Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

After apologizing to Max last week for forgetting his birthday, I finally gave him a new toy that I had been saving. It was a plush penguin (and I use the past tense very intentionally).

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Needless to say, he enjoyed it immensely. And in the first couple hours he had already torn off the nose and was pulling the stuffing out of the head. The toy wasn’t even stuffed all the way through – just in the head. But somehow he found the one way to make the biggest mess with that toy possible.

This tends to be the way he treats all his toys. Even tug toys that seem very sturdy come apart much more quickly than I’d expect. Max takes some strange pleasure in ripping things to shreds.

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I am very glad that he is obedient enough to shred mostly his own toys, and not my belongings. If I leave out empty bags that had food in them while he is home alone, those usually get destroyed too, but he has never chewed up any actual belongings.

Still, I can’t help but think – was that really worth it? Did you really have to destroy that brand new toy? This is why we can’t have nice things.

But in tearing up the toys, Max also keeps me grounded and teaches me that maybe having nice things is not the best goal in life. Maybe a better goal is enjoying what we have. Max is like the little brother who takes the G.I. Joe out of the packaging to actually play with it, instead of leaving it in the packaging so that it will retain the highest value. But I think there is a lot of value in playing with those things the way they are meant to be played.

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Max also does something else with his newly destroyed toys that is weird to me. As he is pulling the stuffing out of the penguin’s head, he often stops, looks at me, and then brings it to me and drops it in my lap. I, of course, want nothing to do with that slobbery toy anymore, but Max wants to share the joy.

Max has taught me that one of the true joys in this life is not having nice things, and it is not even centered on what he has at all. Rather, it is enjoying what he has with the people he cares about.

And Max has taught me that things are not for admiring, but rather they are tools to create joy and goodness in the world. And that understanding means that it can be a very valuable experience to give up something I treasure to someone else who could benefit more from it, even if that person does not use the thing in the right way.

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While we may not be able to have nice things, we can have a robust relationship and experience some joyful fun with whatever we do have, especially when we don’t get hung up with the value of the item and instead pay more attention to what is really valuable in life.

So, thank you Max for teaching me that there are many things more important that having nice things. And thank you for wanting to share those not nice things with me.

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