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?

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!

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.

To Give and to Receive

What part of the holidays brings you the most cheer?  Giving gifts, receiving them, or something else?

I loved receiving gifts when I was a child. I was captivated by the magic of Santa and couldn’t wait to see what I would receive. Receiving gifts was an acknowledgement that Santa thought enough of me to bring me something he thought I would like. As I grew older and the magic of Santa faded, I found holiday cheer in giving. Watching others expressions of surprise (at the unexpected gift or the thought put into it) brought me great joy. Putting a smile on someone else’s face made me happy.

As I watch my children this holiday season, I see how hopeful they are that when Christmas morning arrives they will have gifts under the tree. For my older one, the magic is starting to fade. He’s starting to ask questions and we realize this is likely his last year of believing. It’s a bittersweet moment. Joy in watching him grow into a young man, but bitter in that the innocence that goes with childhood is starting to slowly slip away. I wonder what will bring him joy going forward. Will he continue to enjoy receiving, or giving (whether it’s physical gifts, or acts of kindness), or something else?

I can’t wait to find out.