Jul 18, 2012
The Kid Across the Street -or- How I Learned the Meaning of the Word "Spoiled"
We all want to give our kids everything. We want them to have a better childhood than we did, to never want for anything, to be happy every waking moment of the day. But I've learned an important lesson from the kid across the street: why we cannot let that happen.
I don’t know the kid’s name (nor would I use it if I did), so let’s call him Johnny. Johnny is probably about eleven or twelve years old. He lives in a very nice house. Nothing wrong with that. Johnny’s backyard abuts a lake. His family has a dock and a boat. Johnny will bring a gaggle of kids home from school on a Tuesday afternoon and have his mom take them waterskiing.
If he wants to walk out on his deck and go play in the yard, he doesn’t need to schlep down the stairs; he has a spiral slide. That is so cool! If I had one, even at my age, I would absolutely never use the stairs.
The first time I saw him, he was riding bikes with a friend in the road outside my house. “Do you like my bike?” he asked his friend. After getting confirmation that his bike was nice, he followed up with, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool, but I’m getting a new one.” A moment later, “Wanna go inside and see my new cleats?” I don’t think I heard one thing come out of this kid’s mouth that wasn’t a brag. “Ugh, I don’t have any pockets, so I have to keep my iPhone in my shoe!”
Johnny has a basketball hoop in his driveway. Whenever he wants to play, his parents will move their cars to the street to make room for him. “Mike, you stand there. No, not there; there! Watch me make this shot. Watch me! Are you watching?” If Johnny’s not bragging, he’s bossing. He tells his guests what to do, where to do it, and above all, to look at him!
Today, I saw him horsing around in the lake while his friend stood on the dock, watching. He did impressions of various sea creatures. Matt was not allowed to get in the water. “Lookit, Matt! Lookit! Here’s my great white shark. Did you see? Did you see? Lookit! No, stand right there! I’m gonna do it again. Are you watching? No, don’t get in! Stay there! Watch me! Watch! Ten points for Gryffindor!” (Uh, no, sorry, kid. You would totally be in Slytherin.) He screamed at Matt to “lookit” so many times that the poor boy eventually wandered off and went home. Two minutes later: “Mom! Mom, are you watching? Lookit me! This is a dolphin, okay? Mom? Are you watching? Lookit!” Of course, Mom watched.
Wouldn’t you watch? He’s her little boy. Unfortunately, Johnny never learned that, although his parents’ worlds do indeed revolve around him, the rest of the world does not. I’ve never seen the same kid at his house twice. They come for the promise of rich-kid toys, and leave when they realize that it comes at the price of dealing with Johnny. I doubt he has one true friend, and who could blame them? Would you want to hang around a kid like that?
Thank you, Johnny, and Johnny’s parents, for showing me the light. The reason they call it “spoiling” your kid is that if you give them everything their little heart desires, they will literally be spoiled. Ruined. An unlikable little braggart and show-off who can’t function if every eye in the room is not on them.
Last Saturday, we went to my friend’s annual cookout. It coincides with her town’s carnival and fireworks, and both of our birthdays. It’s the one day a year when we all let the kids stay up super late and have way too much fun. The 10 PM popsicles came out. The boy had been rotten all week, and he did not deserve any more treats. I made my decision. Not for you. Not this year. You need to learn a lesson. After a couple of minutes, he noticed that all his friends had popsicles and he didn’t. He asked me for one. I said no, and distracted him with a toy.
He still loved me the next day.