The toy department seemed busier than usual as I maneuvered my cart around a corner and made my way down the last row of toys. This was a shopping trip that had been long awaited. Scott, almost four years old, had received an invitation to a friend's birthday party, and he was eager to help select the gift.
''There!'' he yelled. ''Let's get that fire truck for Ryan's birthday present.''
He grabbed it from the shelf, and together we made an inspection. Real flashing light. Adjustable ladder. Heavy duty. On sale for $3. I nodded, adding that it would be a fun toy for any four-year-old.
''I want one too, Mom,'' he said.
I pondered the gnawing temptation to buy one for him as well. It was a clever toy, and the price was so reasonable. Couldn't he have one, too?
''We'll get our groceries first,'' I said suddenly, setting the two fire trucks back on the shelf.
We swerved out of the toys into the groceries, and I wondered if I was just magnifying a minor problem. What was one little $3 toy, anyway? But it wasn't near his birthday, and Christmas was months away. ''We'll get you one, too,'' I could say to him. ''You're always such a good boy for me in the grocery store.'' But why did I need an excuse? I love him. Of course he could have that truck!
My mind had been made up, yet the concentration that was usually directed at the best buy was diverted again and again to that little fire truck. I played with the idea that my children were growing up too fast - it seemed as if I sometimes had no control at all over their destinies. I wanted to give them everything they wanted because they were slipping too quickly through my parental grasp. And I wanted them always to have the very best.
But lately I saw things about our children that bothered me - especially our oldest, because he could communicate so well. ''I don't like those new pants,'' he had recently objected. ''There's no zipper!'' Other times he would step on his books or even toss a toy across the room. Was he losing respect for possessions because we were trying to satisfy too many requests?
I remembered a mother who had complained to Ann Landers that her daughter often received several presents from one grandmother. The columnist advised having the daughter choose one gift and donate the rest to a charity. So I wasn't the only parent who was aware of the potential danger. Many kids obtained so much that they often didn't appreciate it. Too often they had experienced only a minimal amount of desire and effort for something, and then suddenly it belonged to them.
I realized how it all tied together when I thought of my junior high days. Some of the girls came to the ''sock hops'' with new outfits every week, while I and other friends wore the well-used clothes we had proudly acquired with our hard-earned ''blueberry picking'' money. We all picked blueberries with more determination the following summer, and consequently felt a growing sense of accomplishment.
I recalled, too, my mother once commenting on a famous actor's suicide. ''They say he just got too much, too fast,'' she had said, shaking her head sadly.
We went back to the toy department. Our cart stopped again by the fire trucks. I took one for Ryan's party and headed for the checkout lanes.
''I want one, too!'' Scott said.
I flinched for a moment. ''Sorry, Scott. Not today.''
''But I want one! Please!'' His arms stretched out toward the toy department as though he were making his last attempt to grab on to a life preserver.
It would have been easier to give in, but I couldn't. This incident was a painful act of love I would have to work at a lot harder in the future. I knew I was right. Still, it wasn't easy to accept his look of disappointment. Especially for a mother who wanted her children always to have the very best.