Thursday, December 1, 2016
Presents With a Purpose
Here's what I mean:
In my house, Christmas often consists of carefully choosing one or two gifts for each child that are meaningful. After finding and purchasing those gifts, we then proceed to scour Amazon and Walmart for stuff to make our kids' gift piles look more impressive under the tree. Most of what we buy are things that our children don't really need or even want all that much. It's just fluff - filler. And then on Christmas Eve (Or Christmas Eve Eve) we sort everything into piles and worry that one child has too much and another child, not enough. We spend hours wrapping presents and neatly placing them under the tree in a way that will look impressive when the kids come down the steps and then we go to bed hoping to get 3 or 4 hours of sleep before they wake up and dive in. On Christmas day, the kids are exited to open their presents but often throw them aside without a second look, in anticipation of what might be in the next box.
When all the presents are unwrapped, the focus then switches to trying out as many of their new toys as possible in the limited time they have before we head out to visit extended family. Many packages are opened and items are given a few minutes of attention before they are once again abandoned. Our children don't have a lot of stuff but we have a lot of children, which means that there is a lot of stuff in total. So we never have enough space for all their new gifts and everything has to go back under the tree until we figure out where to put all the new presents. Most of the items don't ever find a permanent home because they were cheaply made and my children are hard on them. By New Years Day, we have usually thrown away quite a few of their presents because they were broken by the recipient or a sibling. By the end of January, half of what remained is also gone leaving the initial items that were so thoughtfully chosen and a few, sturdier toys.
In the month that follows Christmas, we reprimand our children daily for not taking better care of all the items that they didn't actually want or need, as we throw them in the trash. We feel that our children are ungrateful for the hard work and sacrifice that went into acquiring all of these gifts. And they are. They're children. They don't really understand and appreciate what went into "making Christmas happen" because they have never lived it. In their eyes they were good; they made the nice list; they deserve these presents like we deserve our paycheck for working hard. And just like money passes through our fingers each week, these gifts too, are temporary.
But what if they weren't? What if we could give our children gifts that lasted a lifetime? What if we could give them more than a big pile of stuff? Because, here's the thing: I'm not opposed to my children having great memories of waking up and coming down the steps to a pile of gifts under the tree. I'm opposed to that being the only good memory that comes out of it. My kids don't need stuff. They need experiences. They need memories that will have a positive, lasting impact on their lives. They need time with the people they love doing things they will remember. They need presents with a purpose - gifts that will help them become more well rounded adults.
I want my kids to receive books and boardgames, snow pants and sleds, compasses and cutting boards, ballet tickets, zoo passes, and the promise of shared experiences. My kids like opening presents, but they cherish time spent having fun with the people they love so much more. I can see it in their smiles and hear it in their voices when they can't stop talking about their backpacking trip with Chanda, or the movie they saw with Grandma, or getting Jimmy Johns with Uncle David, or playing with the baby goats at Aunt Sherry's farm with She-She & Papa. They might not all be able to express it, but the thing kids want most is for the people they love to invest in them and the things they love. And I'm not just talking about my children. I'm talking about all children.
This year, as you wander the store in search of the perfect gift for your child, look for things you can do together. Make plans as you shop. Give them a fishing pole with the promise of trying ice-fishing. Buy them books they will love and make a plan to ask about it, maybe even read it yourself. Get passes to a zoo, or aquarium, or science center and spend time planning a special day with them. Buy them a pair of boots and promise to help get them dirty by taking them to explore a new patch of wilderness. Our kids are never going to appreciate most of the stuff we give them. But they will appreciate the memories we make with them. This Christmas, lets not just give kids presents. Lets give them memories!