Thursday, January 15, 2009


This post has been floating around in my head for a while now. Even though I'm still not sure I can adequately articulate the humble of thoughts I've been unraveling, an incident today has it spilling out.

Out of nowhere this afternoon, Scooter started in on a particular toy he needed. And it wasn't even that he wanted it for his birthday. He wanted it today. Logic--that toy isn't made anymore; regardless of whether or not it still exists, we couldn't get it today; regardless of all that, we weren't just buying him a toy and he didn't have enough of his own money to buy it--could not calm him in any way, and we found ourselves facing a larger meltdown than we've seen for a while.

The standard take on such meltdowns almost always include some riff on the "spoiled only child" theme. (I'm waiting to see if this will be what pushes me into tears at the next IEP meeting, as I weepily yell that this is not by design. Anyway...)

But this is not simply an issue of having a male Veruca Salt. Sure there are plenty of times that he wants something and then pouts when he doesn't get it. With incidents like today's, however, there's a different undertone, an urgency and anxiety that feels different than simple desire. I think I understand this, but I'm not sure how well I can convey it to people who don't regularly experience this.

I generally frame the fact that I have become more reflective of my purchases as an environmental issue, a desire to consume less--and it is. Yet in many ways, that I have reduced general acquisitions is more amazing because it signifies my ability to talk myself out of the compulsion to collect. While I have never been a full-blown packrat, I have a very hard time letting go of anything and usually feel a need to have more.

More specifically, this tends to manifest as a need to fill out collections. It can be ridiculous stuff, like toys from a fast-food restaurant that form a series. Even now, when I look at the little brochures that come with Legos and Playmobils, I can't help but think, "This set would be great, and then we could get this, which means we'd need this other thing, and then..." As an adult, I can quickly see that my thoughts are ridiculous and quell them before they fully set, but Scooter isn't quite there yet.

This sort of frantic, desperate need for things is not just about wanting the item in question, but rather a manifestation of anxiety. Obtaining a desired object creates some order in an otherwise frustrating and uncertain world. Stuff is concrete; it will still be there even when other things do not happen as expected. It can be rearranged, put in order, put away, brought back out. More anxiety, get more stuff.

If only it were that simple.


Team Serrins Springfield said...

I think it's a very interesting thing: this melt-down over a thing. I think in our family, that all the melt-downs really narrow to one cause (besides hunger that is): lack of control. The melt-down could come from a toy that he can't have (not usually) or wanting to hold the IPod or change the channels or go/not to to the store. Even Pablo's issues with noise seem to have more to do with the fact that he can't control someone else flushing the toilet or a firetruck or a loudspeaker than the noise itself. So if Scooter's like Pablo in this, then it kind of makes sense. He wants to have control over getting the toy and not only does he not have control but you're not going to give it to him artificially either. I kind of think that at this age, that can be a hard wall to smash into. You know?

Oh, while I'm thinking about it, can you e-mail me the link for that third blog you were going to start?

Bea said...

Hubby has that trait - the mildly compulsive need to complete a collection. Bub hasn't moved on to the acquisition phase yet - for him it's all about continued possession of an object in his hands. In fact, a pretty reliable gauge of his anxiety at any given time is how difficult it is to get him off to kindergarten without bringing any toys or stuffed animals from home. And I know EXACTLY what you mean about that tinge of desperation that has NOTHING to do with being spoiled.

Mouse said...

With Scooter, the need for control is not conscious or even the main motivation. He needs to exert some control over his environment as a way to deal with anxiety. Trillian and I agree that he has been more anxious lately, and that's where the meltdown seemed to originate.

I've had a funny resurgence of this in myself. Scooter has been trading Legos with a friend at school. My first thought when he started to do this was concern over him giving away unique pieces, because then certain sets would not be complete. Never mind that we've surely lost a number of such pieces anyway. Purposely giving them away was almost more than I could bear. And they're not even my toys! I've been able to recast this as a positive social thing (look, he's willing to give special pieces to his friend and he receives new, different ones in return), which lessens my own anxiety a little.

Lisa b said...

wow. that is such a fascinating explanation.
I think I've got a little of the ocd myself and as I've gotten older I've been better able to manage the pack rat thing/obsession with things.
but this explains a lot....

Aliki2006 said...

L. has always been like this. The *need* for something manifests itself almost like the need for a fix for some addicting drug. He'll perseverate and perseverate over it, his mind turning in circles around it, until he either gets it (and the "itch" is scratched) or he doesn't, and a meltdown ensues. It is an anxiety/control thing, I thinl.

b*babbler said...

I can't adequately explain how this touched a nerve with me, but suffice it to say that I felt that fluttering in my stomach - the awareness of recognition of yourself as seen by someone else.

"More specifically, this tends to manifest as a need to fill out collections. It can be ridiculous stuff, like toys from a fast-food restaurant that form a series."

Yes, this example, and so many others. And I feel the pull and yet realize I don't want this for my daughter. And how to calm or suppress this in myself so as to not pass it along.

Mouse said...

b*babbler--This still hasn't left me, but I've been able to develop a mindfulness about it. It actually started from my environmental desire to be more considerate in my consumption, but it means I really think about purchases and if I *need* them. Now I'm working on how to help Scooter with this, and I think I may go the environmental route with him as well. Not that there won't be other ways this can manifest itself, but maybe it'll be a start.

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