The souvenir dilemma

Children and the souvenir dilemma
I'm back in Sydney after taking my older son to China to participate in the Montessori Model United Nations. Seeing children aged 9-15 learn about issues facing the world, learn about other countries and come to a conference prepared to give a speech, participate in informal and formal consultation and negotiate draft resolutions with children from other countries was an uplifting and fascinating experience. The organisers have provided an inspiring space for children to step into a new level of interaction with others from around the world. It was evident to the parents and teachers that children have an amazing capacity to contribute and some of their ideas add new shades of colour to debates. 

Alongside the conference, we took the time to join friends touring Shanghai and Hangzhou. And here we hit a question for the ages: how do you manage the excitement and enthusiasm of a child who wants to buy souvenirs for his brother when you, as an adult and one whose passion is to help people reduce clutter and reduce waste in general, know that these souvenirs are unlikely to last beyond a few days? While I would have loved to limit the choices to something more sustainable, there is also a cost to curbing the natural generosity in a child who thinks and feels deeply. And so, we struck a compromise: he could choose two 'fun' items at the marketplaces like his friends were doing, and we would also take Chinese-style silk pyjamas for both him and his brother. 

Seeing my boys reunite after ten days apart was heartwarming and beautiful. Naturally, stories were shared at a million miles and neither could talk fast enough to let the other know about his adventures. The souvenirs came out to great delight and the younger brother shone with excitement that his big brother had chosen things just for him - a souvenir pocket watch from Shanghai (this was the prime souvenir many kids took home from China) and a small panda key ring for his back pack. 

Two days. Three days. That is how long each lasted. Two days before the second hand fell off inside the casing of the pocket watch, preventing the hour and minute hands from turning. We tried to remove the back to fix it, but alas it is not designed for repair. Two days of excitement before it turned into tears and sadness for much more than a pocket watch - sadness for the loss of something chosen just for him by a big brother who went away for such a long time (in his eyes) and chose something special while he was away. 

Three days before the stitching split on the panda and the stuffing started poking through. This I could repair and it's been stitched, but without any material to spare in the making of the toy, there was not a lot to do except pull the sides together and sew it up so it's now shaped a little differently to the original. 

And so, a question for you today: how do you handle the souvenir debate where children are involved? How much do you impose your standards, preferences and life lessons versus how far do you let children have the freedom to learn for themselves through the disappointments of first-hand experience?

I'd love to hear your stories.