My son is starting daycare.
The kind run by
licensed professionals total strangers.
While most people mark the start of a new school year with back-to-school shopping based on supply lists and maybe even child requests (and peer pressure and clever advertisements), I’m shopping for a whole different reason.
I’m shopping because I’m sad.
Here’s what I tried to buy today.
What I Tried to Buy
I’m presenting this list without commentary first. Except you need to know that these were items that were actually in my cart. Carts. There were dozens of other things I looked at but passed over.
|Rubbermaid LunchBlox Kids Flat Lunch Kit||Target||$6.87 (originally $8.59)|
|Rubbermaid LunchBlox Side Container||Target||$1.91 (originally $2.39)|
|Happy Baby Happy Puffs Sweet Potato & Carrot||Target||$2.89|
|Plum Organics Super Puffs Blueberry with Purple Sweet Potato||Target||$2.79|
|Dogs by Matt Van Fleet||Amazon||$12.79 ($18.99 list)|
|Tails by Matt Van Fleet||Amazon||$12.70 ($14.99 list)|
|Van Fleet Animal Trio||Amazon||$38.26 ($51.99 list)|
|Mega Bloks Mega First Builders Fast Tracks Racing Rig||Kohls||$14.49 on clearance (originally $28.99)|
|The First Years Stack and Count Cups||Kohls||$6.00 (originally $8.00)|
|Jumping Beans Jumbo Shape Sorter||Kohls||$9.09 (originally $12.99)|
|Fisher-Price Rainforest Friends Activity Books||Kohls||$8.99 (originally $9.99)|
|Baby Boy Carter’s Dog Face Hooded Coverall||Kohls||$12.99 (originally $20)|
|Dog Hooded Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$5.99 (originally $20)|
|Striped Monster Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$5.99 (originally $20)|
|Halloween Skeleton Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$11 (originally $20)|
|Little Avocado Halloween Costume||Carter’s||$21 (originally $42)|
|Babys’* Halloween Boo Bodysuit – Just One You
(*I did screenshot this for my classroom Wall of Whoops though)
|Target||$5.99 (also out of stock)|
|Toddler Boys’ Always Me: Smart, Kind & Brave Short Sleeve T-Shirt||Target||$4.50 (plus 20% savings)|
|Travelambo Aluminum Luggage Tags & Bag Tags||Amazon||$12.99 for 10 piece set|
|Child ID Backpack, Lunchbox and Diaper Bag Name Tags||Amazon||$6.99 for 3 tags|
Wants As Needs
My son needs labels on his backpack and lunchbox. He needs containers for his lunch. He also needs something to keep his food cool. He has real needs.
And they are loosely reflected in what ended up in my shopping cart.
But not really.
Most of what I was attempting to pass as a need would have just amounted to unnecessary excess, nevermind the cost. It’s true that I am unwilling to take a Sharpie to my son’s backpack and lunchbox, but two key tags from Home Depot solved my woes for under $1. And I didn’t end up with 10 extras like I would have with my initial Amazon attempted purchase.
Babies need books. There’s a cornucopia of research that says early literacy and early numeracy are two of the greatest indicators of a child’s success later in life. Luckily for HP, we are a stone’s throw from two libraries, and he has dozens upon dozens in our house already. He needs access to books. He does not need to be the proud owner of six touch-and-feel dog books. He will survive with three. (But I still might buy him one for Christmas.)
This is true for everything else on the list as well. He has an avalanche of hand-me-downs to wear, including Halloween gear. And we just purchased new food containers for the grandmas’ houses last weekend. His needs were met long ago.
Consumer Psychology of One
I know what calls to me when I shop. Even though I know free and cheap aren’t the deals we, as a society, think they are, I still can’t help but notice when something is a screaming deal.
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20% off when sales are so rare at Target.
A clearance savings that I could have maximized with $5 Kohl’s cash and a merchandise credit.
These are good deals.
Then, there’s my instinct to look at cost per unit. Buying 10 luggage tags makes them cheaper. But when you only need two in the first place, it might actually make it really wasteful. And just plain dumb.
I also have an insatiable instinct to comparison shop. Like the Carter’s brand dog jumpsuit at Carter’s that is identical to the one at Kohl’s for significantly less. What a victory. Savings on top of savings. Plus, it was a gateway to other clearance items. Plus Halloween outfits and costumes.
