Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Size matters

Social pressure is difficult to endure, even for adults. We make much sacrifices so that, as Anglo-Saxons say, "to keep up with the Joneses". For children, it is even more difficult. Many years ago, before I had a family of my own, I walked in the city center with a friend who had. She stopped to buy for her son some bright-coloured, patterned socks that costed ten times more than ordinary socks. I questioned the purchase and she explained, "All children in his kindergarten wear patterned socks."
The 2006 Christmas party at my elder son's kindergarten was easy for the parents. We were asked to pay some money and employees used them to buy "Santa's" presents. Each child received some treats and a toy (in my son's case, a small plastic military car). However, in 2007 it was strictly forbidden for kindergartens to collect from parents any money other than the tuition fee, so we were asked to bring a toy and some treats in order to be given by Santa at the Christmas party.
Because I didn't want to go long distances with the baby, I was confined in my choice to what could be found in the district. I liked most a metal model of a MIG-29 plane. Indeed, it was small (to be precise, 20 cm in its maximum lenght), but this didn't bother me, because the present at the 2006 party was also small and I thought this tradition would be kept.
However, my mother in-law who brought the present to the kindergarten told me nervously in the evening, "I saw other parents bringing such big parcels...". It was Dec. 14 and I still had time to take measures, but I left things as they were.
After the Christmas party at Dec. 19, my mother in-law picked the child from the kindergarten. She said, "The other children had such big presents that they were unable to lift them, so each child was accompanied on his way downstairs by an employee carrying the parcel. Only our boy was walking on his own. At one point, he wanted to go back up the stairs in order to meet and talk to Santa, as he said; but ultumately he came down, holding the bag with the treats in one hand and the little plane in the other."
"We must prepare for him big Christmas presents. They may be junk but apparently they must be big," said I when I heard the story. But I still couldn't realize the magnitude of the disaster. Instead of supplying a big present immediately, I was going to wait until Christmas.
Dec. 21 was the last school day before the holidays. As my mother in-law brought my son from kindergarten, I said happily, "Indeed, this term was shortened because of the teachers' strike, but still it is remarkable that he didn't miss a single day because of disease!"
There is a superstition that if you say such a thing, you are pulling the devil's tail. Next morning, my son awakened at 6 AM with a fever of Celsium 39.1. His cheeks and ears were bright red. He talked much better than usually, saying perfect sentences in a row, "Switch off the lamp!," "I want to drink water," "My throat aches." After we brought his fever a little down, he curled in his bed, saying "nice bed" and "doctor", apparently reminding us that he must see a doctor. Then he said, "present". I brought him the plane but he threw it aside with disdain. I promised to bring him another present and left the room. My mother in-law heard from him a last remark, "A small present, right?".
After completing the urgent tasks (seeing a doctor, buying the prescribed antibiotic and giving him the first dose), I left both children with their Grandma and went to seek a present. I chose a plastic toy bicycle. It costed only EUR 2, much less than the plane, but was bigger - maximum length 33 cm (no joke, I've just measured it). My son appreciated it. He said many times, "nice present". He even tried to ride it.
When I told my mother the story, she said, "You were right! The other parents are parvenus. At home, they may put under the Christmas tree presents as big as half the room, if they like. But it is bad manners to bring gigantic presents at kindergarten."
I hope she is right, but still I couldn't feel happy.

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