Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Delayed Gratification

Dear Delayed Gratification,

Some say that you are a sign of maturity.  Being able to wait means that one is able to weigh choices and select the better one, not necessarily the faster one.  But grown-ups and children alike, we all struggle with the temptation of instant gratification. 

It was very interesting for me to watch Dear Daughter grasp the reward of delayed gratification.  She began to understand the difference between 'good-now' and 'better-later' around age 5 or 6.  Now that Dear Son is a few months shy of 5, I started wondering about his developmental progress on this psychological process.

There is no doubt that if I ask DD if she'd like to watch an episode of iCarly now, or two episodes after doing her homework, that she'd choose the latter with no hesitation.  DS, however, would mostly like have issues about questions of this sort, as he is a four-year-old that wants everything 'RIGHT. NOW'.

The other day, I decided to try a quick experiment on DS.  During afternoon snack time, I innocently asked him a question regarding his favorite thing in the world next to toys: candy.  I held up one finger and said, "Pick one: would you like to eat one piece candy now," and held up two fingers with my other hand, "or two pieces of candy after dinner?"  Overhearing this in the background, DD immediately answered, "I'd take the two pieces of candy after dinner."

But my eyes were fixated on DS, who began to show agitation as soon as I said the word "candy."  Then he realized that I just gave him a very hard question (for a 4-year-old).  He looked back and forth between my two hands, and then began to cry.  OH. THE. AGONY.  "Gen-u-wine" large drops of tears rolled from his eyes.  At first, he couldn't decide.  Then, he just flat out demanded to have two pieces of candy now.  I tried to restate the question to him, but to no avail.  All I got was more tears, more heartache, and more defiance.

Then his awesome big sister came to his rescue.  She offered a third choice to him: "How about you eat one now and one after dinner?"  With tears still in his eyes, and in the blink of an eye, DS changed his 'end-of-the-world' face to grinning from ear to ear.  And what expression do you think was on my face?  Um, yeah: you win; I lose.

For us grown-ups, delayed gratification is probably experienced on a much less agonizing scale, but still not without a price.  Dear Husband and I just faced our biggest challenge of delayed gratification (besides going through nine months of pregnancy, twice, to see the most precious beings in the world to us) -- we just planted tulips for the first time EVER.

You plant these bulbs in November, so that they can freeze underground and sprout 5 or 6 months later.  Talk about delayed gratification!  I bought a bag of 50 tulip bulbs from Costco, and DH bought me a handy-dandy tulip planter, a tool that digs out a cylinder-shaped chunk of soil to bury the bulbs underground.  Here's the part about paying a price: it took the two of us over an hour to plant them.  For something I won't even see for another half a year!  I couldn't dig the soil out as the ground was too hard, so DH stepped in to help.  He looked like he was jumping on a very short pogo stick in our yard (with a dulled, midget bounce and occasional rocking from side to side) for each bulb.  After unearthing a wire (we had no idea what it was), and being sweaty and winded from the planting (DH, not me), we were done.  These had better be some beautiful tulips come April or May.

But before I make too much fun of DS' candy experiment, I must admit that I am fully guilty of reeling in instant gratification because of one item I own: my smartphone.  Nowadays, practically everything is at my fingertips.  Everything is in 'push mode', or 'real time', or 'instant play'.  There is no more 'looking forward' to some computer online time at the end of the day.  It's there all day long, and there's no going back.  In fact, I recently turned off all my Facebook email notifications so that I am not being 'dinged' all day long.  But if you ever try to take away my smartphone, I will turn into an agonized, irritable, and howling four-year-old.  Guaranteed.

It is said that tolerating you, Delayed Gratification, means having better impulse control.  Well, I guess I have a lot to learn from DD, since occasionally, I sneak a piece of candy right before dinner time, when my tummy just needs a little something to tide me over...  But I promise I won't have another one after dinner.  Deal?



  1. oh i am such an instant gratification kinda person, delayed? what delayed? ha ha

  2. In my sociology class in college i remember vividly studying the difference between the middle class and upper classes and their mentality. Basically the lower the class, the higher the need for instant gratification. So I felt ashamed of wanting things now. Although I had very little back then, I still felt selfish. I promised myself I would learn to wait. Well I'm still waiting to learn to wait.

  3. Cocoa Chai, instant is so much more enticing, isn't it?

    Helen, very interesting sociology study! However, it could be also argued the other way... Also having had very little growing up, my desire for wanting things was constant, while those more fortunate than I could get what they wanted more quickly and easily. So while the need for instant gratification may have been higher, the ability to gracefully wait for wants by the less fortunate is better handled, don't you think?

  4. I have two daughters, 18 & 20. The oldest understands delayed gratification perfectly. The youngest could care less. She doesn't want more later. She would always choose less in order to have it right now. *big sigh*

    I worry about her sometimes but I have to admit she is full of fun and spontaneity. She enjoys every moment of her life, big or small and I would definitely never trade that part of her in for a more mature, responsible her later.

  5. Nari, what you describe seems to be very typical personalities by birth order. I know that my kids are like that, too, even though they are still young. But each is one's own. I am a first-born, and I lack that spontaneity that you describe in your younger daughter. Sometimes I wish I could be, just a little bit, more 'live by the moment', but sneaking a piece of candy before dinner is about as spontaneous as I can get. =)

  6. Oh that delayed gratification is hard, isn't it? We work on it all the time.... Gotta love the big sister to come to the rescue.

    Good luck with the tulips. I won't tell you about the squirrels by me who come dig them up and eat them. Or the chipmunks. Someone anyway....

    PS I saw your mini-muffin tin, and I'm jealous. I'm making mini choc chip muffins for a bake sale Friday, and I think I need to go get one!

  7. Michelle, I did NOT know about furry animals that would dig up tulip bulbs! I had thought to myself that if these don't bloom in spring, I would be LIVID!

    As for the mini muffin pans, I actually went and bought 2 more small pans -- ones that would fit into my steamer -- as I got a few more Chinese dessert recipes from friends after posting that Letter. I've tried one, and will share recipes after I bake the other one. I really LOVE my mini muffin pans, as if you cannot tell already. =)