Thursday, April 10, 2008

That's Mine!

Before I tell you my dilemma, I feel compelled to give some background information.

I am not naturally the world’s most generous person. Gah. I hate saying that. It makes me feel like a Scrooge, a horrible person hunched over her little pile of stuff, refusing to share. But it’s true that spontaneous giving is not my strong suit. A couple of years ago, our small group members took a quiz to determine our spiritual gifts, and “Giver” was one of my lowest scores. (“Administrator” was low too. Apparently I am not very organized. Who knew!)

I was the type of child who, when she likes something she’s eating, eats it as fast as she can so she can have seconds. And worries the whole time that someone else will eat it all first.

I’m not like that at all now. I will at least ask you if you want seconds before I dive in.

I have made progress in this area. I give generously to my church, and feel good about it. I donate a LOT of nice things to charities instead of trying to sell them (not that there’s anything wrong with garage sales or eBay, but donating is better for me because of my “problem” and also because I’m not very organized, remember, and it’s easier to just get it out of the house.) I give to other charities when I can, and I look forward to being able to afford more. I will keep my friends’ kids for free, and I’ll cook for you any day without wanting anything in return.

But there is one thing I want to keep to myself—I just don’t want to share it. And when my child asks for it, I feel selfish, but I still want to say no, THAT’S MINE.

I have a small stash of scrapbooking supplies, and whenever I scrap, I get the box out and look through it to see what I might want to use. If Miss Pink is anywhere around, she looks at what I have and starts getting the “wants.” And I have to fight the urge to say, “Go away and stop trying to take my stuff!”

It makes me feel terrible. I’m a mother, and what do mothers do? We give to our children; sometimes the giving feels unending. I’ve given up a lot for my kids: a potential academic career; my body for a couple of years at a time; months worth of sleep; vacations and jewelry that I could afford if I were childless; time to write more; chocolate that was headed for my mouth when they asked for it. I don’t regret any of this. I do wish I had the ability to withhold something so simple without feeling guilty about it.

The more I say “No, you can’t have that unopened package of stickers that cost $3.99”—scrapbooking supplies are expensive, y’all—the more Miss P hangs around and whines, “I wish I could have that” and then I snap, “Well, you can’t” and she says, “I just said I wish” with these pitiful eyes and I think, God, Alison, look how stingy you are with your own child!

(She does that “I wish” thing a lot lately about anything she knows I can’t or won’t let her do and it drives me CRAZY.)

The truth is, I do let her have things—I give her pieces of paper and stickers I’m not going to use, so she probably thinks there’s no harm in asking for the good stuff. Truly the issue is not her acquisitiveness—it seems normal for a girl her age—but my reaction to it. Why do I feel guilty when I believe we shouldn’t have to share absolutely everything (I don’t make her and her brother share their most special loveys, for example)?

When I gave birth to her, I found out what it was to become a mother. To give myself over to doing nothing but caring for such a needy, demanding little person. And then to do it all over again with another baby. “Mama” has become my identity to the point where the spaces in which I can exercise my own creativity and selfhood have become little islands where I perch and “do my own thing” for an hour here or there. (I’ve never thought about it before—I just realized that it’s ironic that I want to be away from my kids to write or scrapbook…about my kids. I might want to do something about that.)

Anyway, I will probably keep doing what I have been doing, which is to explain that I don’t give away my new stuff until I see if I need it or not. I hope that by writing about it, I may be able to explain it more patiently instead of ripping it out of her hands and saying, “Just STOP digging through my stuff!” And of course, when I get to go to a scrapbooking day at my church, I just savor the time to use the underworked right side of my brain without anyone pushing my guilt button.


  1. I don't think that's selfish. I think it's perfectly human. We give up so much when we become parents...our time, our identity, our sleep, our freedom...I think it's okay to want something only for ourselves.

    Since I am the lone female in a house of men, I don't have too terribly much trouble with people wanting my stuff, but I do often have trouble with people breaking or ruining my stuff, which drives me mad, because I don't have a lot of stuff, but what I has is meaningful.

    I'm not nice when something I treasure is broken or ruined.

  2. I don't think it's selfish. I think each one of us has to take time to do what makes us feel rejuvinated or we will have nothing to give to others. If you never replenish the well and it runs dry, then where would you be?

    That said, I can totally relate to this. I will share almost anything with anyone, anytime, anywhere. The one thing I DON'T like to share? Is of course the one thing everyone wants! What is it? My pillow from bed.

  3. I hate to be one of those moms who always have an idea, but I warn you, it will get worse with your little one! She will want what you want EVEN MORE in time. So, here's my idea: get a dollar store tub and put a few special few things in there and don't let her have this box unless you are working out of your box. Kids love to emulate to an annoying degree (trust 7 year old just "organized" the art supplies and it looks like it will take 3 hours to clean up - all because I like to "organize") so have your own special things and be glad when your little one wants to be like you...gotta go and clean now...damn!

  4. I think you HAVE to have something for yourself that's only yours. It's the only way to stay mentally healthy when you stay home with your kids. (I say that with all of my 9 months of experience as a SAHM, but that's all it takes to know I'm right.)