Giving til it Hurts

Which do you prefer during the holiday season — giving or receiving?

I have a heightened sense of my spending during the holiday season. Toys for the kids, gifts for friends and family. It can all add up quickly. Add on charities and the desire to help others, and it becomes the time of year money seems to leave my pocket too easily. I love the joy the gifts bring to my loved ones, and how donations can help others, but do not necessarily look forward to the pending credit card statement that follows.

My oldest son decided he wanted to get a gift, with his own money, for his younger brother. He accompanied me to the mall so he could get some ideas. My youngest son is into geography and when we came across a map store we knew we wouldn’t leave the mall empty-handed. The store was filled with amazing gifts — maps of every country, globes, travel books, pictures, and more. It was a bit overwhelming. He decided to get his brother a map of Australia. My youngest has always shown an interest in visiting there. The map cost $25. There was a cheaper version of the same map, but the one he had chosen was lamented and would last for much longer. He took the map up to the counter, looked at me and said, “Am I really paying for this?” To which I responded, “Yes.” You could see his inner turmoil — wanting to get his brother something he would love, but struggling with parting with his money. He took a deep breath, pulled out his money and handed it over to the cashier. As we walked out of the store he leaned over and said, “That hurt.” “What hurt?,” I asked. “Spending that much money,” he replied. I understood what he meant, sometimes, even when we want to be generous, it can make us feel uncomfortable — especially when you’ve worked hard for the money and saved it over a long period of time as he had. We walked out of the store, and my son immediately headed to a sports store. He found a cap he wanted, went to the cashier without even looking at the price of the cap and had them ring him up. This time the total came up closer to $40. $40 for a cap? I thought. I would think twice before dropping that much money on a hat…it seems like a rip-off. Yet, my son was perfectly happy to part with that much money for it. I couldn’t help but contrast the two situations — one was about being selfless and giving, the other was about self satisfaction. One caused him angst and one didn’t phase him. Interesting.

When I was a child, I really liked getting gifts at Christmas. I didn’t learn about the joy of giving until I was a teen and finally had enough money to spend on others. I can remember saving up my money to buy my sister a leather jacket. It was expensive — way more than I could really afford (and wouldn’t have been able to without the concept of lay-away), but there was something that really drove me to get it for her: 1) I really wanted to see the surprise and joy on her face, and 2) prove to myself that I could buy gifts like this for someone else — and a thrill in my fiscal abilities. Wow, I was just able to figure out how to finance a nice present without going into debt. It felt great! I wondered what drove my son to part with his money. As an observer, it felt more like something he wanted to do, but he didn’t like the feeling of spending his hard earned money. Giving shouldn’t hurt, or give you pause or cause you angst. I do hope one day he’ll experience the joy in giving — and that parting with your money can actually feel good through and through.

Happy Holidays! I will be off for the next few weeks to spend time with family and friends and will be back in January.

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,  who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.  Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).  It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?

 

Grateful

What are you thankful for?

I practice being grateful daily. Not because I have to, but because I learned a long time ago I have a lot to be thankful for and when I acknowledge it, even in the littlest of moments, it makes me feel better.

I have worked to instill this practice in my sons. I point out the beauty around us, comment on our blessings (food on the table, warm beds to sleep in), and have taught them to give thanks for all the things in our lives at meals — it’s common for my boys to give thanks for what’s top-of-mind: they’ve given thanks for Lego, candy, napkins and anything in eyesight that catches their attention. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day.

We love Thanksgiving in our house, but thankfully it’s not the single time of year we pause to give thanks. I recently found an old art project one of my sons — a turkey’s body made by the shape of his hand. He colored the turkey, put a pilgrim hat on it and wrote the turkey saying, “Happy Thanksgiving!” (ironic, eh?). 🙂 I’m thankful I still have this piece of artwork, and the memories that come with it.

There is much to be grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I will be off to celebrate the holidays with family and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh Christmas Lights…

What is your favorite tradition of the holiday season?

As a family, my husband and I have worked to create new traditions with our family. Pacing ourselves based on our kids age and what we’ve thought they could handle. A visit to Santa when they were younger with mixed results — when they were very young they had no idea who he was and took pictures without issue, then they became scared of him (but not at the same age — there was a good three year period where one child was terrified of him and the other was completely okay with him), then finally they were okay with Santa, almost tolerant of him — they thought seeing Santa was an insurance policy — I need to visit with him just in case he’s real. As they grew, we added making gingerbread houses, advent calendars, and seeing some of the Christmas decorations around town. Our traditions now include some of the above, though there was no Santa visit this year (sigh…why do kids have to grow up so fast?), added in working a Christmas tree lot (a fundraiser for their school), and seeing the Pathway of Lights (house decorated with lights and the walking path adorned with candles around a local lake). We’ve attempted the Pathway of Lights in the past with mixed results — as babies in a stroller, non-stop crying forced us to abandon the walk early; as toddlers the cold or length of the walk wore them out–they clearly weren’t having fun; as 9 and 11 year olds, my husband and I thought this year they were ready for it.

