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?

 

What Brings Us Together

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. An American tradition of coming together with family and friends and watching the big game, while enjoying rich food and celebrating competition.

Our family found the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in recent years which airs at the same time as the Super Bowl. In the Puppy Bowl they do an animal take on the big game with puppies of different breeds playing together. And while there is some competition (e.g. which dog will finish the task first) it is more about watching these adorable animals interact. My youngest son loves puppies and anything ‘cute’ so the Puppy Bowl is a hit for him. My oldest son, husband and I found it quite cute ourselves after watching it for a few minutes. It is much more enjoyable for us than watching violent hits, boasting players and beer commercials, and I should note I actually like watching football normally. The Super Bowl just seems like a game on steroids (literally and figuratively?).

With all the chaos of the last week the Puppy Bowl got me thinking. Animals don’t differentiate between people. Animals are eager and willing to meet (and play) with people they have just met happily (unless, of course, they have been mistreated). We should take a lesson from the animals playbook.  Our pets and our love for them bring us together.  People from all races, religions, and countries love their pets. People’s love for these creatures is universal. Animals have a magical quality of meeting us where we are, and excepting us how we are without judgement. They provide love, comfort, companionship, and joy (and much more). My sons love animals and are asking us for a pet (and we’re hoping there may be some in our future). My husband and I grew up with animals and remember how important they were to us.

Puppies aren’t the only cute critters having a bowl game today. There is also the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. My youngest is looking forward to seeing both the kittens and puppies play, and so is the rest of my family. We might tape the ‘big game’ and fast forward through to see the commercials later, and while either the Patriots or Falcons will become the Super Bowl Champions, the animals are winning out this year.

How is your family celebrating it being Super Bowl Sunday?  What do you and your family love most about animals?

 

Let It Snow!

Do you like snow?

As a kid, I loved it. As an adult, I dread it. My favorite snow is the kind that sticks to the ground, but not to the street. In other words, snow that doesn’t slow me down.

With this being one of the busiest times of the year, snow seems like a really big inconvenience, but for my kids, it’s something different. It means no school. It means they get to go outside and have a snowball fight. Snow, to them, means fun.

After dreading a pending storm, I had to come to grips with the reality, once again, that I don’t control the weather. The snow is going to come when its going to come. And as much as I’d like for the snow to miss us, my kids are hoping just as hard that it doesn’t.

The snow came, the kids played and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their excitement over it. The snow forced me to pause, take a breath, and appreciate what was going on around me. Snow may be inconvenient, but it brings something else with it — beauty, joy and fun.

How do you make the most of things (like the weather) that inconvenience you during this busy time of year?

 

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?

 

Play Time and Letting Your Inner Child Reemerge

Has your child ever gotten a present you couldn’t help but play with?

My youngest son asked for a remote control plane for Christmas. It seemed a little old for him to ask for, but he was adamant that it was something he really wanted. He was thrilled when he received it on Christmas morning, but he hasn’t played with it much since. It’s not because he doesn’t like it, it’s because his father has commandeered the plane for himself. It’s almost like he can’t help himself.

First, as any good parent, he had to figure out how the plane worked so our son could use it. Then, he had to test the plane. Once he tested it, I noticed a glint in his eyes…my son was going to lucky if he got to fly this plane again. He’s father was hooked.

My husband now eagerly asks if we can go to park or playfields nearby to fly the plane. He likes taking it for low altitude test flights in the house. He’s addicted. My sons and I have called him on this and suggested he might have to start paying our youngest for rental time with the plane.

It’s fun to see my husband’s inner child reemerge. I can almost see his younger self playing with a new toy. It’s a joy that is hard to find in adults. It’s infectious.

Thankfully for us, my husband’s birthday is coming up and we’ll have an opportunity to get him his own remote control plane so my son can get his back. This should make both my husband and son very happy.

What activity or toy has gotten your inner child to reemerge?

 

 

Jackpot!

When was the last time you felt like you struck it rich? Whether it was winning money unexpectedly or having an outcome or experience better than expected?

I had one in an unexpected place…a local family fun center. We went to the family fun center to pass the time on a rainy day. My boys were off playing separate games. I was with my younger son and we joined his brother to an atmosphere of excitement. Lights were flashing and the machine was dispensing tickets at a fast rate. My older son exclaimed, “I hit the jackpot!” When he said this, I thought he won maybe 50 tickets or so. But then I looked at the game and saw he indeed hit The Jackpot — 1500 tickets. He was ecstatic, and I was stunned. How often does someone hit a jackpot, I thought.

