Monday, November 8, 2010

what is a gift?

Well, the elections are over, and here in Minnesota, I hold hope for the future.  Being a Democrat, I know many offices are now housing Republicans or other more conservative peoples.  Though I am disappointed by that, I do honor the fact that these people jumped into the game of running this place.  (I also understand that in our current political climate, it's damn hard to accomplish anything you want to, so that does give me hope and a good laugh.)

But now that the campaigning and voting is over for the year, my thoughts turn to the holidays.  My son's 6th birthday comes in just over a week, and then Thanksgiving, cousins' birthdays, friends' birthdays and then the celebration of Jesus' birth.  All include presents, food and getting together with people we don't see very often.  Lots of fun times ahead, but also a lot of pressure.

This year, I've tried to take a little of the craziness out of this season by shopping for gifts and planning homemade things in advance.  Overall, I think I've got enough stuff to give away to fill about 2/3 of my list.  That is a great feeling of calm.  But then, I also don't give my own kids many gifts.

I think back to what my parents gave my siblings and me for birthdays and holidays.  I know that these times were always festive and fun, but I don't remember ever getting exactly what I wanted (or thought I wanted).  No Cabbage Patch doll when parents bum rushed the doors at Target as soon as they opened, then fought over whatever dolls were on hand.  No Members Only jackets, or Michael Jackson purses.  No Sweet Sixteen party at the Holiday Inn ballroom.  Sad life, right?  But I did receive lots of lovely presents.  A sweet "Jennifer" doll.  A Walkman radio/tape player with batteries that I used immediately to listen to "Wild Boys" by Duran Duran (the thought of which was always more intriguing than the real life versions).  A really good 35mm camera I used for YEARS until after I was married. Along with loads of time being outdoors together, learning about other cultures, celebrating with my huge extended family and my parents' lifetime friends... all things that have brought me joy and shaped my view of the world.

As a teen, I would be so upset, disappointed, angry, and depressed that my parents had not chosen to go into serious debt to fulfill all my material desires.  I understood that things weren't all that important, but I did really want them to throw caution to the wind once or twice and just buy what I told them I wanted.  Now, I understand that things are only things.  And generally, these are things that I will spend my years cleaning up or keeping updated (like this ancient iMac I write this on).  So I am thankful that I learned, not only that my lack of material things pushed me to get a job (paper route & babysitting at 13- always had a job since) but also to cherish the challenge of making my own fun.

I was pushed to write this because next week, I'll be throwing a birthday party for my son.  He chose the theme of Halloween.  We picked out things for the party on Nov. 1st (clearance!) and will do fun things like having a dress-up dance party in the basement.  He'll receive enough presents to keep him busy until Christmas, and will then get more.  I can't choose what he'll get as gifts, and that's good too.  But right now, this soon-to-be-6 year old is playing with his little sister, working on a big cardboard box my sister saved from her friend's recycling bin.  They are playing with my husband's set of Fisher Price Little People (choking hazard be damned) and having a great time.  The toys carefully purchased at the best toy store in St. Paul sit idly on the shelf.

Taking the new toy catalogs from the Sunday paper will give my kids hours of enjoyment: looking at the pictures, talking about what they like and don't like and circling things they think they want.  I could feel bad that we don't have the money to buy them the latest and craziest toys, but I won't.  Any disappointment they might feel when they don't receive all those pieces of plastic circled in the paper will be short lived.  We will put on jackets (and soon, snow pants and scarves) and go play outside.  We will find new treasures at the library.  We will visit friends and renew their joys in the toys already on their shelves as we play with them together.  And we will inherit new boxes to play out newly invented stories, and make memories of our own.

So if you are coming to a party at our house in the next months, and you worry about what present to get my little ones, remember that the best present you can give is time and creativity.  That's the gift I am giving my family this year (okay, a few awesome toys & things as well).  And it's the only one that is too precious to return, and always runs out too soon.  Oh, and to include a bit of spunk to this post, if you bring a crappy, plastic, noisy "just-to-bring-them-something" gift to my house, you may just get it back.  A roll of tape, pack of paper and something to write/draw/paint/construct with are so much better.

Kudos to all the people out there who taught me (and continue to teach me) that time with loved ones is more important than more stuff filling up my house.  (On this weekend of All Saints, I honor the hard work, love and dedication put forth for my benefit by my grandparents, who have gone forth without us; Mathew and Rose, Arthur and Ilene.  And my husband's grandparents; Herman and Grace, and Frank.)  Each of my grandparents taught me to reuse what I had, think hard before I buy something new and pass on whatever I no longer use to someone else who needs it.  Good things to learn then and now.

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