The Mommy Vortex: Rioting for True Gratitude
Two days before Christmas, thousands of people waited on line at a local mall for hours, hoping to score a pair of the coveted Air Jordan XI sneakers, priced at a cool $180 a pair. About two hours before midnight – when the shoes officially went on sale – a riot ensued, resulting in the arrest of at least two people. The crowd had to be subdued, and many shoppers complained that the local mall didn’t provide enough crowd control in anticipation of the sale.
Really? The shoppers were worried about crowd control? It seemed to me that, perhaps, the public should have been more concerned (outraged, even!) about thousands of people lining up to buy $180 sneakers when there were so many people out of work and desperately trying to provide the basics for their children.
Reading about all those people fighting – rioting! – to purchase sneakers really bothered me. I have taught my children since they were born to say “thank you” at every turn, whether someone gave them a glass of water or an expensive gift. Hearing about so many people willing to physically fight each other to buy sneakers made me wonder if telling my kids to say “thank you” was enough to instill true gratitude. Would my son be rioting on a line like that one day? Would my daughter be unkind to some other little girl that didn’t have a name-brand shoe? And how could I prevent either from happening?
Growing up in New York, I can relate to wanting the next “it” item. After all, I was a child of the 1980s, when legendary stories circulated about mothers throwing punches at each other while trying to grab Cabbage Patch Dolls off delivery trucks before they even hit the shelves. I wanted one, too. But, somehow, in the midst of all that doll hoopla, my parents taught me to be grateful for what we had – rather than focusing on what I wanted.
As a parent now, I wonder how we, as a society, can effectively teach our kids to be truly grateful – beyond just saying “thank you” – if we habitually give them every latest trend-setting gimmick. I struggle with this question as a mom trying to raise grounded kids. I want their childhood to be happy, which – if I’m being honest – means that I don’t want them to get made fun of for not having some cool new “thing.” But, conversely (and more importantly), I want my children to feel gratitude for what they do have, so that they are confident enough to ignore the taunts of some peers who always get that hot item even when my kids don’t.
I guess that’s a lot to ask of a seven and three year-old; I know many adults who can’t handle that kind of peer pressure. But I refuse to give up, despite the challenges. Over the holidays, my son’s class collected food for local food pantries that were in dire need of supplies. I’d like to think this collection raised my son’s awareness about what’s really important. It certainly made him more grateful for the food we had on our table. And yet, only days later, he begged me for a certain brand of light-up sneakers that his friend had! I was enraged; worse, I felt like a total failure.
And yet, I carry on, knowing that he is still a child who likes shiny, new things, and that this was a teachable moment. I reminded him about the families at the food pantry, and asked whether those kids were worried about something as superficial as sneakers when they didn’t have enough food to eat. I wanted him to understand that our needs as human beings need to be prioritized, and that having certain name-brand sneakers was pretty low on that must-have list. Having a roof over his head and food on the table required more than a mere “thank you.” It required true gratitude.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It puts our priorities in perspective, and gives us something positive to consider, rather than focusing on “I want,” or worse, “Look at what they have.” Gratitude can counter those horrible emotions of envy and jealousy, which often lead to negative peer pressure and even bullying. Being grateful changes the way you look at yourself and the world. And as a mom, I made a commitment to show gratitude more often so that my kids understand what being grateful means in action, not merely in words.
While I’m fairly sure many of the people on that long line for the Air Jordan sneakers didn’t really need them, I certainly don’t begrudge anyone nice things. However, I tend to wonder whether a riot would have broken out if even half of those people there were truly grateful for what they had, rather than focusing on what they wanted simply because others might get it before they did.
For now, I will keep teaching my kids to say “thank you,” and try to consistently remind them that they need to be grateful for everything they have, especially the essentials. I am hopeful that if I keep at it, one day, my kids won’t be on some line, rioting to buy sneakers.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of a two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.