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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bigger Is Not Always Better

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My 5-year-old, Hubba, has been a train-lover for as long as I can remember. This last Christmas he got an amazing train layout for someone his age, complete with bridges, a crane station, sound effects and a remote control with forward and reverse action. Every time we set it up on the kitchen table he is glued to it for hours on end, re-building the layout of the track and watching the engine chug uphill with random items placed in the freight cars it pulls from behind. There is only one problem with this little slice of train heaven and that is his 20-month-old brother, O.

Have you ever seen the movie Lilo and Stitch? Remember how Stitch can not stand to be still? How he goes crazy when he is not destroying something? That would be O. When Hubba's trains are out O's main objective is to discover a way to get onto the table and maniacally throw train pieces to the floor.

A few days back, this was the struggle I was dealing with. Frantic screams of Mom, he's getting on the table!! from Hubba were becoming draining. I was trying to organize my kitchen cupboards and somewhere around the 4th plea to remove O from the table I found my solution: a tiny wind-up train with a small, circular track which I had purchased for a quarter at a secondhand store last summer. The original plan was to place it on Hubba's birthday cake last October but it had been forgotten in the back of the cupboard.

I placed the small track on one side of the table and while winding the train told O, "This is your train. That is Hubba's train. Okay?" and then set the wind-up engine down on the track. He squealed with delight as the train made its way around the tiny circle and was fascinated by this new distraction. Perfect.

As I got back to organizing O let out a frustrated cry. I turned to see Hubba playing with O's little train. "I want this train," he told me. "Sure," I answered, feeling clever, "then O can just have your train set. Okay?"

"Okay," he replied, winding the cheap train and watching it circle the minuscule track.

"Hubba," I reasoned, "you want to give O your big train set with the bridges and remote controller?"

"Yeah," he answered, winding the dime-store train again, "he can have it."

Don't you hate when they call your bluff?

The whole thing brought this comparison to mind: how often do we have something that is wonderful and amazing only to see that someone else has something we don't have... and then our focus changes. Suddenly what we have is not good enough and we want something else; something we don't have and think that we want or even need. When this happens it can be difficult to recognize and appreciate how happy we really already are.

I'm not only talking about possessions like gadgets and cars and houses and stuff, but about things like people and happiness and time and silence... and the list goes on and on. Why is it so easy to get in that mindset of the-grass-is-always-greener-somewhere-else and so difficult to see what amazing things and blessings we DO have and to just be thankful?

I can't even begin to count how many times in my own life I have found myself looking at another person's things, their place in life, even something as simple as the number of comments on their blog (you know it's true... they're like blog-applause!) and wishing that that were me. I realize that I need to stop recognizing the things I don't have and start counting my blessings instead. THAT is where true happiness lies.

I think that the idea I am trying to express is well defined in a quote by Epictetus:

He is a wise man who does not grieve
for the things which he has not,
but rejoices for those which he has.

Still, try explaining that whole concept to a 5-year-old...


Kara said...

Just what I needed to be reminded up of. Thanks!

Rachel said...

Gerb, I have the "I wants" all of the time. Growing up my mother would make us sit in the car while she did her shopping because she was tired of all of us punks saying, "I want......." all through the store. The few times she'd let us come with she'd sternly tell us as she was getting out of the car, "No wants. If I hear any of you asking you'll head right straight back out to this car."

My sister and I were talking several years ago and she was talking about the grass being greener and wondering what life would be like "if". I came up with a saying that I use for myself often. "Upon closer inspection greener pastures have manuer in them too." :D

Can you tell I grew up around cows! :D

As for teaching this concept to a five year old......good luck because most adults haven't even learned the concept. Myself included!

Richard & Natalie said...

Excellent post, Gerb. That's one lesson I keep having to learn over and over and over...
Thanks for the reminder.

PMC said...

oh yes, children remind us and teach us the most important stuff. rach - i need to remember that....about the manure....in fact, maybe i will get that stitched into something and frame it :)

Anaise said...

Ooohhhh, that so happens at my house too (only with Barbies and horses, not trains)!

I have C.S. Lewis' comment about pride from Mere Christianity posted on my kitchen cupboards (except that I just took it down for a project I'm working on and I can't find my copy of Mere Christianity to put it here correctly)--something to the effect of pride is not having enough of something, merely having more of it than the next man--it takes constant reminders around me to keep me satisfied with the status quo and rid myself of the "gimmes."

Karin said...

This happens at my house too, among all ages of children, including myself. Too often I am plagued with "affluenza". Your post was a great reminder to keep myself grateful. Simply grateful.

Camille said...

Good post. We all need to spend more time in our own pastures.

Teachinfourth said...

It's all about stuff...

It's strange because with the events over the summer, Dad has started to give away things. He now says that his focus has shifted because, "It's just stuff."

I think he just might have a point there, as do you.

sue-donym said...

Great perspective Gerb. I wish I would have written that.


Gerb said...

Kara- Just what I needed to write, too. Thanks.

Rachel- What my kids hear in the store when they beg for something is, "It's good to want". Maybe I should train them to say that to me when we hit my 2 danger aisles: treats and drinks. Thanks for the manure quote. My kids may start hearing that one now, too.

Anaise- You about nailed it... "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man." Excellent quote. Thanks.

Karin- It can be a lot harder than it sounds, can't it?

Camille- And recognize how green they really are. Good to 'see' you again! :)

T5- A great point. It reminds me of the saying, "You can't take it with you".

Sue- Thanks for stopping by! And for making me laugh. You rock.

Natalie- You and me, both. I think it's part of being human, unfortunately.

PMC- Perhaps you could start an Etsy business and sell your handiwork with Rachel's quote?

La Yen said...

That was fabulous. I love Epictetus and I need to remember this. Especially because tomorrow is payday.

Gerb said...

La Yen- Thanks for the comment. Epictetus is likely one of my favorite people to quote.

Good luck with payday!

Corine said...

Hi Gerb. :) Great post! I just wrote a ridiculously long comment to this. Here is the shortened version...

I would bet the son who gave up one train for another comes to the conclusion that he misses his old train!

I wonder how often we want something, when having it would mean giving up something else that we might end up loving even more! "New" is always exciting. But in the end, we sometimes want the old.

How wise and content we would be to always be thankful for what we have and not even bother with thinking about what we don't have - be it new or old! :)

A more thankful, and thus happier, commenter. :)

Sarah said...

Wooo-hooo, Gerb! (that's me sending a little "blog applause" your way).

You are great!!!!

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