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If You're Shallow And You Know It, Clap Your Hands!

If You’re Shallow And You Know It, Clap Your Hands!

By Mir Kamin


I am not, in general, a “material goods” kind of person. My husband loves to tease me that I am the most un-sentimental person he’s ever known. I would rather throw it away than have a mess of things to store. I don’t collect stuff. I abhor the epidemic of “he who dies with the most toys wins.” When my son asks me what I want for Christmas or my birthday, he follows the request with a hasty, “And don’t say ‘peace on earth’ again!” Unfortunately for my kids, this means I am completely impervious to the whine of “… but everyone else has….”

In short, I’m a terrible, mean mother determined to make social pariahs of my children. I mean, they’ve never said that, but it’s been heavily implied.

It’s not that I’m some sort of saint who travels the world in my rags with only a small notebook and a pencil to record my thoughts. I’ll be the first to tell you that I like nice things and I probably spend more money on shoes than is strictly necessary. We have a lot of technology in our house. Once I caved and got an iPhone (several generations in…), it took over part of my brain and now I have trouble functioning without it. But… I pay for my own stuff because I have a job and enough discretionary money with which to do so. Also, hi, I’m a grown-up. A child—excuse me, teenager, practically an adult, Mom—who badgers me for a $400 gaming console is going to be cordially invited to find gainful employment to fund their desires.

There’s another dimension to this puzzle, too, and that’s the Divorce Dynamic of gifting. Believe me when I tell you that I have always been more pragmatic/minimalist about gifting and my children’s father has always believed in gifting extravagance. That’s just how we’re wired, I guess. But when we divorced (and I gather this is not uncommon), those separate proclivities stretched into even further polar opposites. There were years, back in the early days, when what few presents I gave the kids were the result of painstaking thrifting and eBay stalking, because it was all I could afford; meanwhile, their father showered them with more items than a single person could possibly even use, never mind any concept of actual need. I’m not going to lie, that was hard. I was bitter (for a long time). I didn’t like that in addition to being the everyday “unfun” parent I now could never, ever possibly measure up when it came to special occasions, and I resented that I even wanted to, because I was not going to get into a pissing match of stuff in some attempt to make it “more fair.”

Time passed and my anger and annoyance faded. I became more financially stable but still adhered to basic tenets about gift-giving, specifically that “more is more” would never be a guiding principle, and that not getting everything you want the second you want it is good for your character. My kids’ father continued to give them more than I ever would’ve, but I figured out how to disengage from that power struggle and simply smile and say, “Wow, that was really nice of Dad! Lucky you!”

My teenagers have had “dumb” phones for years. Even though “everyone else has smartphones!” (This may or may not be true.) My son doesn’t care too much, but my daughter has bemoaned her lack in this area for a long time, and it was easy enough to convince her that she would never, ever be receiving a smartphone from us. The thing is, non-smart cell phones are no longer in demand (because everyone has smartphones), and although we upgraded them from crummy phones a while back, both of the kids’ phones have recently stopped working properly. My daughter’s phone likes to randomly power down, while my son’s phone often forgets how to pick up signal. This is frustrating for everyone, because it means that ability to send a text or make a call—the reasons I allow them to have the phones in the first place!—is hindered. Yesterday I got an email from my son that said, “My stupid phone is refusing to work and I’m not sure this email is even going to work but can you pick me up at 4:45?” Hey, good for him for figuring out an alternate method of contact, but I received that email at… 4:50. As I tore out of the house, I both texted and tried to call him, but his phone wasn’t working.

Even though it shouldn’t be a surprise, I recently realized my daughter will be off to college in just 18 months, with her brother following a year later. We’d decided a little while back to upgrade them to iPhones for Christmas; after yesterday’s pick-up snafu, we decided to give the kids the phones last night. So it was a double surprise, because no one was expecting a Tuesday night iPhone (ha!) and neither of them were expecting iPhones, period. (And for those who are curious, because I know I would be: Noooooo, we did not get them the latest-and-greatest. We got them the cheapest models available. Poor pumpkins.) My daughter, especially, was ecstatic.

I would love to tell you that this was purely a sensible logistic move; their phones had become unreliable, and years of dealing with good-for-texting-but-no-data phones have taught us that those phones are crappy, and also, thanks to some wheedling, we managed this upgrade without increasing our monthly bill (even though we added in data for two more phones). That would be a lie, though. That was a big part of the decision, sure. But the whole truth is that it is very, very rare that I get to be the one to give either kid a “big” gift. Both kids have been doing a lot of hard work this semester, and I don’t mean schoolwork, either—my son has adjusted to being a full-time public high school student, has strayed out of his comfort zone in countless situations, and has generally been a rock star about handling everything, and my daughter is coming off of a very rocky few years and is finally making real strides in taking the helm of her own life. I tell them all the time that I’m proud of them (and oh, I am), but yeah, okay, I wanted to be the one to give them something “cool” as that material “You’re awesome, here’s a tangible goody” reward. Good behavior is its own reward, sure, but… it’s fun to play Santa, too.

