Are we raising spoiled brats? Only time, and George Bailey, will tell
According to a quiz on Parents.com, my husband and I aren’t raising spoiled brats. But I stopped believing online quiz results after I was informed that if I was a classic ’70s rock band, I’d be the Eagles. So I need more assurance we’re doing enough to ensure our daughters won’t grow up to be adults who think it’s All About Them.
Christmas is a good time to show them how to think of others. When third-grade teachers at Lake Shore Elementary School adopted a family for the holidays, I signed our 9-year-old daughter up to bring in jeans and a shirt for a boy, and I took her and our 6-year-old daughter with me to buy the clothes. The newsroom adopts a family every year through the Salvation Army, and this year the family included a 7-year-old girl who loves to read, so I asked my oldest daughter’s advice on books. The girls have asked why they get presents when it’s Jesus who is having the birthday. That’s a good sign, right? But do they get too many gifts? Is getting presents from Santa teaching them that if they do everything they’re told they’ll always get what they want? These questions lead to a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down. Instead, I’ll use an easy way to measure whether our daughters grow up to be selfish adults: Will they one day tear up when Harry Bailey, home from the war, makes his toast to his big brother George at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life?” Or at least understand why I do?
A little specific, I know. Growing up, I remember my mother would always, after finishing the decorating and baking and shopping and wrapping, take a break to have a cup of tea and watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It took me years before I actually watched it. The fact that it is in black-and-white was a turnoff. Instead of the usual holiday cheer, it seemed pretty grim. This was definitely no John Denver & the Muppets.
And my mom knows how it ends. Why did she tear up, every single year?
I now have the same ritual. I watch it Christmas Eve, taking breaks to tend to the dough for Christmas morning cinnamon rolls.
In a 2000 essay for Time, Roger Rosenblatt perfectly captured what I love about the movie, and what I hope our daughters will appreciate too, one day. Rosenblatt started by asking, “Why has the film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ overtaken every other Christmas fable–including ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘Charlie Brown’ and the Grinch (with or without Jim Carrey)–as the story of the season?”
“As a tale of redemption, it is no better than so-so; the revelation that George Bailey’s world was better off with him in it has none of the social message or the moral urgency of Scrooge’s ghost-bed conversion. The angel-wing stuff is silly,” Rosenblatt wrote.
But you watch George always put other people’s needs first, and you see how that works out in the end. As Rosenblatt wrote, “Just when George thinks he’s alone in the world, the world shows up to declare its love for him.”
My husband doesn’t share my feelings about the 1946 Frank Capra classic — it took him years to get over the fact George never leaves Bedford Falls — but has stopped teasing me. On Wednesday night, he’ll make me a hot toddy and hand me the remote. When our girls inevitably ask why I’m watching this old black-and-white movie again, I’ll tell them that it’s about a very generous man who gets into trouble and, because he’s been so nice to other people, they help him out.
If they still don’t understand why I tear up when Harry shows up and declares his brother the richest man in town, well, hopefully one day they will.