“In life one must decide whether to conjugate the verb ‘to have’ or the verb ‘to be.'” Franz Liszt- (1811-1866) virtuoso pianist, teacher, composer

It’s a hot and sticky day in Chicago. After a dip in the pool my grandkids decide that we HAVE to go to the Field Museum right now! We grab a bunch of veggies and run to the bus stop.

The kids are bubbling with excitement.

“I am extremely happy that we get to ride two buses!”

“I am extremely happy that I just decided to go to the Field Museum, and now we are going!”

The experience of riding buses in a city with two little grandkids is incredibly awesome. Every moment is interesting. We spend an hour full of surprises, meeting people, looking out the window, talking, drawing and thumb wrestling before we arrive at the museum.

As we walk through the big glass museum doors, we encounter that inevitable little cloud of desire….

“Susan, you know, there is probably a place in here where you could get us a little something.”

I take a deep breath, “Remember, we already talked about how we are coming here to be together and explore. Not to buy things?”

We set the groundwork at the beginning of the summer. Of course, I had bought them presents on my grandson’s birthday and their very first Art Institute visit. We decided that those were probably the only presents for the summer.

But even as adults it is really hard to resist. You look into their adorable faces and find yourself thinking a “little something” would be fun. What can it hurt? It’s all too easy to fall into the consumerism trap. Billions of marketing dollars are spent nurturing the expectation in kids that a given piece of fun family outings is always, what do I get?

A giant Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton named Sue greets us in the first huge museum hall. How awesome is that?

Susan & Sue

Susan & Sue

There is so much to see and do. On our way to an exhibit full of glow-in-the-dark creatures my two darlings spy a bin-o-dinosaurs strategically placed by the retailers so that they are right on our way to everywhere. Aaargh! growls Sue under her breath.

“Susan! Look there are these cute little tiny dinosaurs, and they are only $1!

Dinosaur marketing

Dinosaur marketing

Well, I hate to admit, even with all I know and how I feel…they are terribly cute, so colorful, and only $1. I say I’ll think about it.

After 20 minutes of  glowing bugs and fish, the little one says ” This is starting to creep me out. Let’s get outta here!” Squinting into the light, giant Totem poles catch their eyes.  I see on the map that close by there is a real Pawnee Earth lodge. I look up and once again the kids are fondling green and blue baby dinos, “So, you said you would think about it. What do you say?”

I almost cave when their mom’s face pops into my consciousness, “Thanks a lot Susany boo-zany! Just what we need in this house. More little plastic things to pick up off the floor!”

With kind firmness I say, “I decided no. We’re here to do things together, not buy stuff.”

Being together is very important. Exploring the world is very important. Taking the time to find your passions and understand who you are is very important. Who you are, and not what you have, is important. It’s important for us to be conjugating “to be” and not “to have.”

Inside the lodge we become Pawnees sleeping on cozy bison skins and cooking dinner with carved wooden utensils, bowls and spoons made from horns. We spend a long time playing. Everything in this highly functional home was created from nature without any waste. Not a single thing was bought.  There was a beautiful drum and shakers made from gourds all decorated with beads. Natural vibrant colors and creative designs graced the instruments, baskets, clothes and pottery.

On the bus ride home, B has a question, “Did you get me a birthday present Susan?”

“Sure, we were at the Botanic Gardens. We were so busy you kept forgetting it was your birthday!”

“Oh yeah. That was the first time we met Lisa and watered plants at the children’s garden.”

“And played hide and seek at the Cove and hugged our favorite tree, the old Weeping Beech”

“Yes! Do you remember the little presents you chose?”

Of course, they had forgotten the much-loved train and duck from that day. We laughed. I asked them if they knew where those things are now. They had no idea, and haven’t played with them much since the first day.

Since the discussion door opened again, I gently walked in, “That’s kind of what I mean about being and doing rather than buying and getting stuff. The really important thing is what we do together. Having the time to talk, meet people, see things and be with each other.”

That night Mom loved that they played “bus” for a long while…. and that nothing new was added to pick up off the floor.

© Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013