I am a retail marketer’s dream come true. Or I was. I’ve long understood the consumer psychology; I used to just muscle my way through anyway. I’d stand in line totally aware of the marketing gimmicks while my dad’s taunts echoed in my head. It’s always 100% off if you don’t buy it.
I used to buy it anyway because shopping was a habit. Now, though, I’ve broken that habit.
Today, I tried to shop away the pain.
Whose Want Is It Anyway?
Let’s be clear here. This isn’t an issue of mixing up wants and needs. My son doesn’t need these things. He also doesn’t want them.
What I actually want is to be able to spend time with him whenever I want, instead of just when I can. I adore my job, and I can’t imagine my life without teaching in it. But I would also be lying if I said that I’ve found a way to reconcile the fact that I spend more time with strangers’ kids than I do my own. It’s hard to be a full-time worker and a part-time parent.
I know these feelings will pass. They are not dissimilar from how I felt returning from my maternity leave. It took some time, but I embraced the new normal then, and I know I will do it again.
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In the long run, I know that working is the right choice for me and for my family. Contrary to what clickbait artists and jerks alike would have you believe, there’s actually nothing wrong with sending your kiddos to daycare. Quite a bit of research shows the exact opposite. Plus, there is no official ranking system for the best way to parent. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have.
Which is why we have to be kind to ourselves and each other. Even when we go a little bananas and try to buy all the things. For no real reason.
The Real Cost of What I Tried to Buy My Son in the Past 24 Hours
$204.22. Before tax. That’s what I would have spent had I clicked submit on any of these shopping carts. Sure, I have a few gift cards that I could have used, but that’s still money spent on things that no one actually needs or even really wants.
This is a problem. But it’s not the biggest one.
Here’s the thing about shopping. Even when it’s window shopping or the virtual equivalent, it’s not just about money. It’s about time.
For me, there are so many different tiers of time spent shopping the closer I get to actually buying something. The time it takes to brainstorm the fake need. Then, there’s scrolling through results, reading descriptions, scanning reviews, looking at related products, considering the price, scouring the Internet for promo codes. Then, there’s the fact that I then either have to go to the store or wait for it to be delivered.
While it is very easy to look at shopping as a matter of dollars and cents, it’s even more troubling when you begin to factor in the time. There is one thing in the world that I will never have enough of. One thing that money can’t buy. That’s time with my son.
And because of the pain I feel when I think about having less time with him, I am ready to trade what time I do have for a salve that doesn’t even have to land on my doorstep for me to know it won’t work.
It doesn’t make sense.
Which is why none of these packages are en route to our house. Instead, we took an extra trip to the park, splashed around in his water table, and ate our way through a pint of blueberries today. While he napped and again when he went down for the night, I moved some money into his college fund. I also hopped on my computer and did some freelancing. And yes, I let myself cry a little too.
Babies don’t keep. There’s nothing in the world that I can buy to change that. Next time, I won’t even waste my time trying. There’s too many other memories to make instead.
So Tell Me…Have you ever caught yourself shopping for no good reason?
Oh man, that list… It reminds me of us when we were first time parents in the similar situation. Like you, we didn’t end up with everything we were looking at that we thought we needed, but it’s still impressive how quickly some of that stuff adds up.
I was mindlessly shopping last Friday, killing time at work when I realized, “screw this, I should just leave and go do anything else more productive.” So I did.
It’s rare for me to mindlessly shop nowadays, but back in my spending heyday… Oh man… I would’ve bought everything on your list above without a second thought. I’m glad my mindset has changed so that I don’t do that anymore.
I thought I was really out of the habit of shopping for shopping’s sake. In fact, I really haven’t been shopping even for needs because I was on such a decluttering and Freecycling kick this summer. It’s amazing how one stressful situation nearly toppled everything!
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
Mmhmm! Even though I’m really good at usually not letting shopping be therapy, it can be a useful indicator of stress for me. I don’t fight to disallow it completely, I know there’s some emotion I’ve not yet worked out when the urge to shop for no reason strikes, so I give myself some kind of reasonable time limit on the urge and then force myself to think through what’s truly bothering me.
