Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is "Too Much" vs. "Not Enough"?

Frequently I find myself stuck in a quandary between not wanting to spoil Jacob, but not wanting to miss out either. He's only going to be this size for so long, so I don't want to put something off thinking it's too much money or too much work, only to have him grow up and realize how much we missed out on. I know that he's just a baby and in most cases won't know the difference either way, but still...I will know. And in some cases there may be photographic evidence. Take Jacob's first birthday, for example. We kept things pretty low key...basic cake, not a ton of decorations, modest gifts. He's only one and can't really appreciate it all, so why go over the top and spend a ton of money when it won't really mean anything to him? At the same time, he's only one once. When I look back at the pictures from his birthday, I'll admit I'm a little underwhelmed. His cake was a disaster (for a few reasons), but it's downright embarrassing compared to pictures I see online of cakes that other people created for their child's first birthday. Egg or no egg, maybe I should have sought out a cake maker that could do a great job despite the dietary restrictions. Maybe we should have bought Jacob better gifts (still useful, but better, like a walk & ride type toy). We can always get him stuff, of course, but again...considering he rarely spends more than five minutes with any given toy at any time, is it worth it? Would he be just as happy playing with a box? In truth...happy, sure...stimulated, not so sure.

I think a lot about this with clothes, as well. I know that Jacob won't fit in clothes for that long, and there's always a risk for stains, so I'm hesitant to go out and spend a bunch of money on clothes when I can go to Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl's or any variety of other places and get reasonably priced basic clothes. But then I look at some of the cute nicer stuff out there and wonder if I should dress him a little cooler from time to time. It's obviously less of an issue now than when he's older and there's peer pressure to dress a certain way, but still...will I look back at pictures and think that he looks like we shopped at Wal-Mart? Does it matter? Probably not. With nice clothes it'll be that much more painful when he grows out of them...but still, he's an incredibly cute kid that probably needs at least a small part of his wardrobe to match that.

But there are times I look back and think, yeah, probably should have done a little more there. Even when it comes to professional pictures...I've only done one set. In this day of digital photography, is it that important? The one time we did it I didn't love the pictures, and you're just hoping that when you schedule it you happen to have a happy kid who's not freaked out by the stranger with the camera. It's a risk and a lot of coordination for what may be a minimal payout. But maybe it's important to have those pictures...I don't know.

As we gradually pass through the phases of baby buying and can skip entire sections of baby stores now, sometimes I wonder if we missed anything completely that someday we'll feel bad about. Maybe it's something we'll fall into with child #2 and go, "Oh crap...is that bad that Jacob didn't do that?" Sometimes it's not going to make the most financial sense, but it's hard to know if ultimately it'd be worth it, be it for our memories or Jacob's enrichment. Sure, in theory it may be something that he won't entirely "get", but who knows? Maybe that one thing would end up resonating with him. For example, I hope to do a visit to a pumpkin patch this fall. Most of them aren't that cheap and Jacob may not really be able to grasp it all, but I think it's probably still worth doing because he may end up getting something out of it, be it the petting zoo or the pumpkin patch. His little brain is a sponge these days. Even if he's not using more words or hitting any obvious milestones, you can tell at certain moments that he's getting ever more aware of things and is on the cusp of big changes. And it's hard to know what's going to be worth doing or what's just foolish spending/effort at this stage.

Long story short, I have a hard time making decisions so I tend to put them off. But when you have a child that grows up so fast, it's easy to miss your window. And again, in most cases it probably doesn't matter, but my fear is that there will be a whole lot of "it doesn't matters" that could add up to one big "oops". I just don't want financial prudence or a "we'll do it next year" philosophy to turn into what appears to be a chronic lack of effort. I know the answer is somewhere in between--to stay conservative but make wise choices about the special stuff--but it's hard to know what's what sometimes. I know this is a bit of an abstract topic, but I just wanted to get it out there because sometimes it helps me figure things out. Hopefully I'll have something more fun to talk about next time...

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