It is fascinating to observe the development of language in a child.
At 2 1/2, my grandson is at the stage where he is coming up with a new word or phrase almost every day. We must be careful how we speak. Cautious in the choice of words. Because we will hear them mimicked back to us in ways and at times we least expect. James is a little sponge, soaking up every slip of the tongue, every misspoken word.
An interesting dilemma is faced at this point: If a child misunderstands the nuance of language used around him, how do you straighten it out for him? Since the development of vocabulary is in its infancy, which other words do you use in your explanation? It seems a little like looking up a word in the dictionary, only to find it defined by other words you don’t know.
For instance, one of James’ favorite phrases these days is, “I need it.” (He likes “MINE!” a lot, too.) The problem is that he uses it on occasions when, “I want…” or “I would like…” would be more appropriate. Our efforts at making the distinction have been fruitless so far. Think about it. How do you explain the difference between “want” and “need” to a two-year-old?
He might be sitting at the table, eating a p.b. and j. sandwich, when he calls me: “Mimi, I need some berries! I need them.” Or, more likely, “I need candy!”
He could be watching Mickey Mouse on his little DVD player, when he calls me back into the room: “Mimi! Mimi! Come here, Mimi! I need Pinochi(n)o!” (Or “Stoystory.”)
The most urgent needs, however, have to do with the amazing collection of STUFF that James now carries around with him like a ball-and-chain of toddler materialism.
If we’re just going from his house back to mine (10 feet apart from each other), he has to go through this frantic amassing of items to take on the trip. It’s like he’s being deported.
It started with a little lunchbox full of toy cars and trains. Then other items found their way in. Say the prize from a Happy Meal, a petrified French fry, and a dirty toothbrush. The lunchbox was soon outgrown. Next, he took over an old diaper bag. Larger items, such as stuffed animals, a blankie, and a flashlight were added. Then he advanced to a laundry hamper. You might find a ball, an Etch-A-Sketch, and one of your own long-missing shoes in that piece of luggage.
We took away the laundry basket and the diaper bag. Now it’s back to the over-packed (and extremely heavy) lunchbox in one hand; Cat in the Hat, blankie, Elmo, and a DVD or two in the other.
Remember: This is just to go next door.
You should see us on a car trip.
Of course we try to deal with it. “No, James, you can’t take all of this stuff with you. You don’t need it.” But “I need it! I need it!” he cries, as I try to wrest Elmo away. We usually come to some sort of a compromise. But it takes time and energy. Sometimes it’s quicker and easier just to let him cart all of his baggage around with him.
Now that I think about it, that’s kind of the way I am, hauling junk back and forth from coast to coast. It’s as hard for me to distinguish want from need as it is for James. To save the time and energy involved in discriminating selection, I just throw it all in the suitcase in a haphazard way. ‘Cause I might need it.
So many things I think I need.
I hear myself saying…hear others say…
“I need to get a manicure.” “I need a new dress for the wedding.” “I need a vacation.” “I need some space.” “I need somebody.” “I need a new laptop…phone…Ipod…camera… whatever-gadget-I-bought-9-months-ago-that’s already-obsolete…” “I need a change.” “I need a raise.” “I need to raise some hell.” “I need a new house, car, T.V….body, face.” “I need a break!” “I need more, more, more.”
Like my grandson, I think many of us have seriously misunderstood the difference between need and want.
And we want many things that are not good for us. Not God's best for us. Once we attain them, they can become heavy burdens to carry...like a 30-pound lunchbox.
What do YOU need?
What do any of us really need?
In the end, it boils down to just one thing.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)