One of the first memories I have of a high school trip I took to Italy is that of a girl I had yet to meet screaming at her mother over the phone in the lobby of our hotel. Apparently her traveller’s cheques hadn’t arrived and she had plans to go shopping. After a five-minute, extremely public barrage of parental abuse, I watched her scribble down a credit card number, and off to the shops she went. Because what parent wouldn’t want to give their child cash after being told they were a useless piece of crap?
Aside from making the mental note that if I had pulled that on my own parents I’d be dry heaving on a plane home faster than she was able to jot down that AMEX number, I specifically remember wondering how, with the glorious Roman cityscape just steps outside our door, that girl’s biggest concern was the immediacy with which she needed to buy a horrifying tube dress she would wear to dinner later that evening.
Not long after that incident, I realized there were two kinds of kids on this trip: the ones who signed up to appreciate it and those who were there because their parents wanted the summer off, and travel and money and luxury were as common to them as the McDonald’s McNuggets they opted to eat over the impossibly delicious Italian fare.
My parents have always had this philosophy that overindulging your children is one of the worst things you could do as a parent. It’s something that was hammered into my head growing up. And while my mom and dad are not professional authorities on parenting, I can confirm from experience that they had a point.
As a child, I seriously believed my family was going down the road to bankruptcy. I was denied virtually every popular trend, from
heavily logoed Tommy Hilfiger windbreakers to amusement park season’s passes. Well, that and my mom would threaten to sell the dog if I didn’t walk it every day. In reality, they were just trying to teach me about value. “You’ll thank us when you’re older,” my parents would say. “If we give you everything now, what will you possibly have to look forward to and appreciate when you grow up?”
Hence why they waited until I was in my late teens when I had a steady part-time job as a frizzyhaired video store sales clerk before providing me with the opportunity to travel Europe. They wanted it to mean something—something more than just another gift I was accustomed to receiving. So that when I stood for the first time in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice, the experience would actually resonate—unlike Tube Dress, who opted to spend her Venetian visit scouring the city for drugs and wondering when the bus planned on leaving “this stinky ghetto.”
On the one hand I resented that girl. Not only was she spoiled as all hell, but she also had really bad taste in music and perfume— ladies, extreme amounts of cake batter–scented anything is not OK. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Somewhere down the line she was given so much that she lost track of the true value of things. The Italian countryside now meant as much to her as the Gucci snakeskin-patterned bikini she bought to wear under her sarong for our day trip tour of Assisi’s oldest churches.
In an age where overindulgence seems to be the norm, I can’t help but look back and feel thankful that my parents chose to hold out on giving me everything that I wanted growing up. They were right. It has in fact taught me to appreciate all the gifts that have come my way that much more profoundly. And subsequently, it’s also afforded me the luxury of knowing what it feels like to treat myself to such experiences. Wise people, my parents. Either that or they were cheap and lucked out. Regardless, it worked.