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Monday, December 24, 2012

the reason for the season

There is something I want to tell you about! I am SO excited to tell you because it has meant so much to our holiday traditions and I'm hoping it might mean something to other people as well.

As individuals and parents we always try (and maybe partly succeed) to practice and teach generosity and giving during the holiday season.  We've always given baked goods to our friends and neighbors.  In the past when we could afford it, we have bought gifts for needy families.  We always donate to some sort of cause at Christmas and we try to be extra generous in any other ways we can find (not necessarily with money, but maybe with time.)

At the start of the Christmas season, we were reading one of the kids' holiday books to them one night.  It is about a turtle who is supposed to donate a "gently used" item to his school toy drive.  He goes home and goes through his toy chest only to happily reacquaint himself with all his old toys. He finds a rusty truck he think he can part with.  All his toys are too special to him.  Then something happens (a real plot twister) and he realizes that nothing is special enough to give to someone in need.  He then decides to give away his most beloved toy.

After we read it we said to the girls, "Do you think you would be willing to go through your toys and find something you don't play with anymore that a child with no toys might like to have this Christmas?"  There was a resounding, "NO!" from both of them.

Sandi and I were beyond disappointed and wondered where this lesson had been lost in all the dog-earring of the American Girl catalog and asking for the correct spelling of words so that Santa wouldn't misread their letters to him.  Sandi came up with the idea to empty their room of ALL of their toys when they went to school and hide them.  She figured that might may them rethink their level of gratitude and generosity. 

Turns out such drastic measures weren't needed (and I could save myself hours of work) because the girls came around.  Ella had some ideas (stingy ones, but ideas nonetheless) of things she could give and they were moving in the right direction.  Then I approached them about donating their play kitchen- a large, plastic structure that has been in and out of the eves and most recently collecting dust in our upstairs hallway.  Somehow, some way, they said yes.

We found a place to donate it (to a little girl) and the girls and I set to cleaning it up.  We gathered up all the plastic food and only gave the undamaged pieces.  Then, in an act of enormous charity, the girls each picked one of their 145,000 stuffed animals to give away as well. 

It was a proud moment for this mom.

We have really scaled back Christmas this year, what with the whole no income for another 11 months. We have bought very few gifts (mostly the girls) and none for each other.  We skipped the 150 photo cards and corresponding storage. We are focusing on quality time spent and celebrating the love of the season.  We've had meals with friends and family (and an overnight with Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and Noah) and our house has been a revolving door of people coming to eat and hang out.  For Christmas with my family, we have the kids make gifts for each other and we play games.  The focus is on the time spent together and not on the gifts we give.  I feel like, even if we had tons of money this year, this is exactly what I want to be teaching our very lucky, over-abundant-in-stuff, children.

This year as a total bonus we got to help out in a day of good deeds with an amazing group of people.  We started the day at breakfast leaving an enormous tip for a hard-working waitress working her tale off in a bit of a dive.  We gave out gift cards to adults, stuffed animals to kids, quarters at the laundry mat.  We helped people at the dollar store pay for their orders. We bought people coffee. (And all of this was possible by lots of money donated for this cause.)

To say it was incredible doesn't do it justice.  The kids got really into it.  People gave them hugs, thanked them and even wept in gratitude.  For me, this was one of the very best things I have ever done at Christmas.  It will become a must-do every year.  And in future years, when money isn't so tight, I will make this my December practice to do a good deed each day.  It felt amazing and I can't think of a better way to concretely teach our children.

Alex and Maya getting ready to spread some joy.
And to really drive the point home, on Friday, Sandi's parents took the girls for the afternoon to shop for needy families.  (Did you hear that?  ALL afternoon.)  The kids picked out things the kids in the families needed and some things they wanted (toys) and then they wrapped all the gifts.   I was so proud to have them have yet further experiences this holiday season of giving, more than receiving. 

It doesn't stop the girls from asking things like, "Are there more gifts to open?" but we are working hard to teach them to be graceful receivers and generous givers.  This year marks a year of progress and we take it.  After all, Ella said to her grandparents, "It just isn't fair that some people don't have enough."  Perhaps she's starting to understand how lucky she is.

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