The Brat celebrated his tenth birthday recently, and in the spirit of true gratitude of his being given to us by the forces that govern the universe, I recklessly promised to buy him an iPod for his birthday. This is also the point at which you, dear reader, might realise that I am also of the variant that signs on detailed contracts with fine print and infinite clauses without putting my bifocals on.
When the birthday dawned, bright and clear, and we made the trek to the electronics store to procure the iPod, I clutched my heart, collapsed dramatically to the ground and did a shameless volte-face when I saw the price of the specific model he had in mind. It was not what I was prepared to spend on a 10-year-old for a birthday present. (Okay, you are allowed to call me stingy when I'm not looking.)
In my innocence and lack of knowledge of technology, I assumed an iPod was an iPod was an iPod, and my mind went back to those days when we had procured these items of music for well under 'X' amount. When we walked into the store, The Brat headed straight towards an iPod, which looked terribly fancy, and was priced at a price that was higher than what I'd paid for my mobile phone. I did the stamp-my-not-so-delicate-foot-act and swore by all I considered holy, including end-of-season sales, and averred that no way was I putting down so much cash for something I wasn't sure he would even be able to take care of for a week, given that he loses an average of three water bottles a month in school, reducing me to sending recycled Bisleri bottles as a punishment. In short, I channelled my Cruella De Mom act to perfection.
"Bud you promist," he said, eyes tearing up and lips quivering.
"I'm sorry," I replied, applying steel plating to the rapidly-melting maternal heart, "I'm breaking my promise."
We compromised a bit, by buying him a pair of Nike shoes (squashing down the high-pitched voice of conscience squawking within about how he would outgrow these in a few months, and how they would need to be discarded), a pair of Speedo swimming goggles and an Arena swimming costume. These are things I can justify to myself. They get used every single day, and will give him every rupee's worth of use until they wear out. An iPod on the other hand, I'm still sceptical about. I'm also a very old school mom, who never trusts anything that can think for itself if I can't see where it keeps its brain.
If it's music he wants to listen to, there are both our mobile phones at his disposal. If there's a game he wants to play, he has his PSP, PS2, the phones, and the computers. If there are movies he wants to watch, there is a DVD player and the TV. He has enough technology at his disposal, does he really need an iPod Touch, no matter how fancy the functions, I wonder.
Did I feel just that wee bit guilty about going back on my promise? Yes, I did, especially when I saw how his face crumpled up when he realised he was not going to get the iPod he'd set his heart on. I'd offered him options, I rationalised that the lower-end models, with fewer functions and with what I considered were the mainstay of iPods, were what he needed. But he didn't want those. It was the fancy one he wanted, the one he sees his friends carrying around, playing with, hunched over every time they're in public. Did I want him to be one of those who are permanently hunched over a gadget in social situations? I think not, especially when I'm trying my damnedest to wean even myself off social networking and get back to the real world.
But then again, back in my childhood, I had no iPod, no PSP, but what I did have were books. I spent most of my time being asocial, sticking my nose in a book, often needing a megaphone wielded by a very annoyed mother to get me back to what we term ITRW these days. Perhaps, technology is to this generation what books were to mine. Perhaps these kids, sitting with glazed eyes and calluses on their thumbs are this generation's bookworms, sucked into a seamless world through the internet where they have no limits to what they access, their only limits where their imagination can take them.
The Brat? He got over his disappointment soon enough. There is a lot of stuff his friends have which he doesn't. A mobile phone to start with. An iPad. A laptop. A Wii. I know the list will never end. He's just getting on the bandwagon for brand names and does not realise real value over perceived value. He knows he has what he needs; I repeat it often enough and loud and clear. He has a home, food on the table, his family to love him and take care of him, clothes to wear, and a good school to go to. These are basics that some children don't have and he needs to appreciate it. Perhaps he could earn the iPod, I thought. If he wanted it that much, he could save for it. I know, I know, saving for things is terribly old-fashioned and not something we mention in public like some personal acts of hygiene in these days of conspicuous buy-on-instalment consumption, but it does serve as a good motivating factor. He does have a bank account, and a piggy bank, and a generous doting family whom he can charm the notes off from when he applies his mind to it. He knows what he has to do if he wants his iPod. Now he can start saving. Or, he can decide it doesn't really matter, and that there are other things which are a priority right now. I would rather he opts for the latter.