Gimme Gimme Gimmes vs. Give Give Gives

As the Christmas holiday nears I start thinking about presents (duh).  Buying them, wrapping them, giving just enough without being obnoxious, especially when it comes to our 4-year old.  And I unintentionally start noticing what other parents are getting for their young kids.  Am I doing enough?  Are they doing too much?  Is my son spoiled or is he deprived?  Throughout the year we try to strike a good balance between giving him things he wants and not giving in to his every demand.  Make him feel special but not entitled.  Are we successful?  I think we are, but an outsider looking in may totally disagree.  “Spoiled” is in the eye of the beholder, especially during the holidays.

Our son is our one and only right now.  He’s the only grandchild right now.  So yes, I’d be totally lying if I said he wasn’t spoiled to some degree.  But while it’s the grandparents’ duty to greet him with a little trinket whenever they see him (especially since they all live out of town), it’s my job as a parent to pull on the reigns a little so he understands the process of being rewarded, and why he can’t have every little thing his heart desires.  Well let’s be clear here – we don’t have an unlimited budget to give him every little thing his heart desires…  But even if we did I think we’d still err on the side of conservatism because that’s how my husband and I grew up.  The whole “we’re not here to keep up with the Joneses” cliché was a favorite with my parents.  Ugh I hope I never say that to my kids, even if it’s what I’m thinking…

So back to Christmas.  Fortunately at this stage I think he’s happier opening lots of small, inexpensive stuff rather than one big gift.  More bows, more paper, more trinkets, more this, more that.  Fits the bill at 4 years old right?  Gimme gimme gimme!  So over the course of a couple of months I pick up odds and ends as I’m out running my regular errands.  And I try to keep in mind some of the things we want him to DO in the coming year, not just play with.  Camping with daddy is on the agenda, so he’ll get a cute little sleeping bag from Santa to set the stage.

And that brings me to the extended family.  One of the reasons I remain fairly reserved at Christmas time is because he has 3 sets of grandparents, plus aunts and uncles and cousins who are champing at the bit to load him up.  So for that reason I have to make lists – lots and lots of lists – to come up with ideas not only for Santa (us), but for the other family members as well.  “We’re getting him the sleeping bag, so you get him a lantern.”  “We’re staying away from big toys this year, so you can have at it.”  “He needs a new outfit, so why don’t you handle that.”   And before you know it the living room has exploded with more boxes and bows.

Yes, he’s spoiled in late December.  I realize it and maybe it’s wrong for me to say, but I don’t feel guilty about it.  Instead, I try to balance it out by helping him understand that all kids aren’t as lucky as he is, and that he should be thankful for everything he has.  I let him choose the Angel Tree recipient from the church Christmas tree.  He picks a non-perishable food item to bring to daycare every day during the food drive.  He helps me box up clothes for the Goodwill truck throughout the year.  And he drops change in the Salvation Army bucket every time we pass it.  He’s only 4 so I’m not sure he totally understands what it all means, but I hope we’re giving him a good foundation for being humble and gracious as he grows up.  How does YOUR family balance the gimme gimme gimmes with the give give gives?

Happy holidays!

When parenthood is sending me to the nuthouse, this is what I think about.

We’ve all had those periods of time when life seems out of control.  For me, it’s leading a pseudo-single mom life while my husband’s job keeps him away from home most days during the week.  It’s my precious toddler, just shy of his 3rd birthday, who thinks everything is his way or the highway right now.  If he doesn’t get M&Ms after dinner he hops out of his booster chair and swats at me.  Bedtime means nothing; he’s up 2 or 3 times with every excuse imaginable from “monsters in my room” to “I have to poop.”

I don’t know about you, but eventually I hit my wall.  Granted I’m not the most patient person in general, but I do try to temper it when it comes to Junior.  Tonight I actually told him that if he got out of bed one more time I was going to cancel his birthday party next month.  To a kid so damned excited about turning 3 that he can barely contain himself, that was pretty mean of me.  He did stay in bed after that though.  So as I cleaned up one of a thousand messes tonight, I stopped to reflect on how I react to things and realized that I should actually try to be grateful for the crap that drives me nuts.

