Herald Journal Columns
June 6, 2005, Herald Journal

Summer camp and an $8,000 prom dress

By LIZ HELLMANN

We’ve all heard those dreaded words, “This is going to hurt me, more than it hurts you.”

Yeah, right. Or so we thought when we were younger.

Although I don’t have any kids, I can see where there might be some truth in that statement. After all, who would find joy in punishing their own children?

It’s hard for me to admit, but those silly cliché phrases parents use generation after generation might have a kernel of truth to them.

If not, there better be some other very good reason as to why we all will end up turning around and saying the exact things we swore we never would.

I maintain I have not been brainwashed, just yet.

But, I’d like to concentrate on one of my favorites, “It may seem important now, but later you’ll realize it isn’t the end of the world.”

Is that actually supposed to make someone feel better?

“Sorry, Billy, your dream to go to camp this summer with all of your friends may seem like a big deal, but we don’t have enough money. When you are 30, you won’t care anymore.”

Interesting approach. With logic like that, who can’t understand why Billy would end up crying his eyes out in the corner?

Despite my cynicism, this phrase has been growing on me.

I do think a special balance needs to be worked out between the guardians who speak these words and the little people whose lives they affect the most. But, these words can help put things in perspective.

For example, an $8,000 prom dress. No, that’s not a typo. A girl wore a designer gown to prom that cost her more than $8,000.

I use the word ‘her’ loosely. It was apparently a gift from a relative.

Did it matter the next day whether she had worn that dress or a good old-fashioned $100 dress?

No.

I’m willing to guess if that girl had to log the approximate 1,246 hours at a part-time job to earn that dress, she would have evaluated just how big of a deal it was.

I’m not trying to say anything negative about this girl. She is very lucky to have such a generous relative, and I’m sure she had a lovely time at the prom.

However, it would have been easy for her to spend the night worrying about snagging the dress or spilling on it. I know I would have.

The tendency is to get so caught up in what we must have, and what we don’t have, that we don’t even pay attention to what is actually going on.

I think that is why we all had to learn those cruel words when we were younger, “It’s not going to matter in a couple years.” Truthfully, it’s not.

Perhaps, if that girl hadn’t gotten to wear her dream dress, she would have had to reflect on the real purpose of going to the prom. If she was going to wear, gasp, “off the rack,” was there still a reason to go?

Hopefully, without the dress, she would focus on the fact that she would get to go with all of her friends, dance, and have a good time before ending high school. Even with the dress she still could focus on those things, but without being wrapped in eight grand, she is forced to focus on that.

What about our parents? Were they doing what was best for us, or were they simply justifying not conceding to our every wish?

Reflecting on a trend of parenting skills I have recently witnessed, children are being given more and more. Does this lead to happier children?

I have heard my generation comment on how much children are spoiled. They get the latest toys, computers, and Xboxes. Frankly, many of us think it is ridiculous.

When we were younger, we didn’t have the latest $400 GameCube, but we weren’t playing with a tire and a stick, either.

The conclusion many of my peers and I have come to, is that it is a disservice to get everything we want.

If we always get everything we want, we become apathetic.

Thus, we end up with little Billy not being happy with going to camp, because he didn’t get the $50 backpack, like all the other kids, or a girl who doesn’t want to go to the prom because her dress is not from a famous designer.

So, maybe our parents got it half-right. When they said we didn’t need that new toy (whether it was a Barbie doll or a car), they were right. When they said it didn’t matter, they were wrong.

It did matter, because we realized it’s not all about a dress, or a summer at camp. Life will go on, and we will appreciate the things we do get.

So, if we want our children to be happy, don’t give them everything they want, teach them what everything’s about. It’s never too late, or early, to start.

Incidentally, children aren’t limited to the under–21 crowd.