Conner is eight years old.
Every summer, my entire family gathers to camp near a lake in Indiana. For much of that time, you’ll barely see Conner. He’ll tear through the family campsite covered in dirt and scratches, scarfing down his dinner just to set off again. Maybe he’s headed off to the fort that he made with the other boys in the campground, or to pilfer through the waste bin looking for jars that he can use to catch fireflies, or racing to the lake, cannonballing into the air to see who can make the biggest splash.
Conner is one big ball of play, content with rolling through nature as his playground.
But some days, you’ll find him sitting around the family campsite without a single scratch or a spot of mud on him, unenthusiastically dragging a stick through the dirt. The pep in his step is missing, along with his mischevious grin.
So why the change in personality?
He didn’t get into a fight with someone, he’s not in trouble and he’s not ill. Conner fell into the consumer trap. He has a case of the gimmies.
Some relative had given him a dollar or two, and he went to the campground arcade. He played a couple of games and bought some candy, and it left him wanting more. He figured that if he sits there long enough, someone else might give him a couple bucks to entertain his needs.
I’m not that different myself.
I’m happy working on Tandem Teaching, cooking for friends, hiking in the hills, riding bikes with my sister at the beach. That’s my play.
Then, when I least expect it, I’ll tag along with a friend on an errand and I’ll spot that perfect pair of shoes.
And I’ll buy them.
Then my life suddenly becomes a search for the perfect pants and belt to match. Which leads to wanting more. That’s the trap. And now, how will I pay for it? I end up taking on extra consulting jobs, making less time for the play that gives me joy.
Conner and I are not all that different.
Did I need the shoes? No. I’ve got drawers full of them. Does Conner need to play arcade games while camping when he’s got a Wii at home? Absolutely not. We fell into the consumer trap.
The point of all this? Getting caught up in the consumer trap is easy. It happens to all of us, no matter our age.
The solution? When you realize you’re sliding into the trap, you need an advocate to get you back on track.
So, this summer, when I notice my cousin sitting around the campfire wanting money for arcades and candy, I’ll know that that’s the perfect time to ask him, “Can you show me your fort?” In no time, I hope he’ll forget his monetary plan, rolling out of the trap and back through nature.
I’ll make sure to ask my friends to notice when my path starts to lead towards the consumer trap of spending and shopping. They’ll know that that’s the moment they need to be my advocate and say, “So . . . tell me more about that project you’re working on with Patrick and Queenie.”
Because play for me, is this project, which is the most fun and rewarding experience I’ve had in a long time.
And it doesn’t cost a thing.
Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.