Thursday, 30 September 2010
the art of receiving
I use the word 'value' deliberately here. I hate the idea of wasted money (and wasted effort!) - gifts that I know the girls won't use or play with, gifts that represent duplicates (or in many cases triplicates or even quadlicates ((is that a word?!)) ). For instance, between them, they have been given five tea sets over the last four years. And with two older sisters to hand down pretty dresses, Esme is unlikely to ever need a new one. I also use 'value' to refer to play value. There are so many toys on the shelves that just do not represent good play value, in my opinion. The all-singing, all-dancing, all-flashing thingamajig will definitely garner plenty of oohs and aahs on Christmas morning, but I know from experience that in a week or two it will just be another health and safety hazard waiting to be tripped over. Finally, I employ 'value' in the sense of our family values. I prefer not to introduce my young daughters to books that portray siblings as people with whom it is normal and even funny to fight. I am not prepared to allow Barbie and all her wasp-waisted, insecurity-inducing, aesthetic aspirations into my girls' conciousness yet. Television and popular children's tv characters do not play an important role in our lives, so character-branded toys carry little meaning. We value the simple. The open-ended. The natural. Quality over quantity.
When children (and indeed, adults) are given cheap, easy to replace items, they quickly realise that these items are not ones to be valued, are not to be cared for. It doesn't matter if it breaks or if the pieces are lost - we can just buy another. Eva and Imogen were awestruck when hearing that four-year-old Laura Ingalls had only a corn-cob doll to play with. But they understood, whilst listening to a later chapter, why the rag doll that she was subsequently given for Christmas was so precious. The scarcity of playthings in the Ingalls home made each possession something to be treasured.
I am finding that my children value the handmade. Particularly when they have seen it being made. I am, at the moment, knitting a blanket for Eva's birthday. She has seen me knitting it, and she has an idea of what it looks like. Of course, as I get closer to finishing it I will keep it under wraps so that she still has the thrill of opening something that holds some mystery. But because she has seen me labouring on it, she has a sense of the time and effort and love that are being knitted into it, stitch by stitch.
It is very difficult to know whether my Christmas list is appreciated or if it is perceived as bossy and ungrateful. My dad did say he was pleased to be able to choose things that he knew would be used and appreciated. We tried to include a variety of things for each child, to ensure there was still a wide range of choice for the gift-giver. I understand that part of the grace of receiving gifts is to accept whatever is given with sincere thanks and appreciation. So perhaps I am wrong to even draw up such a list, much less hope everyone will adhere to it. Maybe my deep dislike of waste should take a backseat during the season of goodwill. I don't know. But, like so many parents, we cannot afford to give our children all the beautiful and useful things we would like them to have, so Christmas and birthdays feel like a time when we can ask others to be involved with giving them those things. Again, maybe I am wrong to feel this way. I guess I have only my own feelings about giving presents to go by: I would always prefer to be given some idea of what the recipient would like or needs (especially if it is a child). I would never be offended by someone exchanging a gift I had chosen for something they would prefer. In fact, I hate the idea of wasting my money or my time on something that will sit, unused, in the back of a closet.
We are trying to live a simpler life. Rob and I have cut right down on what we buy and bring into the home. We both feel overwhelmed sometimes by the sheer amount of stuff that seems to be falling off of every shelf, bursting out of every cupboard and overflowing every drawer. I don't want to feel guilty when he comes home to the contents of a toy shop strewn all over the living room floor, but equally, I don't want to spend huge chunks of every day nagging my children to tidy up their toys, their books and their clothes.
How do you manage the gifts your children receive?