We headed down to the lake with our plan — we’d walk around the lake for as long as we were all enjoying it (it’s about 3 miles around, and the weather this time of year can be a little dicey — cold, windy, sometimes rainy), and have dinner nearby with friends. We parked the car and headed toward the lake. It was a clear night (yes, I thought, we’re off to a good start). We walked a few blocks and my oldest proclaimed, “Mom, it’s freezing out here!” While bustling to get out of the house, I failed to realize he had grabbed his lightweight coat instead of his heavy one. We walked a few more blocks and my younger chimed in, “Mom, it’s windy out here!” I felt like I was an observation away from being the big bad wolf in the Three Little Pigs story…and then after a brief reprieve (there were a couple of oohs and ahs as we neared the lake and could see all the decorations and lights) it hit, my husband said, “Let’s walk the lake and then get dinner.” My husband knew our friends couldn’t meet us until later and didn’t want us to eat before they could even join us. My kids had other ideas. “Later? But I’m hungry now!,” one said. The other chimed in, “This is so stupid, I didn’t even want to do this.” I went into force-family-fun mode. “We don’t do many things as a family like this. We’re walking the lake and you’re going to enjoy it!” My kids stopped the outward complaining, but their non-verbal signals showed they didn’t plan to enjoy one minute of it. We walked for a few minutes. It was very windy and cold. Then we heard music. Oh, Christmas music, this will get everyone in the mood. Then I heard the lyrics. I can’t get no….no satisfaction. What? I thought, there is a Rolling Stones cover band playing at the lake? This makes no sense. Then my husband confirmed it wasn’t just me, “what in the world are they playing, and why is it so loud?” He was right, they were blasting the music across the lake. In years past I’ve heard carolers and musicians, never a cover band. It detracted from the festive mood. We started feeling like our grand plans of making this holiday tradition we would all look back on fondly were doomed. We proceeded to try to make it work anyways. We walked. The kids complained. It was crowded, there were people everywhere. My kids complaining got louder. I had had it. I stopped everyone, a laugh of defeat escaped from my body and I said in an all too loud voice, “this is no fun. This is something I look forward to every year and you’re making this so unenjoyable. Can’t we just enjoy this? It’s beautiful out here. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s windy. Yes, you might be hungry. Yes, there is music that is confusing playing. But we’re together and we don’t get to do these kinds of things very often. Can you please, please, please, try to enjoy this for a few minutes?” My kids were silent, my husband was silent and a few people around us were silent. After a few moments my youngest took my hand and said, “Mom, can you keep my hand warm?” I noticed he hadn’t brought his gloves after I had given them to him before he left the house. “Of course,” I said. “Mom, can you hold my hand too,” my other piped in. They were trying. I was grateful. Holding hands with each of my kids, we proceeded to finally walk. No more complaining (even though I knew they were cold and would rather be inside a warm restaurant), no more talking for a while. “Oh, look” I pointed to a group of kayakers who had decorated their boats with lights and were on the water. “That’s so cool!” We all agreed. We walked further. The kids started pointing out neat decorations on house, pets and people. Anytime one of us saw something that we liked we pointed it out. It started to become enjoyable.

The wind and cold forced us to turn around after about 30 minutes. While it would have been nice to be outside longer, it felt like we might be pushing our luck, and we’d gotten to see many of the beautiful decorations around. When we got to the restaurant, we were grateful to sit, rest and warm up. Food did us all good and our friends joining us made for an even more special evening.

The tradition isn’t as I envisioned, but it was a special night, and my hope is that as my children age, this will become a more meaningful tradition (and we’ll laugh at times like this — I still think about the Rolling Stones cover band…really? The Rolling Stones?).

Have you ever had a tradition you were hoping your child would take to and didn’t? What new traditions are you and your child experiencing?

I will be off for the next few weeks enjoying time with friends and family, and will be back in January.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Giving

What is your favorite part of the holiday season?

With my kids, my favorite part of the season has been something slightly different each year. When they were younger, it was the simplicity of the holiday — they didn’t really know what was going on, so we didn’t really have to do much to get them into the holiday spirit. 🙂  As they became more aware of Christmas, going to see Santa or doing something festive like driving to see holiday lights and hearing their oohs and ahs was special. As they matured, having them help us pick out and decorate a tree brought us all joy. And this year, our sons are getting into giving presents to others. Don’t get me wrong, they are still very much into receiving–we have their lists–but they are starting to think beyond themselves.

