By Susie Cortright
We live in a teeny tiny house in a great and gorgeous, magical forest. I'm certain that our land is worth more than our home, which is furnished with books we love, pictures that make us happy, and some really awful red carpeting left over from Floyd, the man who single-handedly and with much care, built the place where we spend our lives.
Just walking into our home, you can't miss what we value…and it ain't the latest window coverings. Any kid of any age can come to eat, drink, paint, and glue right on my carpet with no fear whatsoever of spilling something.
We are careful and deliberate with the messages we send to our little ones over what's important in this life, and what is not. And so maybe you can imagine my revulsion at certain aspects of the holiday season.
Case in point, last Saturday afternoon: I was just settling in for a long winter's nap, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a screaming 3-year-old. "I want to look like Barbie. WAAAAAAH!" Once she had caught her breath, it made more sense. She had seen a commercial for some Official Barbie Dress-Up Gear.
I ached to yell back that we don't screech about "stuff," but instead explained to her that she already had all of those things, right down to the tiara, the wand, and the tulle-y skirt.
"But mine is pink! I want a blue one! WAAAAAAH!"
It sounded just like that: WAAAAAAH! Worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Well, the first thing we did was to turn off the TV, which brought the finesse and focus groups of Madison Avenue right into our living room, with all of their intimate knowledge of what would make our child holler in just such a way.
And then I got sad.
This has been something I've been thinking about for quite some time. Cassie is now 3, and this Christmas will set the precedent. She doesn't remember last December, so this year will shape her expectations for years to come.
And so I've made a few promises to help us prevent a sense of entitlement while helping us savor and instill the true spirit of the season. Perhaps it will help you, too.
This year I promise to:
Be wary of the mighty commercial
With all of our programming choices, this is an easy one. I'll just stay away from network television and its emphasis on the latest and greatest toy, opting instead for the commercial-free kids' shows on PBS and Noggin.
Think it through
"Fast forward" is a technique I just learned from Denise Roy's lovely book, My Monastery is a Minivan. When you are tempted to buy something, fast forward through the life of the item. In her book, Roy thinks she needs new candleholders. She imagines traipsing through the mall to find them, soon having to clean them, and then years down the road, packing them in the giveaway box. She shirks the purchase and comes home to remember the heirloom candleholders that are packed away right in her own home.
I like to play Roy's "fast forward" technique in reverse, too, asking: What did I buy everyone for Christmas last year? (Sometimes, I can't remember). Where are those "I have to have it" gifts now?
Remember that "giving" is not the same as "spending"
My theory is that the number on the price tag is inversely proportional to the child's enjoyment of the toy. The 3-dollar pack of plastic farm animals from Wal-Mart has gotten more use than all of Cassie's electronic gadgets combined.
Surrounded with the latest scientifically developed infant toys, 8-month-old Callie yanks off one of her socks, throws it in the air, giggles, then tries to eat it. It's great fun. And, even brand new, socks that size are about 16 cents apiece.
The theory holds true for me, too. My favorite gift-and the one I remember-from last year, was a framed close-up of Cassie. When I opened the gift, from my own mother, I burst into tears. I look at it every day and it never fails to make me glad and grateful. It was probably the least expensive present under the tree.
Simple is simply better. And there are all kinds of ways you can make a simple gift more meaningful. This year, I will record my prayers and wishes for the year to come, for each of my dear ones. Then I will tuck the message into their stockings. For one, I will write the message in red magic marker on plain wrapping paper, which conceals a particularly inspiring book. For another, the message will be its own gift.
Remember that shopping is not my favorite form of recreation
I can think of a lot of things I'd rather be doing with my kids than hanging out in a mall: Walking through the snow, ice skating, curling up on the couch with hot chocolate and a pile of children's books immediately come to mind. This year, I'll strive to get that message across. When we need something, we'll just go and get it. Then we'll do something fun.
For my gifts this year, I'll try to make sure my money goes where I want it to. There are lots of ways to do so: shop at websites that help artisans in developing countries (such as Serrv International); shop local stores and boutiques so my money stays in the community; shop online where a portion of the proceeds go to charity; make my own gifts and holiday cards and donate the money I save to charity.
If I do find myself in a mall, I'll make sure the emphasis is on giving. Most malls make it easy to turn the attention to those less fortunate, with Toys for Tots barrels and Salvation Army bell ringers. Some of you may have seen the Oprah show last week with the woman whose layaway debt at Wal-Mart totaled in the thousands because she bought so many gifts for needy children. She talked about growing up not having a simple doll, and so she dressed up a Coke bottle and pretended. Now, hundreds of kids will have something new and shiny under the tree because of her.
This year, I will take the opportunity to tell my girls about kids who don't have toys and try to help them understand that even something very small can help these children feel better about the world and their place in it. I will encourage them to go through our home and pack up toys for kids in need.
Remember who is in control
Sometimes, knowing that I'm not buying everything on the "hot list," a strange sense of guilt sets in, as though I'm not really in the Christmas spirit. I wouldn't characterize myself a paranoid person, but I have a feeling this is a manipulated and false emotion, deliberately set up by advertisers and their merchants to cash in on Christmas. This year, I won't let it.
I will not compete with anyone over the bottom line. I will not borrow money to pay for gifts, and I will remember that a feeling of guilt would be appropriate only if I gave in to my kids' every whim and purchased everything they want, for that is doing them a disservice.
Focus on the process
Do you remember "Christmas Day Letdown?" I do. No matter what kind of amazing things were wrapped under the tree, there was an inevitable, selfish, sinking thought of "Is this all there is?" after the last bow was bagged.
This year, each day we spend together will be the focus of the season. Each day will be an opportunity to share the true spirit of Christmas with our family and friends. When (and if) they look as though they wonder, "Is this all there is?" I'll make sure to let them know that it is not. That the holidays and what they mean can (if they wish it to be so) spill into every encounter, every day of their lives.
The Greatest Gift We Can Give
My greatest gift to my kids this year will be my resolution to instill in my children the joy of service and the sense of compassion that will infuse them with the spirit of the holidays the whole year through.
The best way to do so, I realize, is by embracing this way of life myself. And, because I believe in the power of books, I figure these selections can't hurt, either:
This year, I promise to surrender the burden of holiday shopping. I promise to let it go and replace it with the real spirit of the holidays. Family, fun, and celebrating the birth of one who stood for anything but hoarding gifts and one-upping fellow givers.
May this be a sweet surrender that immediately and completely infuses us with the real joy of the season.
That is my holiday wish for myself, my family, and for you.
© Susie Michelle Cortright
Susie Cortright is the founder of momscape.com and Momscape's Scrapbooking Playground -
http://www.momscape.com/scrapbooking. Join her scrapbooking club here:
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