Little Zanvil comes home from cheder one day, his face streaked with dried tears. Concerned, his mother immediately hugs him tightly and asks if everything is okay. Zanvil shrugs, but says nothing.
Did anyone hit you?
He shakes his head no.
Did anyone take something away from you?
Did somebody make fun of you?
Once again, no.
Growing ever more baffled and concerned, Zanvil’s mother pleads with him to tell her what’s bothering him, assuring him that no matter what it might be, it’s okay to tell her.
Finally, accompanied by sniffles and hiccups, Zalman’s mother learns what is so troubling her son. Everybody in his class, it seems, has a Gadol Zeiger, a watch with a picture of a popular gadol. Everyone but Zanvil.
First a few kids got it, Zanvil explained. Then more kids got it. Now, the whole class had one besides him.
Zanvil’s mother promised to “speak to Totty about it.” True to her word, she brought up the Gadol Zeiger with her husband later that evening. “It’s true that we try to have a home where every latest meshugas is not looked upon as necessary,” she ventured, “but do our children have to suffer because of our shitos? As crazy as it sounds, I found out that Zanvil is not really exaggerating. Virtually the entire class does have this silly watch. It costs a lot of money and it’s a piece of junk, so ideally it’s not a justifiable purchase. But Zanvil’s a kid, his whole class has it, and he feels terribly left out. Is it right for us not to get it for him and have him feel like a loser?”
The parents both agreed that although it was a clear waste of money as far as the item was concerned, in this case it was worth it for the sake of Zanvil’s happiness.
Zanvil was indeed a changed kid for the rest of the week, going to school with a renewed confidence in his step, his Gadol Zeiger proudly displayed on his wrist.
One week later, though, Zanvil again came home in tears. This time it did not take his mother as long to get the story out. It seemed that the stores were now selling a Super Gadol Zeiger that featured a 3D effect that made it look like the gadol smiled as the wearer turned his wrist. Everybody’s parents had gotten them the updated watch, and only Zanvil still sported the silly old one that nobody wore anymore. It was far more nebachdik to wear the old Zeiger, he averred, than not to wear any Gadol Zeiger at all.
Zanvil’s parents had a serious discussion that night. “What are the other parents thinking?” his mother demanded. “Don’t they realize how badly they are spoiling their children? And don’t they realize how difficult it makes it for all the other kids? It’s mamish not right! To waste so much money after wasting it already just weeks ago on the first model?!”
Still and all, in the end, with heavy hearts, Zanvil’s parents agreed to buy him the Super Gadol Zeiger. After all, it wasn’t his fault that the other kids had crazy parents, and the fact is that he would feel terribly left out and pathetic as the only kid without the new Zeiger. They explained to Zanvil that it was really a wasteful purchase but that they are getting it for him anyway because they did not want him to feel left out.
Everything was smiles and sunshine again – for the next few weeks. Then Zanvil came home and threw himself on the floor in a mess of tears and sorrow. “Why am I always the last kid to get stuff?” he wailed. “Everyone in my class thinks I’m retarded.”
What had happened?
The Ultra Gadol Zeiger had hit the market. In this model, the gadol not only smiled, but a tinny ten-second recording of him giving a brocha played at the press of a button. Zanvil’s Super Gadol Zeiger was as old as Shabbos leftovers. Once again, he was the class nebach, the one whose parents hadn’t yet gotten him what everyone else already had.
For their part, Zanvil’s parents were beside themselves. What were they to do? They had purposely picked a school whose parent body was comprised of families like theirs, families they had always looked upon as normal, sensible and not exactly affluent. Why were they the only ones who thought this craze was being allowed to go way too far?
Yet, their poor Zanvil had to live with and face his classmates every single day. Crazy as it was, how could they deprive him of what – through no fault of his own – was the norm among all his classmates and even neighbors?
So Zalman got the Ultra Gadol Zeiger and all was well again.
Until a few weeks later, when the Ultra-Galactic Gadol Zeiger came out. This one featured a Litvishe rosh yeshiva and a Chassidishe rebbe in one watch! When the wrist was turned one way, one saw the rebbe smiling at him. A turn the other way brought out the rosh yeshiva’s shining countenance. The watch had now become a tool with which to enhance shalom in the world between various groups of Yidden as well! Amazingly, depending on which face was being displayed at the moment, the pre-recorded brocha would change too. True, the Zeiger was exorbitantly expensive and was known to break fairly quickly, but everyone was getting one, and they were selling faster than the stores could stock them.
