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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An American Tragedy

Last week, we celebrated my nephew's eleventh birthday. It was a relaxed affair, with burgers and fries and the sugary-goodness of birthday cake. It reminded me of the birthday parties I had as a little girl - modest events with just the immediate family, and an odd cousin or two. Back then, the birthday cake was homemade and the presents, while never expensive, were memorable. There were favorite Barbie Dolls and pocket-sized, die-cast metal Matchbox cars to add to my collection. The weeks leading up to my birthday were the longest weeks of my life, but the actual birthday seemed always to race by me in a feverish blur that was no doubt fueled by the twin ecstasies of birthday cake AND presents. I was thinking about those times as I watched my nephew open each of his own 11-year-old gifts - each a new treasure.

One of those treasures was a portable electronic gaming system, and from the first few seconds that he spied the box's telltale logo, his face was resplendent with joy. He was so possessed by this possession, this thing so desired. But desires don't retail so cheaply, and this particular one came with a triple-digit price tag. For a family of modest means, this was truly a thing to be treasured. For a little boy from a family of modest means, this was a thing to be shared, a thing to be shown off, and that was when the unthinkable happened.

This treasure was stolen, and suddenly a little boy and his family are thrown into a tailspin.

Listening to my mother over the telephone relaying the details, her voice hollowed out and thin, I, at first, was only half-listening - your nephew went to school Monday...your sister told him not to take it to school...his brother noticed he had it in the car...came home crying...your sister went to the principal this morning...$ upset.

This incident brings up all sorts of issues, from obeying your parents, to teaching children how to be responsible, and the on-going debate over appropriate gifts for children. And any of these issues would be worthy of a good blogging, but I'm most curious if my nephew's short-lived relationship with this thing will have an everlasting effect on his psyche. Will this gaming system become his Rosebud? Will my 105-year-old nephew's last words be, "Nintendo"? And how is it that for all of the toys and games that we've given him over the years - toys that he's played with and forgotten about - that this one with which he has spent the least amount of time with is the one for which he grieves? Will this thing define him? Will his parents no longer trust him with things that they value? Will he feel unworthy for an innocent mistake? And will he ever believe the truth, that he will always be worth more than some thing whose worth is measured in dollars? I'm just saying.

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