumping, climbing, and therefore falling. I have bought many an iron on patch! Also, Cookie Monster grows so quickly that he is sometimes in between sizes in the spring – but I know he will be out of them by fall or winter. Why buy brand new pants if he’s going to be wearing them only for a few months?

Here’s my secret to buying used things: go to the super-nice, rich neighborhoods. People often have a glut of barely worn, brand name clothes that they want to get rid of quickly. I have purchased a bag of clothes for $25 that contained nine pairs of pants/shorts, ten shirts, and a sweater or two thrown in for good measure. When you consider that often, a pair of jeans from Old Navy is $15, that’s a really good deal.

The same goes for toys. Usually, used toys start at 50% retail (and are sometimes lower). You will get better deals on toys at garage sales, but if you want something specific, you’ll have to wait a long time. If you don’t want to wait, craigslist or the Facebook pages will be a better bet (although a little more costly). Sadly, I know the going rate of almost any used toy (as well as their retail price). Why is my brain so full of useless minutiae? My family will HATE me for all this useless information in the coming zombie apocalypse.

As for books, I usually buy them when the local library has their book sales. Children’s books are usually $0.50-$1 and I also get to support my local library. Incidentally, I use the library a TON for my personal use as well as for my kids. I read at least 100-150 books a year and if I bought them all new or even used, that would be thousands of dollars. Instead, I am willing to wait for new releases and get pretty much all my books for free. That allows me to pay for the occasional new book in order to support an author or a series that I really appreciate and enjoy. Plus, I already paid taxes for my library access – why shouldn’t I use it?

This also keeps my house from accumulating hundreds of books every year. Between my brother and I, we had hundreds of books that I no longer had room for. I gave several boxes to the local library and sold at least twenty boxes back to various used book stores for either cash or credit. Nothing is sadder than an unread or no longer read book sitting on a dusty shelf, waiting to be noticed. Why not send it somewhere it can be loved or put to good use?

I also buy used furniture – but usually, I buy things that are made of wood because the thought of a used mattress or couch I find squicky. I know. I’m a snob. But all my dining tables have been used – and they were great deals! I once got a dining set with six chairs for $100. The guy even lent us his truck to move it! Hapa Papa was very sad when I sold the same set three years later for the same $100.

Ok, this post ended up much longer than I originally anticipated. To sum up in nice bullet-points, here are some reasons I buy used:

1) It saves money – sometimes at least 50%.

2) Helps the environment – reduce, reuse, recycle and all that. (But it seriously is not a very important reason for me, personally.)

3) I can get more for less money – therefore, it frees up more money for things I really want but cannot get at reduced price. (It’s the same basic premise as #1.)

4) I feel smug/brilliant every time I see something go “on sale” new and it’s STILL more expensive than I spent on a used item. Even better when I can’t tell the difference between the new and used item due to the previous owner’s awesomeness.

5) My kids end up turning new toys into “used” toys almost immediately. Why not just save myself the trouble? It pains me less when they batter something I bought used than when they batter something I bought brand new. Although, sometimes I get even more upset because WHEN WILL I EVER GET WEDGE-ITS FOR LESS THAN $1 EVER AGAIN?!

6) My kids don’t really know any better – they are just happy they get toys (and lots of them). Bonus: they don’t realize you can buy the toys at the store – so they never ask me for anything they see in a store.

7) DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH LEGOS COST BRAND NEW? OMG – it’s the biggest racket EVER. Even used, they are pricey. But let’s just say that I’ve spent about $200 in total on both the BIG and small Legos – and I guarantee for the same price, I would’ve come away with two, small, sad regular Lego sets. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration – but not by much!)

8) In addition, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THOMAS TRAINS COST BRAND NEW??? It’s almost as big a racket as the Lego Conspiracy! I’ve spent about $8-900 used on various train related things since Cookie Monster started to like trains. This same stuff would have cost me several thousand if I purchased brand new. Yes, I realize $900 is A LOT of money already (not all at the same time, thank goodness), but for the same haul brand new? At least $3-4,000. This only makes me feel slightly better.

9) When my children finally are done with the toys and I start selling them, I can most likely sell them at the same price at which I purchased them – and possibly, even more. Granted, that’s likely another ten years down the line, but then I can claim “vintage” status so I can charge even MORE. It won’t hurt nearly as much as if I bought them brand new and I think to myself, “I’m selling these things at 50% off! GAH!! All my MONIES!!!”

Ok. I think you get my point. I buy used to save money and as a nice after thought, to save the environment. Either way, I’m a HERO. A SAVVY HERO!!!

What about you? Do you buy used? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments. 😀