Wednesday, December 10, 2014
We are really sinking in to the holidays this winter. I am keeping the big kids busy, having had a terrible time with them over the summer when I thought a nice, unstructured break would be perfect for them after an intense year of homeschooling. Every weekday we have things planned – singing our favorite Christmas songs, baking and cooking up our favorite treats, special crafts and finding time to really focus on the beautiful fourth grade form drawing we are attempting – all Celtic knots and braids, some so complex I have to stop and chew my pencil before beginning.
(These were really amazing grain-free gingerbread cookies)
It's nice and relaxed, this little break from the serious academics to focus on crafts, handiwork and other little bits of life that get neglected when we are trying to work on the more demanding parts of education – reading and long division and Mirin not falling off his chair again for the hundredth time while we are doing lessons.
And at least the holiday shopping is out of the way – the part that I find the most stressful. We never have lots of presents. I like to use the holiday as an excuse to just wrap up some much needed items we would have bought anyway, like socks and clothes.
I really do believe material things weigh us down. In recent years (and I partly blame the mommy blogs I like to read occasionally, with their pretty pictures of children happily lining up rows of beautiful, handmade wooden animals, or deeply engaged in some kind of nature study with an appropriate implement) I have found myself succumbing more to the inclination to buy things for Christmas. Thus we find ourselves burdened with copious amounts of exciting outdoor discovery toys, beautiful handcrafted figures, needle felted seasonal fairies, wooden puzzles and numerous art supplies.
When buying or making presents I like to remember the rhyme, “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” Our gifts stay true to that, with some extras – pretty things that you see in online catalog photos posed so beautifully on a seasonal hand-dyed piece of silk.
This year, as I am again planning for this exuberant, pine-and-cinnamon filled season, I was casting about for something to actually get my children other than clothes they need and a couple of special books they've requested. It occurred to me one day, while I was trying to get the children to help pick up some total living room toy dump mess one day, that we have so much already.
I looked around at the beautiful wooden kitchen they barely ever touch, equipped with the sliceable wooden veggies I always thought would be so cool, and the wooden cookies that looked so cute at Nova Naturals, the stacks of games inherited from me and my brother, the vintage toy car collection passed down from their uncle, the beautiful farm set Ethan made for them, populated by neglected hand painted wooden Ostheimer animal figures, the wooden train set my mom hand painted with little details when I was a kid, the four different varieties of blocks, the bulging dress-up collection....
I realized that my children hardly even play with toys other than to strew them about the floor, and that is mostly the toddler. Since babyhood, Mirin has always preferred to play with sticks and masking tape. He spends most of his time doing this. Rose spends a lot of time scribbling on tiny pieces of paper, changing clothes and messing around with bits of tacky jewelry I played with as a child, when she is not in the sandbox, filling plastic cups with sand, mud, leaves and water.
Then one day recently Rose made me read a Flicka, Ricka, Dicka book set at Christmas. The three girls got one present each – just one. It made me realize (or maybe just imagine) that a long time ago, before it was common for people to spend so much money on having things, childhood toys were few. A special doll, a special bat or ball, a carving knife or small tool set, a collection of nice drawing pencils and paper. Not all at once. One pretty, special and well-thought out gift was enough, and the children were still delighted.
But we have been caught up in the materialism. Pretty toys, even special handmade wooden ones, can be too numerous. One special gift does not seem like enough somehow. In the midst of so much, our children's delight has been diluted. And that is what we as gift-givers really desire in our giving – the children's delight.
What gifts can I give to delight my children? Free, generous gifts?
I can tell them stories, both old and new, learned or inspired. I can share my memories with them. I can fashion and create things for them from things that are offered by nature – I am always amazed by how a braid of a pine needle I carelessly make has such a deep impression on them. Taking them on walks and stopping to notice things with them. I can include them in the work of my daily life, to instruct them and give them a sense of place in the world. I can create a story, a game, from acorns or bits of wood, breathing wonderful, inspiring, imitation-worthy character, emotional depth, and life into the inanimate objects. I see them playing those games again by themselves later, taking my story and making it their own.
These are gifts, freely given, that also delight them.