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?

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!

Modern Day Lemonade Stand

Did you have a lemonade stand growing up? Has your child? What memories do you have of making money when you were growing up?

A friend recently shared that their children had a lemonade stand and served cookies to neighbors who were heading out to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. They had had mild success in years past, and were rethinking what they might sell. It has been hotter than normal temps, and they were inspired. In addition to the lemonade and cookies they decided to make and sell water balloons. The water balloons ended up being a big money maker for them (when I heard about this I had two reactions: 1) what a great idea, how fun!, and 2) yikes! I hope no one got an unexpected water balloon thrown at them). It was fun to hear about how entrepreneurial the kids had gotten, and how excited they were by their financial success.

My son recently found yet another Lego set he ‘has to’ have. It’s clearly a discontinued model, because so far we’ve only found it on eBay and Amazon and the price has been upwards of $450 (I know, for a Lego set???).  Anyhow, my husband and I are working to teach our kids the value of a dollar and the reward of hard work. Our son knows he can only get the set if he has the money, and based on his allowance, he’d have enough money for the set in a couple of years (and only if he never spent a dime of his allowance and saved birthday and Christmas money), and clearly wants to do whatever he can to accelerate the timeline. He’s too young to mow lawns or get a job, and a lemonade stand (even with water balloons) isn’t practical in the part of town we live in, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to come up with ways he can earn some extra cash. My husband though had a great idea. We have a fruit tree that, based on the weather, can produce a significant number of small plums. So many, in fact, that some years if we don’t stay on top of picking them up the plums daily our yard can easily turn into an ooey-gooey (not to mention rotten fruit-smelling, bug-attracting) mess (yuck!). My husband made my son an offer, “We’ll pay you one cent for each plum you pick up.” My son jumped at the idea. He grabbed his shoes and headed out the door.

The tree is providing quite a yield this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my son makes upwards of $10-20 (yes, there are that many plums) when all is said and done. I told my son one night after he picked up the plums, “I guess it’s true what they say–money does (or can) grow on trees.” We couldn’t help but laugh. My son won’t make enough money from picking up the plums to buy the Lego set, but he is learning what it takes to earn money–you have to work hard, and often for a long time, to get to what you want. He’s learning this lesson one plum at a time.

How are you teaching your child about money (earning, saving, donating or spending it)? What creative alternatives to a lemonade stand have your and your child come up with to make money?

I’ll be taking some vacation time and will return in August.

Spilt Milk

The phrase “don’t cry over spilt milk” took on new meaning for me this week. I brought my computer into the kitchen on Sunday morning with the plan of getting some writing done after breakfast. Instead of moving immediately into my writing, I invited my oldest son to come join me at the computer so we could watch some sports highlights that he had missed (due to his bedtime) from the night before.  My husband brought my son’s breakfast over to him to eat on the island where we were sitting including a glass of milk. My son and I finished watching our highlights and I got up to wash the dishes. A few minutes later I heard my son exclaim, “Uh-oh, sorry Mom.” I turned around to see what he was referring to. I quickly spotted the glass of milk laying across my keyboard with most of its contents now seeping into my computer. There was a momentary pause on my part. Did that just happen I thought. After I determined the answer was a resounding “yes” I quickly picked up the glass and started to towel off my machine. I turned the keyboard upside down and did everything I could think of to dry it off. I reassured my son everything was okay. I honestly thought the computer was going to be fine. I even powered it back on about fifteen minutes later without any problems.

Two days later I pulled out my machine to do some work on it. I hadn’t used it since I had powered it on after the milk spill. When I opened the computer I noticed there might be a problem. There was milk residue on the screen and on the keyboard. I thought I had gotten all the milk off, but clearly I hadn’t. Then I tried turning the computer on. It turned on, but wouldn’t let me log in. I was getting a strange battery empty signal (even though the computer was fully charged), and the cap lock key was stuck in the ON position. I shut the machine down and tried again. The second attempt had the same issues and the computer fan was now making a loud noise I’d never heard before. I knew the machine was in trouble, so I shut it down and quickly starting scrolling through my phone for a computer repair shop.  For anyone who has gone through a similar experience, you know that you first have to take your computer in to be diagnosed ($) and then pay someone to fix it ($$$). The milk spill damaged the keyboard requiring it to be replaced.  It took a while for the cost of this accident to sink in. Wow! I thought, I had no idea an accident like this could cost so much.

