The season is here and once again I am struggling with the what to buy our children for Christmas. Children who have all they could ever need. Games and books, bikes and scooters, skates and soccer balls, cell phones and an ipod touch or two (much to the annoyance of my youngest who does not own either), even a very cool play gym.
Of course these children would disagree that they have everything they need. Our oldest, 16, needs a new camera and a laptop. (Oh and a new solo dress for Irish Dancing but "that isn't really a Christmas present is it?!") Our middle one, 13, needs a Northface fleece (note the name brand) and a remote control helicopter. Our youngest NEEDS (I repeat NEEDS) a cell phone or an ipod touch..oh, and a playdough factory (selected by her older sister, so it is debatable who really "needs" this).
So how does one juggle the desires of their children, the "dreams of sugar plums" (or at least the modern equivalent of these), even our own wish to have happy faces on Christmas morning against our job as parents to "raise them right". To instill in them the same core values we were raised with forty years ago? That is: it is more about the fact that they have clothes on their backs, than what brand name those clothes are. That less is more when it comes to gadgets and gizmos. That we can't have everything we want and that there is in fact a fundamental difference between a want and a need. Even, that some things we really do need can end up on our Christmas list due to budgetary constraints.
And of course intertwined in this are my own wants for Christmas. My daughtersare already asking me "what do you want for Christmas mom?" Do I tell them my wants (a smartphone, a weekend away to refresh, refuel and write, a pedicure) or my needs (new baking tins, a pair of warm gloves)?
All these thoughts played back and forth in my mind as we made our way through the frigid morning to school. It didn't help that my dear husband's car had had an unfortunate meeting with the snowy rotary on Wellington Way which was going to skew our budget by a hefty sum. (As a Yankee from New England you would think that he would know how to use one of those things, let alone how to drive in the snow, but there was some story about wanting to run a few "quick" errands.) It didn't help that our washing machine was smoking this weekend. It didn't help that all I could think ofwas the disappointed face of my eight year old as she scanned the gifts set by the fireplace and realized that mom was right - Santa does not give phones and "itouches" to children.
It did help that Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas" was playing on Mix-mas. Just as a refresher, this is not the one about the missing two front teeth. All my kids have their front teeth finally, and hopefully they will hold on to them! Rather it is the oft-heard song in which Carey rejects decorations and gifts in favor of her true love.
This got me thinking again about what is most important in life, and how to present that message to my children while still honoring their childlike fantasies about Christmas. Yes, I want them to see the discord in their world and the need to work to resolve it for the good of mankind. Yes, I want them to be aware of the less fortunate and work to discover their own role in reaching out to "the least of these". Yes, I want them to think about the social, economic and environmental inequities in our world and imagine how to turn them around. But, I also want them to be children too. Children who go to bed with the sweet spirit of Christmas in their hearts and who wake to the knowledge that there is something special, given with love, under their tree.
So I devised a plan. A somewhat sneaky plan. A plan that has left them thinking but also still able to dream. A plan that only parents who know how to answer a question with another question can pull off. It goes like this:
13 year old: Mom what are you getting E (sister) for Christmas?
Mom: A home for all the homeless people in the world?
13 year old: No really mom, what are you getting her?
Mom: Come on, you know how she prays each night for them. Well this is what she would really want. How do you think we could accomplish just a little of this?
13 year old: Oh, and Mom, did I tell you I also want t-shirts for Christmas? Just plain ones, nothing fancy.
Mom: Okay! Do you think two hundred would be a good start? We could box them up and have them dropped into that village in Laos where the kids had barely any clothes.
16 year old: Mom you know what I want for Christmas?
Mom: World peace?
16 year old: No Mom, really! Have you read my list?
Mom: Yep, I have read it and I know from your lively political discussions with your father that world peace is something that you just forgot to put on your list. So I am reminding you.
8 year old: Mom, what do you want for Christmas?
Mom: I would love everyone who is cold in this world to have a set of flannel sheets like we do and if they are hungry to have food in their tummy. Don't you think that would be so wonderful.
8 year old: Yeeeessss. Let's ask God for that.
And under the tree this year, along with the gifts from Santa, will be a sponsorship in the name of each our child for something to better "the least of these". Perhaps a certificate for a box of dress up clothes for orphaned children in China. (www.halfthesky.org) Perhaps money for school books or daily supplies for impoverished children in Vietnam. (www.orphanvoice.org) Perhaps cans of food to fill empty bellies (www.godspantry.org). The list is endless, much like a child's Christmas list often is.