Keeping Up With The Joneses

Happy about the tooth, not about the compensation

A few weeks ago, my 6-year-old yanked out his loose front tooth, leaving a trail of blood droplets on the floor. That night, the tooth fairy did her thing and I went to bed smiling, excited to see the joy on Sam’s face when he woke up the next morning. Like most of us, he likes money.

Before leaving for work, I popped into Sam’s room to say goodbye. He woke up, rubbed his eyes, reached under his pillow, grabbed two dollar bills, and frowned.

“What is this, dad? Two bucks? Charlie from Kindergarten got 12.”

I was aghast. Had I become the dad with the snobby, ungrateful kids?

“Well that’s how they do things in their house,” is the best response I could muster, not realizing that I may have blown the cover on the tooth fairy.

And so begins the incessant comparisons of what we have versus what others have. Now that Sam’s going to his friends’ houses, I’m getting a lot of this:

“Their house is so much bigger.”

“They have way more toys.”

And:

“They get to watch Youtube.”

“They get to play video games.”

Project this out, and he’ll be asking for a nicer bike, then a nicer pair of shoes, then a nicer car. And so on, until he’s stretching himself to buy the nicest house he can afford in the nicest neighborhood on the nicest block in the nicest city he can find.

Unless…

What comes after “Unless” has a lot to do with how Andrea and I respond in these situations. Unfortunately our culture is not going to be much help. In fact, our culture and our economy depends on this “Keeping up with the Joneses'” mentality. Honestly, I don’t know how to respond. Any insight is much appreciated.

Conversely, this comparative lens has been less prevalent in our class of 2022. They’re speaking differently than in years past. They’re not as focused on what everyone else is doing and what everyone else has. Some recognize that even though they’ve dreamt of attending college out of state, what’s best for them is to stay closer to home. Some are just fine with starting at community college, where previously they might have been embarrassed. Others, who have done well in an extremely rigorous college-prep program, have recognized that trade school is a better fit.

I don’t know if the isolation of the pandemic forced students to reflect more deeply on what’s best for them, or if the times are just changing. Or maybe it’s just maturity. I hope Sam will get there.

In the meantime, I need to have a chat with Charlie’s parents.