I know many of you have played the "Fiddler on the Roof" game. You know what I'm talking about - "If I were a rich man." Sure, you sit there and comptemplate what you would do with your vast millions... if you had 'em. You say to yourself- I would help the poor, of course, and feed the hungry, and invest some... but THEN- hoo boy, look out! This is probably more commonly known as the "When I win the lottery" game, or in some circles, the "It'll never happen as long as I sit on my butt and daydream instead of working hard to earn my way" game.
Sometimes it's hard not to play that game, even just a little bit, during Christmas. Who hasn't walked in a Toy store or department store and hadn't seen something they just know that their a) kids b) spouse, significant other c) parent (grands too) d) J.C. Loophole would just love, but you can't afford it. If you are a parent - that has probably run through your mind. I know that it's hard not having that much to be able to buy what you want to for your kids for Christmas. I know that feeling very well. It doesn't feel good. And certainly, you know what kind of Christmas you would to give them. And, you tell yourself, I'll be able to give it to them soon "when I am a rich man." Then you snap your fingers above your head, dance a bit of jig, and then sing to the barnyard animals. Opps, sorry... too much? Anyone seen "Fiddler on the Roof"? Well, then, never mind that last part.
The thing is that, in reality, a majority of people won't ever get there while their kids are little and can only afford to do it when the kids have grown up and moved on. Oh sure, some do it now - but the either ruin their credit, put their future in jeopardy, or were wealthy to begin with. Will the kids be devastated if they don't see an Xbox 360 under the tree Christmas morning? Maybe.
Will they be traumatized for life? Uh, no.
Will they survive and move on? Yes.
Are you committing child abuse by not getting them everything they wanted? No, in fact, just the opposite.
Here's where I am going with this. Have you seen the Lexus commercials, where there is a giant bow on the car and someone is getting it for Christmas? There is even one where someone gives it to their college kid for Christmas. Kind of weird seeing that. Maybe for some that's something great. I'm not saying I would turn it down (althought I might - the upkeep and taxes on those things have to be unreal), but I am saying it is symbolic of what I am talking about. There is something inherently wrong with giving your kid a car for Christmas. While you may be giving something, you are also taking something away. A since of earning, of ownership, of labor and reward. An absence of these things is what lies at the root of the "entitlement" attitude that is pervasive in our country. We think we should get something, because we are entitled to it. Our grandparent's generation who lived during a depression, fought a world war, and helped to rebuild nations can't fathom that attitude, but the generation after them sure can. Everything came much easier to them. Think about it- the 50s saw the birth of fast food, television, Holiday Inns, Disneyland, frozen TV dinners, etc. Fantasy, fun, food, and entertainment in an instant. Life was there at your fingertips. It wasn't always easy, but it sure was a lot easier. If a kid gets everything they want without working for it or waiting for it, it's hard to expect them to appreciate it. Gratitude is what is so sorely missing for our society. And helping our children gain a sense of that is the greatest gift we can pass along.
I am not suggesting that you give them nothing and say "Sorry, kid, but J.C. Loophole said not to give you anything." First of all, that is not at all what I am saying, and secondly, I am mortally terrified at what a large army of angry kids will do to my lawn. What I am suggesting is that you do your best, and spend less time worrying about getting them EVERYTHING, and spend more time giving them: time, love, and memories.
Do yourself a favor- find a copy of The Bishop's Wife starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. You will further understand my point. Cary Grant plays the role of an angel sent to answer the prayer of an Episcopalian Bishop played by David Niven. Niven used to work in a small parish, but was promoted to Bishop and took on the task of building a magnificent cathedral. He has forgotten his old friends, neglected his wife (played by Loretta Young) and child, and has grown rather surly and despondent. He only associates with the upper crust and spends less and less time on his family. The cathedral is certainly a worthy cause, but not worth the cost of his family and neglecting the real work he used to do- tending to the poor and needy. He prays for guidance and and angel comes to help. But what the angel does is gives him a choice: he can take care of the Bishop's appointments, meetings, and visits for him, or tend to matters at home. The Bishop chooses to do the work himself, and the angel sets out to try and show him for himself, what he is neglecting and missing in place of his "work." Slowly the Bishops begins to believe that the angel is there to steal the affections of his wife, child, and staff and friends. What he doesn't realize at first is that the affection isn't gone or stolen- he has just turned it away. The angel helps him to see that what matters is the time spent with family, and the the work of God is best served by serving others, rather than building a magnificent edifice. The time you spend is the most precious thing you possess. Remember this- even if you were a "rich man", it wouldn't matter. Time lost is something that can never be bought back.
My Christmas memories involve some things I got for Christmas... but not all. I couldn't tell you everything I got, or even what it all looked like. What I do remember vividly is the movies and holiday cartoons I watched with my family, cooking with my grandmother, my out of town grandparents coming to stay with us, the car trips to look at Christmas lights, the music, the fireplace, and mom's homemade "egg" nog (emphasis on the egg). Those are the things that stuck with me. I loved 'em when I was a kid, resented having to participate when I was a bratty teenager, and now as an adult - I cherish them. So you see, the kid may whimper for a bit, but only until the next present needs to be opened, or someone turns on a Christmas cartoon, or starts a board game, or passes around candy canes... etc. See? Kids bounce back. If you give them good family time and traditions, that is what will carry them and stay with them long after the toy is broken, the bike tire is flat, and the video game is played out. They won't tell you til' they are older, but they will. SO please - don't fret- bake cookies. DON'T rush- sit down and watch a Holiday movie. DON'T freak out about not finding the "it" toy of the season- sit down and play a game with your family. REALIZE that money will never afford you to buy the happiness you truly seek, and by giving your family and friends your time you will give them something that will last them a lifetime. By the way, Mom and Dad, thanks for doing that for me.
Take some time out tonight from wrapping and rushing etc. and find your copy of The Bishop's Wife and A Christmas Story. Two of my favorite Christmas movies- and they remind me of what is really important, not just this time of year, but always- family . A Christmas Story is hilarious - but it perhaps the movie that best capture the joy of Christmas to a kid and the joy from family. Merry Christmas to all of you and your families. Happy Hanukkah to our friends who are celebrating this time of year May everyone realize the true significance of this time of year- there is joy in the greatest gift, love. On behalf of Baravelli, Pinky, Wolf Flywheel and myself, Happy Holidays from all of us here at The Shelf.
The only people who grow old were born old to begin with.