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Why 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'

If there is something surviving a day wearing a farmyard scene sweater with a burnt orange polyester skirt in a classroom full of designer jeans will teach you... no matter what you've been told, no one ever died of embarrassment.
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Growing up, my parents were very immune to the power of "fads" and "trends." In the case of my Dad, this was simply a matter of obliviousness; my Mom, on the other hand, was a practical, budget-conscious homemaker who didn't have the time of day (or the cash) for what was "popular." This meant, in part, that YES, I DID wear my older sister's hand-me-downs... even though she is ten years my senior. If you think showing up at a new middle school wearing clothes that went out of style a decade ago doesn't build character, you've got another think coming.

When the three girls who lived across the street all got brand new bikes with stylish banana seats? I got a garage sale bike with stripped gears. My prom dress was selected by its deeply discounted price, due to some permanent staining on the full skirt. Not a problem for Mom! She just split the skirt at the seam and resewed it to hide the offending mark.

We were always the last house on the block to get any new thing -- cable TV, a VCR, a computer -- I am one of the only kids who grew up in a middle class household in the 80's without access to MTV. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" would have been my Mom's theme song if she had been a fan of the Rolling Stones; I am grateful she wasn't, because YES, she was one of those parents who frequently burst into song if she found the lyrics pertinent to her point. Or even if she didn't.

Naturally my siblings and I all resented what we saw as her "cheapness"... she was subjected to more than her fair share of sighing, eye-rolling and silent treatments. Although to be fair, I'm pretty sure she enjoyed the silent treatment. Now that we are all adults, I think we have a new respect and appreciation not only for the lesson Mom was teaching us, but also for all the things she sacrificed so that we could "get what we need."

One characteristic I gained that I am eternally grateful for: I am, for all intents and purposes, peer-pressure-proof! If there is something surviving a day wearing a farmyard scene sweater with a burnt orange polyester skirt in a classroom full of designer jeans will teach you... no matter what you've been told, no one ever died of embarrassment.

So yes, I am the mythological kid you have heard about! The one who never tried drugs, the one who (begrudgingly) wore the giant Easter corsages my father bought us to church, the one who was never tempted to "jump off a cliff" just because my friends did... the one who had to develop her self-esteem from the inside out, because I sure as hell wasn't going to get any self-esteem from the stuff my Mom was willing to buy me. I've said this before, but you can never say it enough times: THANKS, MOM. Because you taught me that "you can't always get what you want," I understand that who I am is all that I need.

Now I am a parent too, and Mom's lessons resonate more than ever. As a child, I took her continuous message of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as an affront: tough darts, farmer! Them's the breaks! As an adult I realize her wisdom and I am trying to impart the same wisdom to my 10-year-old son. One of the parenting decisions I have made is that he does not have video games or hand held electronics as part of his life. He is also only allowed access to the computer for school assignments, and always with my strict supervision. This is not because I don't trust him; this is not because I don't want him to "fit in." This is because I want him to understand the power and beauty of his own mind, his own imagination.

The first (and only) time he ever said "I'm bored," my answer was: there is NO SUCH THING as being bored; only being BORING. I explained to him that as long as his brain is working, there is never an excuse for being bored; not in school, not in the car and certainly not in a house full of toys, books, games and art supplies. When parents say their child can't cope, for example, on a car trip without electronics, I have to wonder... who it is that is lacking coping skills, child or adult? We grew up in a world where staring out the car window was as good as it got, and nobody I know ever died from boredom or was murdered by their parents for being an annoyance while they were driving. We all managed. Very well, actually.

Today's plugged in world is a house of cards; the more reliant we become on machines to give us directions, correct our spelling and entertain our children, the less capable we become of doing any of these things ourselves. But I also think that the constant experience of immediate gratification is dulling us to our own possibilities. The access we have to wish fulfillment at our fingertips due to the internet -- music, movies, books download in a minute, Amazon Prime delivering the goods in two days, and yes, even interactive porn on command -- satisfies our external cravings while our internal light grows dimmer. But patience is not only a virtue, it is a necessity for soul growth and self-reliance.

Spending time alone with ourselves, spending time without whatever it is we THINK we want -- it actually builds our confidence and helps us to discern what our true desires are, versus that quick-fix-retail therapy kind of "want." We have ALL become a little like Veruca Salt in "Willy Wonka," singing "I Want It NOW" and forgetting how much we already have inside of us. But when we plug back into ourselves, we are able to realize that while we may be getting much of what we "want," we have been lacking what we really need: a relationship to self that makes sense and nurtures us no matter what the external circumstances. When we learn to want to be with alone with ourselves, we learn that we have all we need.