A Shift in Focus This Christmas

“There are so many toys out, we can’t even walk across the room,” I said to my kids the other day, after stepping on what I swore would be the last block to pierce my bare foot ever again. “Time to pick up. Let’s start with this puzzle.”

My three-year-old responded with his new favorite word: “No.”

“No? Can you toss the pieces into the box like a basketball?” I countered. No. “…’Kaaay. Let’s count how fast you can do it!” No. “You’ll get a sticker for your chart if you just — “ Nope.

Out of tricks, the pleas turned into threats: “If you don’t start taking care of your toys and helping to pick up a little bit, I’M going to clean up with my GARBAGE BAG.” It was a tactic I had recently learned from a friend, and I was eager to see if it would work on my own brood.

“Okay, Mommy.” Record screeches. 

“WHAT? Okay?? You don’t care if I throw this puzzle away? This puzzle you LOVE?”

“No, throw it away,” he said, without even looking up from whatever other game he had started playing.

Flabbergasted, I realized he had called my bluff, and I now had no choice but to get rid of this perfectly good puzzle. I theatrically placed it in a garbage bag and awaited his tumult, but he was utterly unfazed.

With Christmas coming, I worry about the sheer quantity of STUFF that clutters our lives. We are so lucky to be able to afford all we can with three children, and lucky to have friends and family who have the means to spoil them. We have toys on rotation, toys that are forgotten about, clothes that go unworn because we have been given so much. It’s an admittedly good problem to have, but it makes me wonder how we can teach our children contentedness in a world of such abundance, where material items are completely expendable to them because they are always showered with more.

In time, I will introduce them to volunteering opportunities to show them how so many children go without, and how lucky we are to afford the privilege of being picky at dinnertime and complaining about overflowing toy boxes. At this point, though, they have no understanding of these concepts, despite my attempts to encourage their participation when we donate our things, contribute to food drives or buy Christmas gifts for less fortunate children.

But we do make efforts at keeping the entitled attitudes in check. I have no trouble saying “no” to my kids. We write thank-you notes to our friends and extol the virtues of giving. We praise them for sharing, and once something is broken or lost, it’s gone. Unfortunately, we can’t always control the messages the rest of the world sends our children.

For instance, there is an endless loop of toy commercials on kids’ programming to ingrain an insatiable want for more merchandise. So we turn off the TV and three toy catalogues arrive in the mail. We pitch the catalogues, and grandparents show up with more gifts than Santa. Am I crazy to fight it?

“NO TOYS THIS YEAR,” I told every member of our family. It was an idea I’d seen gaining popularity on several motherhood forums and from many of my friends who also have young children. Getting a toy (or multiple toys) from each person in both extended families is just way more than our kids will ever be able to use or appreciate. Beyond the few things Santa brings, I suggested magazine subscriptions, memberships to places they can enjoy all year, arts and crafts supplies, and books.

Meisterburger Mom, Christmas 2014

Meisterburger Mom, Christmas 2014

They aren’t born wanting all these things. I know this because I help them write their letters to Santa. My son asked for a star this year, after I spent a solid ten minutes trying to pull an answer out of him. (Also an elf, but not a real one, just a pretend one. Because let’s be honest, real elves are terrifying.)

I asked my daughter if she had been a good girl and what she’d like to ask Santa for, and I got so tired of probing that I just started writing down, verbatim, what she said:

image

All the girl wants is some QRSTUV. Why do we have to complicate things by inundating them with endless plastic imports (or, God help us, another stuffed animal) that will end up in the back of a closet three weeks from now?

There is so much more to Christmas magic than mountains of toys. We spend hours making snowman crafts and Christmas cookies and ornaments with their little handprints on them. We drink hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles, poring over stacks of Christmas books. We play “house” with the figures in our little Nativity set. We dance to Christmas music every night as I make dinner (sweet baby Jesus, the Bublé is SO GOOD this time of year).

Getting to spend Christmas with little ones is such a fleeting joy. Of course they should have some new toys and presents under the tree to go with the rest of the fanfare, but let’s collectively stop using this holiday to tell them how much more stuff they should want — and expect — particularly for the little ones like ours who have already been blessed with such an abundance. At the heart of Christmas is the celebration of a man who was willing to give everything for others. It’s only fair that we let that message shine through all the tinsel and lights, teach them how to share their love and all they’ve been given, and let them know that in that,* they already have everything they’ll ever need.

*And maybe sugar cookies. But that’s it!

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