At their school aftercare program there is a tree decorated with paper mittens. On each mitten is written something a family needs. All the gifts are very simple: a dish set, gloves, socks, etc. It breaks my heart to know people only want these simple things, yet good to know we can do something about it.

My husband and I have a tradition of buying gifts for others in need each year through our church and where we work.  Nothing feels better to me than putting a smile on someone’s face, whether you get to see it or not. When my youngest saw the Giving Tree with the mittens in his aftercare program’s lobby he insisted we pick a family. “Well, we can get the family this!” he said as he handed me the mitten. I looked at it and agreed. “You’re right, we can.” He is very pleased that we are going to be helping someone else out. It warmed my heart to see that my son is interested in giving and understands helping others feels great.

We experience the joy of the season in many ways. This year, giving is going to be an even bigger part of our joy.

How are you and your child experiencing the season? What is bringing you the most joy?

 

The Turkey

What are you most thankful for this holiday season? Health, safety, love and friendship or something else?

It seems that each year, throughout the year, I’m reminded by my children what they are thankful for (which in turns reminds me what I am thankful for) in unexpected ways.

My youngest son came home last year with an art project in hand. It was a Thanksgiving turkey made out of a paper bowl used for the body, a toilet paper roll decorated as the neck and head, construction paper (cut in the shape of his traced hand) for the turkey’s feet, and pieces of colored paper for the tail. It was easy, at a glance, to think the tail was filled simply with colorful feathers. Upon closer inspection, you could see that my son had written all the things he was thankful for on each tail feather. His tail feathers read:

  • Cats
  • Food
  • School
  • Hats
  • Water
  • TV
  • Games
  • People
  • Giving
  • Math

The simplicity and honesty of this list is what caught my attention. It really simplified what my son was thankful for, and reminded me once again what I am thankful for. My son inspired me to create my own list this year. There are big and important things I am thankful for daily: the health of my children and family, the roof over my head, my friends and family, my job, my readers, the city I live in and much more. My son inspired me to create a more simplistic and honest list above and beyond this.

In addition to the above, I am thankful for:

  • Ellen DeGeneres – Ellen, I know everyone loves you and I’m right there with them. I really, really needed your show the Wednesday following the election and you came through even though I could tell you were experiencing the same feelings so many of us were. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • Mountains – Seeing a mountain when the sun rising or setting with its white-capped majesty is something special. Living where I do, I get to see this virtually every day. I do not take it for granted.
  • Date Nights and Babysitters – Oh, I love the nights where my husband and I get to reconnect as a couple. Thank you to the wonderful babysitters we’ve found that let us know our kids are in good hands while we’re away.
  • Other Parents and Support Communities – I’ll never be able to properly express my thanks for supportive parents, and supportive communities such as PEPS (Program for Early Parenthood Support).
  • People who fight/advocate for what’s right – there are so many good causes. I am inspired and motivated to engage by those willing to fight for others. Thank you!
  • Teachers, coaches and caregivers – You give so much to my children and family. You sacrifice your time to share your passion and genuinely care about my children’s success. I’ll never be able to properly express how grateful I am for each of you.
  • A Good Tea Room – The Royal Tea Room in Tampa, FL will always be my favorite, but give me a good tea room in any city and I’m one happy and thankful person. The food is divine, and the company I’m sharing the tea with even better.
  • And many more (these may seem frivolous, but I’m thankful for them none-the-less): College Game Day (thanks for sharing your love of college football with the fans), Melissa McCarthy (I can watch Spy an unlimited amount of times and laugh — you are a gift to all of us), Bravo TV (thank you for being there when I just need to check-out and not think about anything), Oprah and O Magazine (you are still connecting with fans even though we don’t ‘see’ you on TV everyday), Sun (sunny, warm days our something I crave. Nothing beats then!) and Cats (just like my son, I love these furry creatures. They have provided me much love and comfort as pets over the years — thank you!).

I will be taking next week off to celebrate the holiday with my family. How will you be celebrating with yours?

What are you thankful for this year (frivolous or not)? Who or what reminds you of the simple things you are thankful for?

 

 

 

 

Easter Traditions

What are your favorite Easter traditions?

When I think of Easter I think of: egg hunts, Easter baskets with a chocolate bunny (of course), sunrise service, a family meal and delicious food. Its a holiday with lots of tradition and memories.

In recent years, my boys have been hot-and-cold on their stance on Easter Egg Hunts. They are attracted to the hunting for treasure (candy, trinkets, colorful eggs), but don’t like the ‘younger kid’ aspect of it. My oldest came to me and said, “I’m not doing the egg hunt, Mom. It’s for little kids.” To which I replied, “that’s fine.” He seemed a little stunned that I didn’t push back or try to make him engage in the activity. I think he was a little disappointed. There is still a part of him that wants to engage in the activity even though he’s reached the age where he’s just about outgrown it.