Resigned and angry at the world-gone-mad, Zanvil’s parents bought him one too. What were their options? Have their kid grow up morose and withdrawn because they could hardly afford – nor did they want– to keep up with everyone else in his school and development? That was surely not a viable choice.
Yet, try as they might to keep Zanvil on an even footing with his peers and thus grow up a “happy” and contented child, the world seemed not to care for their efforts. Before Zanvil’s Ultra-Galactic Gadol Zeiger even broke, the Ultra-Galactic Gevaldik Gadol Zeiger was adorning the wrists of all his friends. Zanvil’s parents had no doubt that shortly after they’d buy it, everyone would be wearing the Grand Ultra-Galactic Gevaldik Gadol Zeiger.
Summer Plans? Better than Yours!
The above tale has many applications. It occurs in our day-to-day life, every time we get dressed or go shopping, as well as more infrequently, when we plan simchos, design our homes, or even decide on schools for our children. One particular thing comes to mind, though, and that is how we opt to spend our summers.
Already the banners are flying, the ads are screaming and the competition is on. Everyone, every camp, every program, is promising to outdo all the others. They have an overnight? We have two overnights! They have two overnights? Our camp has a four-day marathon getaway! They’re giving a free cap to every applicant? We’re giving a free customized backpack to every applicant! That program is promising a free mp3 player for each early registration? Well, we’re giving an iPad (kosherized, of course) for our early registrants! Your camp has a helicopter in use all summer? We have our own amphibious vehicle! You have an amphibious vehicle? We bought a small Cessna, painted in our own colors!
What’s a parent to do?
It would seem easy to simply insist that parents must keep their wits about them and provide their children with the limits that the world at large is now putting in place. We can just say no, can’t we?
Some, like the parents in the above story, feel that we can’t. After all, is it the child’s fault that the rest of the world is insane, spoiled rotten, or both? Even if it is wrong for everyone to allow, or even embrace, the crass and uninhibited materialism that so pervades our society, the bottom line is that this is the world we live in and how can we allow our children to grow up feeling perpetually deprived and different?
There are indeed numerous parents who are truly simple people and would like nothing more than for their children to grow up happy with what they have, but who feel forced to give their children at least some of what the world is perpetually dangling before their eyes. They believe that if all the other kids will be coming to school after camp exclaiming about this or that wild or extravagant thing that they did over the summer, their children should at least not feel deprived and left out. As such, they hold their noses and give in.
Now, supposing for a moment that this is a legitimate concern, the problem is that it is impossible to ever take care of it! After, as illustrated with our little episode with the Zeiger above, once one begins down this path, it simply never ends. Never.
Happiness and Confidence From Within
If one spent (threw away) hundreds or thousands of dollars on a particular program, camp or item not because he felt it truly necessary, but for the sole reason that his child should feel on par with his peers, what happens when, after all that, the child’s peers simply one-up him again? If we spend, say, ten dollars per child indulging in the latest pink doodad for them to hang on their briefcase, just to make them “happy,” will they still be happy next week when everyone is changing to the light-green doodad?
(One might ask if it is any different when we spend many hundreds of dollars on a color or accessory for a baby stroller – so as not to be the only one different out of our entire development or crowd – and then, a few months later, all the ads are showing a newer color, plus the accessory is now suede instead of fur, or leather instead of suede, or metal instead of…)
The bottom line is that if being happy depends on our kids having what their friends have and experiencing what their friends experience, we may as well give up unless we can always provide them with everything everyone else has no matter what. Short of that, even if (and it is a big if) we are right in assuming that it would be best to give in to every latest craze, purchase and experience for the sake of our children’s happiness, the task is, inherently, an impossible one. As soon as we get one thing, there is already another one making the one we got obsolete and a total waste.
Somehow, then, it would seem that a way must be found for us to have happy children (and to be happy ourselves) that will not be dependent on having whatever “everyone else has.” It may not be easy to give children this happiness, especially in a generation such as ours, but what choice do we have? We do want to have happy children, do we not? So if getting them the Grand Ultra-Galactic Gevaldik Gadol Zeiger won’t do it because everybody having the next model will only make them cringe again, we must find another way.
Perhaps we must exude happiness and satisfaction, regardless of whatever indulgences we may or may not have at whatever moment. True, children are not always mature enough to understand short-term sacrifice for long-term happiness, and we need to know when it is okay to give them extras and treats for no reason other than because we love them. In the long-term, however, there will be times when we will have to disappoint them. Short of entering them into a lifelong, never-ending rat race, we must teach them that sometimes they will not have what “everyone else” has, and they can still be happy, confident people.
It’s either we learn how to impart such confidence and happiness – or we begin stocking up on Zeigers…