I had a cart full of baby things at Kohl’s two weeks ago too, and that was more about grabbing clearance gifts but it was also about missing that cuddly Michelin man rolls baby stage sooooo much. It was also about a few other feelings of inadequacy that “providing” would temporarily soothe until the shipment arrived and then I’d need another hit. So I didn’t click Buy on that cart either.
I have similar feelings about part time parenting but I know that JB is learning so much more at daycare than I’d be able to provide one on one. Sigh.
Oh, man. I think we are finally at the point where the hard parts of having a newborn are juuuuuuust fuzzy enough where I get those pangs. No amount of Halloween costumes is going to bring back my cuddly baby. Sigh.
As far as daycare goes, it really is invaluable, isn’t it? I know you follow both Bridget and Sarah on Twitter, and I really loved that article they shared the other day about the research around kiddos with working parents, mothers in particular. I’ll see if I can find it!
Here it is: Number 10 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/science-parents-successful-children-13-things-in-common-list-a7711611.html
Now…am I doing anything else on the list? Jury’s out. But I am working. So check that box, baby!
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
This child is not going to do dishes before age 4 or 5 lest we both die of heart attacks but ABSOLUTELY we do chores 🙂 We’re up and down the scale on a lot of the other ones.
I feel your pain, Penny. Mrs. Oldster and I have one child. A child it took us 10 years to get (after invoking pretty much all of medical science, a doctor observed that my wife was an attorney and perhaps the stress was too much – a leave of absence and 2 months later she was pregnant – she did not go back to the law). All of that to say, when our daughter was born, we were radically predisposed to spoiling. And we tried. Fortunately for her you can’t really spoil a baby with things. They just don’t care. And we got out of that mind set early enough that, by the time she could notice, we only did routine spoiling 🙂 . The litmus test for any purchase for a child is “who is this really for?”. Sounds like you got there before hitting the buy button. That is the important thing.
As your son gets older, don’t hesitate to share those thoughts with him. The earlier he grasps the difference between wants and needs, the easier, and more satisfying his life will be. I like to think we parents go through these things for a reason. Namely, so that our kids won’t have to.
Oh, Oldster! I am so glad that your wife was able to make that career change and do what was right for your family. How amazing.
And you can’t spoil them, can you? He doesn’t even care! At this age, he has his tastes and interests. No matter how many things I try to add to the pile, he can’t be bothered. It feels a lot like getting a gift and making an apology for someone who doesn’t know anything is wrong in the first place…because nothing is wrong. Parenting is complicated stuff!
Geeze, Penny. This paragraph is spot on and stirs up all sorts of emotions …
“I would also be lying if I said that I’ve found a way to reconcile the fact that I spend more time with strangers’ kids than I do my own. It’s hard to be a full-time worker and a part-time parent. I know these feelings will pass”
I spend more time w/ coworkers (far more time) than I do with my own family and it kills me. And I’ve been thinking recently about how I’ve gotten used to it (i.e. “these feelings will pass”) and I’m kinda bothered that I’m used to it.
Other than aggressively attack my finances and reach FI ASAP, I don’t know what else to do though, because I’m still dependent upon that paycheck.
Best of luck with another school year and with day care!
I think we all need to spend a lot of time looking at the things we get used to. Like you said, though, I don’t know how we fix it. I do know that I am very lucky to be in a position where I feel like the people I spend my days with are a second family. It doesn’t change how much I miss my real family, though. But it does help to feel like it is still meaningful time.
I’ve been clothes shopping up a storm due to some severe stress. To be fair, I could’ve stood to have a few more shirts (especially for FinCon) anyway. And also to be fair, only two of the shirts were bought at retail (by which I mean TJ Maxx) prices. The rest have been thrift store finds. But it’s still getting out of hand. And yet I want to buy more,and I’m having to tamp down the desire/FOMO to go scour more thrift store racks looking for amazing finds.
I don’t have the time constraint you do — other than when I should be blogging, I have copious amounts of free time — but it’s still a problem overall. Even if it’s not taking all that much out of the budget, it’s not a healthy way to deal with the stress. Unfortunately, there’s no way to deal with the stress just yet… Soon, though. Until then… I’ll just Netflix it up and try to resist the urge to go out for “just a couple more things.”
It is stress shopping, isn’t it?! SIGH. It does sound like you’ve been getting good deals and were being far more reasonable that what I was trying to buy. Still, I think I’m going to steal your plan of finding a show or a book or some other distraction until the stress passes.