There is at line in time, when you start to leave childhood and become a young adult. It makes me a little sad, as I remember going through that time myself–where you start to say goodbye to your childhood in small ways (like not participating in the egg hunt anymore) and start participating in more grown up things (like watching the egg hunt from the crowd)–and how much I wasn’t ready to leave that part of my life behind when I was their age. I hope my children are compiling many good Easter memories that they will look fondly upon as adults, but for now, I’m just fine with taking the holiday one Easter at a time. I don’t need them growing up any faster than they already are.

What Easter traditions do you and your family have? What does your child like most about Easter?

The Magic of Santa

Do you remember when you learned Santa wasn’t real? How did you take the news?

Our oldest learned last year that Santa wasn’t real from his classmates. We knew he would find out sooner or later, but realizing that he understood this news was hard to take–for him and us.

He was not happy when he learned the news. He was clearly disappointed that Santa wasn’t real, and he was ticked that we had let him believe he was. After calming down, he and I talked. I needed him to understand why we let him believe in Santa. I told him, “When you are young, there is an opportunity for you to experience something magical–that someone knows and cares about you so much that they go to great lengths to get to your house to bring you something they think you’ll like. Experiencing that magic and understanding what it feels like is important. It’s one of the few times you get to feel that outside of your mom and dad, or your family, that someone really cares about you and wants you to be happy, without wanting anything in return. You don’t get to experience this often in life, and we felt you would miss out on something really special if we didn’t let you believe.”

I’m not sure our son really understood what I was saying, but our hope is that he will as he grows older.

Believing in Santa is magical. And oh, how I wish he were real. I’ve experienced Santa as I’ve grown in glimpses–through a thoughtful friend who called or brought flowers or soup unexpectedly in hopes it would lift my spirit, or an foot or shoulder rub from my husband after noticing I looked tired from my day. My kids making me a picture because they thought it would make me smile. Small moments, that’s don’t have the build-up of Santa arriving, more like an expected arrival that I’m grateful for.

What magic has Santa brought to you and your family?

Happy Holidays! I will be taking this much needed time off and will be back in January.

The Best (real) Christmas Pageant Ever

I agreed to take the lead in putting on our church’s annual Christmas Pageant. What was I thinking?

Now, you might be wondering, why didn’t she just say, “no” to leading the production? Believe it or not, I’m actually pretty good at saying “no” — I learned to get better at it once my kids were born, but this situation was different. There have been several women who have graciously led the play year in and year out and finally one of them asked for a reprieve. She deserved a break, and at the time, I thought I can handle this, no problem.

The holidays are a busy time of year, and this year it seems to have kicked-up a notch. I thought I was doing good getting through Thanksgiving, then visit family, then back home, getting the Christmas tree, not forgetting about that play we had tickets for, traveling for work, getting back home, getting Christmas cards out, volunteering at school, hosting a holiday tea, and then it was time to direct the Christmas Pageant. Phew! Making it to Pageant seemed like a miracle. I was going to need one to pull this off.

What I thought my job as Play Director would include was some simple coordination and making sure we had enough kids to fill the various roles. What I found out was that it was much more. It started to occur to me that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, when I was asked when the script was coming. I have to come up with the script? What? Nobody told me that!  Before completely freaking out a thought occurred to me…Amazon. I figured they’d have to have books with sample scripts, and they did…hallelujah! Then came the coordination, and then came the props. When I picked the play we’d be doing, I figured the props would be easy. And they weren’t that hard, except I had to go get all the materials and make the props. Now you might be wondering why I didn’t have someone help me.  I didn’t have anyone helping me, because I hadn’t had the time to really think about what help I would need and time was running out. I powered through making the props and then I had to tackle the logistics — making sure everyone knew where they were supposed to be, transitions between scenes, who would have the microphone, etc. Needless to say, it was a swirl of activity that culminated in the play, which I have to say came off pretty well.

The pageant wasn’t the greatest one ever to the rest of the world. but it was pretty darn great for me. The kids did a great job. Many, who are known to be shy, showed great courage and were really brave and went for it in the play (I actually heard one girl speak loud and clear for the first time. She normally is very quiet and shy). I was impressed with the kids, and impressed that I was able to pull it off.

Now it’s time to relax. The flurry of holiday activities are starting to wind down, and having some downtime and quiet time is much needed. I need to be with my family, alone, unplugged without a care in the world. I look forward to these last few quieter weeks of the year. Cause I know we’ll be starting all over again come the New Year.

How are you getting through this busy time of year? How are you resting and recharging during this busy time?