Rubber bands, Post-it notes, toothpicks, spoons, bowls, string, pennies, Scotch tape, scrap paper, ballpoint pens, shopping bags, and couch cushions.
These are a just a few of the household items that my children currently spend significantly more time playing and creating with than they do actual toys. It is for this reason that we are keeping our Christmas and birthday (December 28 — ugh) gifts to the girls minimal this year, as we did last year.
There will, of course, be some toys under the old tree. We’re not evil. And Santa, I suspect, will grant a wish or two. (Although probably not the violin-playing robot Clio has her heart set on, bizarrely.) But there will not be mounds and mounds of toys, and there will not be stockings brimming with cheap doodads. More like scotch tape, ballpoint pens and post-it notes. (And, OK, OK, I did pick up a couple of little necklaces from Claire’s.)
The grandparents are on board, too. My mom is getting the girls magazine subscriptions. (Cool, right?) and Alastair’s parents have one or two gifts in mind. We’re all of the quality not quantity mindset.
And fortunately, the girls are young enough that they don’t have huge expectations. They aren’t going to be doing a gift-by-gift comparison with their peers at preschool. (I don’t think so, anyway.) And they’re only just grasping this idea that Santa will (well, may) bring them things that they ask for: The other day my brother called asking what the girls might like for Christmas, and I put Clio on the phone to tell him herself.
“I want a Sit-n-Spin,” she said. (I’d told the girls a few days earlier that Santa had given me a Sit-n-Spin for Christmas when I was around their age — something I remember vividly, because I immediately got on, spun around for longer than was advisable, and puked all over the place. Inexplicably, this convinced them that a Sit-n-Spin was a must-have toy.)
“Well, you know,” I said. “Santa might bring you a Sit-n-Spin.”
Clio said, puzzled, incredulous, “Santa’s going to bring me a Sit-n-Spin?”
“He might,” I said.
“But I didn’t tell him yet.”
I told her that Santa just sorta kinda knows these things. He’s magic like that.
But I digress. The point is, Santa will not be deluging our house with tons of plastic crap that will be played with exactly twice before it is ignored forevermore. (Just one or two pieces of crap, including a Sit-n-Spin.)
We’ve tried to step up our charitable giving a bit, too, this year. With so many people around the country still out of work, I’m especially aware of how fortunate we are. In addition to cash gifts to various organizations, we granted two of the “wishes” of families that our congregation sponsored through their urban ministry program: a sweater for a little boy, and a pair of pants for a mother.
We attempted to explain the concept to the girls — telling them that not everybody has enough money or clothes or food, and because we do have enough, we try to help people who don’t. We explained about the pants and the sweater, and who would get them. It didn’t seem to really sink in. Of course, with kids you never know: Not long after that conversation, Elsa said to us, putting on a slightly sad face, “I want to take a toy that I don’t play with anymore and give it to somebody else.”
“That’s wonderful, Elsa!” we said. And proceeded to pat ourselves on the back or being such awesome parents and generally wonderful people.
“Yeah,” she continued. “I think I’ll give it to Marlie. Because she doesn’t really have any toys.”
Marlie is one of the girls’ good friends, the daughter of good friends of ours. She has plenty of toys. In fact, she offloads toys she doesn’t want onto us.
Which, come to think of it, is a pretty damned good idea. So — leaving aside our failed teachable moment — how about this: Instead of buying our kids new toys / books / other crap for Christmas every year, we do a big exchange? Everybody pass your toys to the household on your right. All the good little girls and boys get new stuff to play with (and then ignore a week later), landfills don’t fill up as fast, and we can use the money we would have spent on crap to support charities, save for our kids’ college tuitions, make cookies, and throw big, rockin’ Christmas parties.
Who’s with me??
(Happy Holidays, everyone!)