Things don’t really matter to us. They never have.
My mom and my siblings, they care about things. They go shopping, and they’re constantly thrilled by the newest phone, gadget, sweater, or pair of shoes. Consequently, they have bigger houses with more stuff.
I’m not passing judgment. I don’t think less of them because they chase these material pursuits, but I’m not that way.
When we arrived at my sister’s house near Philadelphia, I walked through the foyer for the first time and was immediately struck by the children’s playroom adjacent to the kitchen—an entire room with shelves from floor to ceiling, full of toys.
Again, I don’t have an issue with that. My sister is a darling, and her family is splendid, some of the most loving and thoughtful children I’ve ever been around.
It wasn’t the kids that prompted my thinking, but the stuff. We’ve chosen not to raise our kids this way. My wife has one pair of earrings. She either wears earrings or doesn’t. Simple. My kids each have a bedroom in a house that was built in 1906, which means the closets don’t hold much. They don’t have much.
We didn’t spend money on toys, and this was something that mystified my parents every December. They’d ask what “Santa” could bring the kids, what was on their list. My kids never really had a list. My parents wouldn’t believe me, and they’d investigate, only to discover that they truly didn’t.
From the time they were toddlers, we’ve placed emphasis on experiences instead of things. We took our kids on the overnight train from Chicago to New Orleans when they were 3 and 5 years old. They didn’t come home with armfuls of shitty plastic souvenirs because the experience was the souvenir.
Now that they’re older, we’re trying to be just as intentional. My wife took our daughter to a musical because she sings in school productions. I took my son on a tour of the United Nations because he’s interested in international ethics and studies. New York became an experience they’ll never forget, whereas the Manhattan snow globe or Yankees magnet would end up tossed in a drawer somewhere and forgotten.
In New York, there are so many opportunities for moments. We visited Times Square and Rockefeller Center, Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, Hell’s Kitchen, the East Village. We took cabs and subways downtown, uptown, and out to New Jersey. Cramming all of those visits into a handful of days wasn’t easy. It would have been much easier to buy the t-shirt and call it a day. But now we all have moments, and I’d like to think that my children have ones that have forever changed them, opening their eyes to the world’s full potential.
I’ve never been to Disney World or Disneyland. I have no intention of ever going to either place. It’s fine if you’ve been and if you love it. I don’t because it’s sanitized, clean, and completely artificial. We’ve never taken our kids there because we want them to experience the real world. No matter where you live, you live in a bubble. Travel provides the opportunity to go beyond it and immerse yourself in a global, cultural diversity in a city like New York. You’ll never get that in Disney’s version of a Parisian café.
Not surprisingly, I strive to create moments for my readers in my novels. I could serve up the best action or fight scenes you’ve ever read, and you’d be on the edge of your seat. But that’s the literary equivalent of a 3-for-$15 souvenir t-shirt deal. It’s a thing and not a moment. We remember moments and discard things.
It’s much harder to create moments. I have to think beyond my first, second, even my third instinct when it comes to my fiction. I’m constantly asking my characters, “And then what if?” I can’t pretend that every moment is life-changing, but I can promise that I’m trying to serve one up in each and every chapter.
I have over 1,000 CDs. I own 8 guitars. I’m not above owning stuff, and I have gotten pleasure and enjoyment out of some of the stuff I’ve owned. But I also recognize that my fondest memories are experiences, moments I’ve shared with other people.
I want to always strive to create moments for my children and for my stories. Nobody cares about those junky souvenirs a few hours after you pull back into your driveway.
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