It does pass, right?
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
Gahhh I spent so much extra month our son’s first two years of life. You tell yourself part of why you work is so he “can have nice things” in order to feel less guilty. Ugh. So much crap. Real daycare is such a hard transition (or at least if you have a kiddo like mine who struggles with it for way too long – he loves it now). Hugs, mama.
It really, really made my day to see that I’m not the only person who did this! Parent guilt is strong.
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Oh Penny, I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling sad. You’re a great parent, and little HP is so lucky!! 🙂
I used to impulse shop to cope with depression. I spent over $1,000 on Amazon alone; it was bad. Honestly, if I’m about to shop online now, I go for a walk. Doesn’t matter what time it is or what the weather’s like. I go move my feet. Because usually we buy things to fill a void. A walk reminds me that things are okay, and I don’t need three pairs of skirts to be happy.
You’re doing a great job, and it’s going to be okay again real soon. 🙂
You are so right about going for walks. And oh do we walk! Thankfully, HP has a little push car thing that he’s obsessed with. I’ve taken to just shutting my phone off (it’s hard because I’m also trying to take photos!). I want to give him my time. My shopping cart is too much of a distraction!
What comes through in this post to me is your deep feelings about this new phase for you and HP (going back to teaching and entering daycare) I know you know this, it is a good experience for all that you are working and that hp is in a good environment, but it doesn’t change that you are entering a new era for your family and that is emotional. As a teacher myself, I can only say, working while my child went to daycare (she’s now 20!) made me a more empathetic teacher and her a more socialized little person. In other words you know it is gonna be ok, but still there’s gonna be doubts, a little guilt maybe, and certainly some anxiety. Stay flexible, especially with who is gonna do the drop off (typically dads have an easier drop off and moms have an easier time picking up) You are gonna get through this, yes, it’s gonna be a little tricky at first, but its gonna be ok. Best of luck and remember how terrific it’s gonna be teaching those wonderful students of yours and how lucky they are that you are back in the classroom.
Hugs! I’m still tempted to shop from time to time out of boredom or emotions I don’t want to look at. You can tell yourself all you like about the silliness of it but it still feels like a feeling you want as opposed to the others. I can’t make it easier for you to be apart from your son but I can tell you that you’re doing your best for him, even in part by showing him women can be strong earners. That doesn’t make it any easier, tho.
It takes a lot of self awareness to be able to recognize your emotions and feelings. I’m heading back to work too and feeling similar emotions. Nervous about being able to hand full time work. It will be hard during day care, but he will learn so much and get to learn to socialize with other toddlers. We are thinking of finding a drop in day care for our little one just for the social aspect and to give my husband a break.
He might love it!
A wonderful article. My son starts daycare in a week, I totally get where you are coming from. The stuff doesn’t matter….contrary to what marketers want us to believe, kids really don’t need that much. No matter how many new toys we buy our little guy he just wants to play with Tupperware, boxes, remotes and, of course, our cell phones. I also enjoy working and I know it is what is best for me and my family BUT, until you have a kid it’s hard to anticipate the intense bond and leaving them with a “stranger” just doesn’t seem natural. Though, at 16 months I am starting to feel like my son needs more than just me and my husband. He needs some new little buds to keep up with his never ending energy!!
I think daycare is so good for kids. I am 100% biased as a teacher, but I really do think there’s something that educators can do for our kiddos that we can’t.
But whoa is it an adjustment!
This reminds me of when my wife went back to work four months after giving birth to our son. A few days before she had to go back, the two of us went to Walmart and she wanted to buy all these toys and clothes for him and I wondered why she wanted to do all that. She said that she wanted him to have a whole lot of stuff to play with to keep him occupied and also have a whole bunch of clothes for him. I told her that he already has enough toys and clothes. Plus her parents are babysitting him so he was in good hands. She agreed and put most of the stuff back in the store with the exception of a few items.
I didn’t really think much about that occurrence until I read your post and now I figured why she was like that, it was because she was going to be apart from our son now and wanted to supply him an overwhelming amount of unnecessary items.
Erin | Reaching for FI
Oh, Penny, this is beautiful. I’m not a parent but I can imagine how hard and sad this transition is. Hugs for you as you work through this, and your son and your students are so lucky to have you in their lives.