The delighted dancing I witnessed last night made my day (week, month, year).

Does this mean I will start giving them everything they want, whenever they want it? Or that I won’t take those phones right back again if there are problems? Nope. I’m still the mean mom, in some ways, but I sure am enjoying what’s likely to be a very short-lived stint as The Greatest Mom Ever. If this makes me a shallow person, I can live with that.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] fact, yesterday was Christmas. Sort of. I got to do something super-duper fun, and you can read about it on Alpha Mom. I’d tell you more, but I have eighty gazillion cookies left to frost and portion into […]

  • Kemi

    December 17, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    My two oldest are 15 and 14.  They will also be getting iphones for Christmas, for almost all of the same reasons you mentioned.  While both kids asked Santa for a phone (their first cell phone, smart or dumb), it was one of those out-there requests that they didn’t expect would actually happen.  

    I can’t WAIT to see their faces on Christmas morning.  😀

    • Mir Kamin

      December 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      Yayyyyyyy! Please come back and tell me about it. 🙂

  • Kim too

    December 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    You earned your rockstar moment, Mir.  Enjoy the living daylights out of it.  The kids are not the only ones who have been working hard, is all I’m saying.

    • Mir Kamin

      December 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      This is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. You’re right. And thank you. 

  • Katie K

    December 17, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Us too! And ditto on the reasons. We also gave early because 17 year old son was going to spend his hard earned money to replace his iPod. They were shocked and amazed. So fun! The youngest of our 3 was not so thrilled since he was deemed too young/irresponsible. But go ahead and ask him where his dumb-phone is. You will be met with a blank stare. Sigh. You can’t win them all.

  • Rachel

    December 17, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I was in high school just when everyone having a cell phone was starting to be a thing. Although my parents at first insisted that they wouldn’t get me a phone until I graduated, they quickly back-pedaled once they realized it was actually a really good way to find out when to pick me up from extra-curricular activities. I can see how it would be really hard to be a kid without one now, especially since it’s not like there are payphones outside schools anymore, but I can also see how it would feel extravagant to buy a $500 phone for a 12-year-old.

    I personally resisted the switch to a smartphone for a long time, insisting that all I needed was a phone to make calls and text. And then I moved to a city I didn’t know well and was constantly drawing maps on post-it notes and needing to check my email on my really long train commute. So I got a smartphone, and it was actually amazing. I never got lost again and felt 50% less frustrated on my commute.

  • carrie on

    December 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    I hope, along with mean mom, you make sure you realize you are an awesome mom. I’ve been reading your blog ever since a random google search about reading logs led me to your entry about how stupid they are. You have handled some very difficult times that I can’t even imagine, and you’ve done it well. Your kids are growing up to be amazing people because of you. (And Otto. And Licorice. And Duncan.) I wish you gave yourself more credit! I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a phenomenal New Year, because heaven knows you have earned the right to FINALLY have a decent year.

  • CSmith

    December 17, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    Sometimes it is just so much fun to give your kid an amazing, unexpected gift. My son talked for a long time about a huge sci-fi convention that a lot of his on-line friends would be attending, 5 states away from us. There was no chance of his being able to go, I had several small children and a baby at home and little extra cash.  But, I made it happen. The look on his face when I told him that his 18 year old sister and an older friend would be driving him there was priceless. He could not believe it, he kept trying to convince me to just tell him I was joking.It was awesome! He has talked about that trip for an entire year.

    • Mir Kamin

      December 18, 2014 at 8:10 am

      That’s awesome!!

  • RuthWells

    December 18, 2014 at 8:12 am

    You’re doing it right, Mir.  Here’s to taking the helm.  Holiday hugs to you all.

  • Emily

    December 18, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I like that your teenagers have “dumb” phones. I think it’s a great idea. My husband’s teenage twins have always had iPhones since I’ve been in the picture and we get so frustrated when they’re with us on the weekends and their noses are constantly in their phones, not just texting but Instagramming and Facebooking and watching bad vine videos… sometimes we wonder why they even bother coming over when they won’t interact like functional human beings. AUGH! The smart phone craze is detrimental to social development in young adults… 

  • Becky

    December 19, 2014 at 11:22 am

    A pox on the increasing unreliability of old school cell phones! I actually gave in and upgraded to my first iPhone (likewise the cheapest available under my plan) last month because I just couldn’t take it anymore. If I had gone with the equivalent of my old phone, it actually would have less functionality than the old phone. So far the new phone has worked out, and I have easily managed to stick within the limits of the smallest data plan. It is REALLY NICE to actually feel as if I can depend on my phone to do its darn job.

  • Chris

    December 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    So great!  I am glad you were able to surprise them and knowing teenagers they will really appreciate the move to a smartphone.

  • […] year I just knew that Christmas was going to be amazing, though. The kids got iPhones—before the holiday, even—and I’m not going to lie, I was feeling smug. I’d finally won at Christmas, this […]