In the last year or so I’ve become acquainted with a great company that gives people an easy platform to raise money for any cause that’s important to them.  Since there are no limitations on what someone can fundraise for, you see a diverse range of campaigns.  Everything from church mission trips, to Susan G. Komen, to pet rescue groups, and they’re all fantastic.  The ones that really strike a chord with me though, are the ones that center on families – families just like mine – trying to raise money for their children.  Expensive cancer treatments, stem cell therapy, adoption, wheelchairs, you name it.   Yet these are things I never have to think about.

Everybody has problems and frustrations, things to complain about.  Nobody’s life is peaches and cream all the time.  But I think it’s important to put things into perspective; to recognize that some of the things you gripe about could be a blessing to somebody else.  My son has the ability to crawl out of bed and roam the hall upstairs, but there are other kids his age that can’t.  Does this mean I should feel guilty?  Absolutely not.  But when I get particularly crabby it does cross my mind.

At the end of the day every family has its own definition of “normal.”  I grew up with an older brother who was confined to a wheelchair from a young age due to Muscular Dystrophy.  Others may have looked at our family with sadness or pity, but to us it was normal.  I hopped on the handicapped school bus with him every day for a number of years and didn’t think twice about it.  My parents were active with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and we were granted a Disney trip from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  I’m sure my parents felt more stress than they let on, and as a child I was certainly oblivious to it, but I know that they found great joy in their less-than-picture-perfect lifestyle.  And I know that the families behind the fundraisers I just described also feel great joy, even if their lives appear less than ideal from the outside looking in.

So tomorrow morning I will look at my sleepy boy with crazy bed head and tell him his birthday party is not in jeopardy.  When he swats at me like a brat I will discipline him, but also feel grateful that he’s able to swing that hand.  When he sasses at the dinner table I will correct him but remember that I am lucky that he communicates so well.  The next time he loses his mind in a fit of rage I’ll remind myself that his presence alone is a blessing.  But in all fairness I’ll still be annoyed and wonder why my life has to be so crazy sometimes.  That’s normal isn’t it?

*For more information about the fundraising company and its active campaigns, visit http://www.bonfirefunds.com.

Thoughts on Thank You

I wrote a guest blog post for another website earlier this week, so I figured I’d share it here as well.  It’s certainly a little more thought-provoking than my usual banter, but given the time of year I think it’s appropriate.  Have no fear, my tales of toddler mayhem will return soon enough.  Happy Holidays!

680x250_3-1355414516-thank-you-rocksHave you ever thought about how many times a day you say “thank you”?  For most of us it’s completely second nature.   A cashier at the grocery store hands you your change, and you say “thank you.”  Someone compliments your new shoes, and you say “thank you.”  You get a cool gift for your birthday, and you say “thank you.”

The “please and thanks” rule is embedded in us at an early age.  My own two year old knows that if he wants something he has to say “please”, and once he gets it he has to say “thank you”.  It’s old fashioned manners, but sometimes I wonder if we take it for granted.  Most of our day-to-day thank yous are merely habit and go in one ear and out the other.  But think about a time when you gave or received a thank you that really meant something…  It’s a totally different experience.

At some point you’ve probably had a good friend lend an ear and counsel you through a tough time.  Did you give that friend a heartfelt thank you?  Have you ever given to a charitable cause – monetarily, volunteering your time, or donating goods – and been on the receiving end of their appreciation?  It has a different meaning than barely mumbling thanks as you rush out of the supermarket.  When you are recognized for doing something good, or when you acknowledge someone else, it resonates.  You feel it for more than a few seconds.  Giving or receiving an honest thank you is infectious, and it brings out the do-gooder in all of us.

I am partial to a couple of charitable organizations, and if I hand over a donation in person, I look in the eyes of the person taking my gift and say “thank you for what you do.”  I mean every word of it, and spend the rest of my day feeling good.  It’s so easy to give back these days, even if you don’t have a dime to spare.  Challenge yourself to be good even if it’s just once a year.  Volunteer, donate, or start a fundraiser.  Cut your neighbor’s grass if he isn’t able.  Take dinner to a coworker who’s recovering from an illness.  Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so she can have a night out.  Tell someone why you appreciate them.

Everyone should experience the power of a real THANK YOU.  It feels just as great to earn it as it does to give it out.   So why not try it both ways?  You’ll thank me for it…