We can so often think the jackpot is out of our reach in life. While we might not win the lottery or the jackpot at our local family fun center, I’d argue that we’ve all hit the jackpot many times without realizing it. I felt like I hit the jackpot when I met my husband, we bought our first house and when our kids were born. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot anytime I see a beautiful landscape, hear a song that I love, I connect with others in my writing or speaking, run into a friend in an unexpected place, or get an “I love you” from one of my boys. When I think about it, I’ve hit the ‘jackpot’ many times. It isn’t a rare thing, as much as it is a special thing.

When do you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot?

Go Ahead Make My Day

Many of us are familiar with the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry who used the famous tagline, “Go ahead, make my day.” I was reminded of this phrase during a particularly tough week at work.  But not in the way you might think.

The work week started like many others, with a steady stream of work pouring in. I knew the week would be different, when the pouring didn’t stop. By mid-week, I knew there was still quite a mountain to climb before I could reach the end of the work week. It was not a good feeling.

I could have gotten overwhelmed or difficult to be around as my workload increased, but I knew that wouldn’t help me get to my goal of completion. Instead, I started seeking out “good moments” during the day. I found that when I allowed myself to notice them, and really take them in, it made what could have been a bad day, more than bearable, it actually turned it into a good day. These “good moments” were, in fact, making my day.

Finding the good moments weren’t particularly difficult, once I paid particular attention to finding them. The good moments came in various forms: sharing a joy with my kids, or us laughing together; my spouse and I connecting over something other than work or the kids; noticing fall colors; and having dinner with a friend. These good moments helped redefine what could have been a bad week to a pretty darn good one.

As a working parent, a terrible work week can sometimes spill over in your family life. I’m glad I sought the good moments to help defend against it happening in mine. When a bad work week starts to form, I’ve got my go-to phrase now: “Go ahead, make my day.” With good moments, of course.

How do you combat a tough work week? Where do find your good moments?

Lucky Clover

When I was a child I learned that four-leaf clovers are good luck, and if I found one I was told I would have good luck for a day. It was never quite clear to me if it was the day you found the clover, or the next, but the promise of a good day sounded fantastic.

My children have learned from their classmates that finding a penny is good luck. They get very excited when they find change on the ground. They understand money buys things, but also realize there is almost nothing you can buy for a penny. It’s as though the penny represents more than one cent. It represents that something good happened to you. And if it happened once, it’s likely to happen again.

What is it about these signs of luck or good fortune that captivate us? The promise of happiness or good fortune coming our way expectedly, right?

Luck seems to help explain good things that are, well, unexplainable. A few examples of how I’ve experienced luck:

  • Winning a prize for a contest that I’d never signed up for
  • Running into an old friend in an airport thousands of miles away from where I grew up and where I currently live
  • The day I met my spouse

Now, I realize their are nay-sayers who might attribute these experiences to fate or coincidence, and yet others who adamantly believe we create our own luck. I have to admit any of these things can be true, but I prefer to think of them as luck. They were unexpected, there is nothing I could have done to influence them happening, and they brought me joy.

There are certainly instances where we make good situations happen for ourselves, but isn’t it nice to think there’s a possibility something good might happen outside of our efforts?

I’m happy my boys think finding a penny is good luck. The happiness it brings them is priceless, it makes me smile. So does finding four-leaf clovers.

What unexpected joy have you experienced? Did luck play a part?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

A Little Bit of Cheer

Does your stress level go up, like mine do, as the holidays draw near?

The holidays are about family, friends, connecting and joy. We all know the “joy” part can sometimes be the most difficult part to find with traffic, and crowds at the mall, and all the various activities and places we have to be during this time of year. It can be a bit of a bummer, can’t it?

As I vow to be present and find joy each day through the holiday season I’ve had to implement a few tools: taking a moment each day to remember while the holiday season is busy, it’s temporary (I can handle things much better when I know they’re temporary); that my children’s excitement is infectious–there is a innocence and delight about it that I haven’t experienced since my own childhood and am encouraged to know it still exists; and that the number of holidays my husband and I will spend with our children is limited. They’ll eventually have these holidays with their own families. I want a flood of joyful memories to look back upon.

I’m taking each day as it comes, and experiencing a little bit of holiday cheer. Those moments are like magic–joy in the truest sense.

How are you experiencing joy this holiday season?