When I got home, I wanted to talk with my son. While what happened was an accident I wanted him to be aware of what happened as a result. I believed it was an opportunity for him to learn and us to grow together. I didn’t see anything positive coming from getting mad at or making my son feel terrible for the damage done and the financial burden we incurred. He didn’t mean to spill the milk and none of us had any idea what might happen if he did. We all learned a lesson that day. My son learned that when we get anything liquid on Mom’s computer it can cost more than what the Lego Star Wars Death Star set costs (my son understands what this means. He has wanted this set for a while, and we had to explain even Santa couldn’t afford it!), and my husband and I learned that no one can have any liquid around our electronics, and if we do, we need to understand the risk.

We had a very calm discussion about the whole thing. While having an unexpected expense wasn’t easy to take, it was easier to get through when I reminded myself, its just money. Yes, I’ll need to work a little harder to make up for what was lost, but I can’t put a dollar amount on going through this experience with my child.

The damaged computer and bill that followed could have made me cry, but instead I grew. In my opinion, it was worth every cent.

How do handle unexpected accidents? How have you helped your child learn from the experience?

And…..Action!

Has your child ever asked you to do something you didn’t know how to do, or aren’t sure how to teach them?

There are things I want to teach my children and expose them to, and some things I realize I don’t know how to do or probably wouldn’t be the best teacher (e.g. skiing or snowboarding!), but I also know I can go to a ski resort and pay for them to get a lesson with a skilled instructor. What do you do when you’re not sure who can help?

My boys love stop motion video. It doesn’t matter what format—clay, cutout, graphic, puppet or Lego. You can see stop motion in greater abundance than I did as a kid. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday classics encompassed my exposure to stop motion. My children’s experience has been different. My oldest was able to participate in an iPad Animation class after school one semester. I wasn’t sure how the course would work at first—would they be using clay? Or something else? I soon learned Lego was the format of choice, and the class provided (just for the class itself) the iPads for the kids to use. Every week when I’d pick up my son from class he couldn’t wait to show me how many frames he had shot and what the video action looked like. My husband and I were struck with advancements in technology. Star Wars came to theaters when we were our son’s age, and now our children had tools to make their own movie. Amazing! The iPad Animation class has long since ended and my boys have continued to seek it out. We came across Lego animation both professionally (Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menance) which my kids love, and amateur videos on YouTube. When my children saw that other kids were making Lego videos, they wanted to make them too. The only problem, my husband and I didn’t know how to help—we weren’t familiar with what software the teacher had used with my son’s animation class and weren’t sure if we could figure it out. Because neither my husband nor I were familiar with what we needed to do next, we did what any parent would do. We stalled.

My oldest son began asking, almost daily, to make a Lego movie. “One day,” I replied early on. So he adjusted his question, “Can we make a Lego video one day?” to which I’d reply, “Yes, one day.” It was clear to me that the line of questioning and my response were not making me comfortable. I want to expose my children to different things and certainly want to encourage any interests or passions they have, particularly if they help them explore their creativity or capabilities. I was resistant to allow my sons to make videos because I didn’t know how to help. After a few weeks of stalling I finally told myself enough! I decided it was time to do some digging around the iPad/iPhone App Store to see what was out there. I tried video animation first and got some hits, but not what I was hoping for. I tried again this time typing in the key words Stop Motion Animation. I got a match and found a tool my kids could use. The app is called Stop Motion Animation (go figure!) and is really easy to use. My sons and even my niece started using the software right away, navigated it easily and have made numerous movies since. They love it.

Once I saw how easy the application worked and how much joy my children got from it, I asked myself why did it take you so long to make this happen? I determined not knowing what to do next was what inhibited me from taking action. And isn’t that something we all incur as parents from time to time? Part of my role as a parent is to teach my children things. Getting out of my comfort zone to do something new, even if its simply finding out a way to help my children make stop motion Lego videos, is good for me. I want my children to push themselves to see what they are capable of doing, and it’s good for me to do that too. I’m reminded of the cue given when a scene is being shot in a movie or show…and…ACTION!  When the director says “action” the actors start the scene. They may make mistakes and have to do multiple takes to get the scene right, but hesitation to start doesn’t serve the project or any of the people involved well. Instead of pausing or stalling when faced with a can-we-make-a-video or other situation where I’m not sure what exactly I need to do next in the future, I’ll be less hesitant to jump in and start figuring it out (and….action!). It might not be easy or comfortable for me, but will get easier if I take action.

What prevents you from taking action when your child wants to try something you’re not familiar or comfortable teaching them? What tools do you employ to help to help you take action?