Monday, December 22, 2008

The Gift of Oneself

The holidays are upon us, and in addition to the layoffs, high prices, and economic uncertainty that are also upon us, it’s a heavy time of year! I always get tickled at the stores that start decorating for Christmas right after they take down their ‘Back to School’ displays but I try to use it to my advantage with my daughter Jenda by reminding her that it’s only September and she has to be on her best behavior for all of the fourth quarter of the remainder of the fiscal year. For my parent friends out there, don’t bother. It doesn’t work.

The holiday season in 2008 is going to be interesting. My husband and I understand that things are tight, so we’ll just probably give each other a hug and a Hallmark card for Christmas. But it’s a bit more difficult explaining a tight budget to a four year old, even one who is, for the most part, remarkably unspoiled. I thought perhaps I could find a parenting book to help me explain the holidays in terms of a difficult economy. These two titles stood out, but for the wrong reasons.

‘Gifts That Rich Kids Get, But You Won’t.’ Hmm, probably not a good idea.

‘Santa Had Budget Cuts and Fired the Elves.’ Really not a good idea!

So it’s up to me and hubby to explain to Jenda what is going on. And we have to somehow merge difficult finances with holidays. And trust me, y’all. If we can manage this, that ‘where do babies come from’ thing’ll be a breeze!

So we are approaching it this way. We want to teach Jenda what a holiday is. It means ‘Holy Day’ and of course in terms of finances, it could mean ‘holy cannoli, am I overdrawn again?!’ but for our purposes, we want Jenda to know that holidays are sacred. More than ever, it’s a time to be grateful for what we do have and not miserable about what we don’t have.

(It might be a bit more difficult explaining Christmas in those terms since it’s more commercialized than Miley Cyrus and the new iPhone!)

So I spent some time explaining to Jenda, who’s four, what the real meaning of Christmas is. See, it means Christ’s Mass.

“I get it Mommy. Like when I leave my Legos and Barbies in the floor?”
No, not MESS, MASS. Nevermind. It’s the day that we celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus.

“Ooh, is there gonna be cake?”

This is going to be harder than I thought. Jenda, would you like to know where babies come from?

At any rate, the important thing to remember about the holidays this year is that while our economy, our political landscape, and our entire world are changing, the holidays, at least the meaning behind them, has not. So what I want Jenda to understand is this. The joy of a holiday like Christmas is not about how much is under our tree (which in our case is fake, so we get to save a few bucks!) It is more about the family and friends who are gathered around it. It is more about what we give to others. And it doesn’t have to be some major, expensive purchase or the latest piece of electronic gadgetry. For instance, I have told Jenda that in order to make room for the things that she is going to get, we need to take some of her other toys and clothes and donate them. (Of course that almost backfired when I saw her calling a moving company to empty out her entire room!) But I think she is onboard with this. She is now excitedly making pictures and art projects to go into scrapbooks to be sent to our extended family along with family photos that we have taken throughout the year. She even wants to make a game of it by having our family match the real photos to the pictures she has drawn to see if they can guess who’s who. (Hint….the round one with all the hair on her head standing straight up? That one is me!)

The real gifts that we give are gifts of love, and humor, and our time. It doesn’t cost anything to donate clothes or household items to others. It doesn’t cost anything to volunteer to serve others in a soup kitchen or at a homeless shelter. So those are some of the gifts that our family will be giving this year. Don’t get me wrong. I would love nothing more than to give Jenda everything on her Christmas list. (Well, except for the puppy since I don’t want to potty train anyone else. Oh, and the kid-sized Cadillac Escalade, since I am still driving a 2001 Mommy Honda. Oh yeah, and the play kitchen with real granite countertops and over-range microwave. No way is my four-year-old going to have granite countertops when I have to make do with laminate!) But all of that aside, more than anything, I want to give her the gift of what the holiday season really means. Because when we reach out to others, we give them the most important gift of all, which is ourselves. And long after Barbie and the other toys have been discarded, long after the newest gadget is obsolete and long after the gift cards have expired, the love and hope we give to others endures.

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