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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gifts That Keep Giving

This year my husband and I told our children we wouldn’t be having an extravagant Christmas. Not that we ever have really extravagant Christmases, but I always find myself wondering as the time draws closer if the kids have enough to open. I know it’s a ridiculous thought, and all I need to do is stand at the threshold of their bedrooms to realize they have an overabundance of “enough”. Yet, that gnawing feeling returns every year. Do they have enough?

When I think back to Christmases when I was a child, I remember opening many presents Christmas morning. It was always exciting. I can, however, only name a handful of things I received: a bicycle with a basket and streamers on the handles, a Barbie Dream House, and later, a ten speed bike. My favorite was the Dream House.

My son was just informing me yesterday Barbie is bad for young girls’ body images, because it is physically impossible to be built like a Barbie. Thank goodness, because an inability to bend your elbows and forever walking barefoot on your tippy-toes must get pretty uncomfortable. (I can’t be the only one who lost one of Barbie’s shoes within the first 10 minutes of bringing her home.) But tossing political correctness out the window for the moment—Oh, wait! I already did that—the Barbie Dream House was awesome.

I created my first love stories in that three storied building that was as tall as I was. Let’s just say it saw a lot of smooching, on the cheek, that is. Oooh, and love in an elevator. Again, very innocent expressions of affection. Of course most of the stories involved a love triangle. How could it not with only one guy? Barbie was the heroine, Ken was the hero, and Marie Osmond was the villainess. I’m sorry, Marie. I absolutely adore you, but your doll only had one dress. It was lovely, and secretly Barbie envied that sparkly, purple ensemble that didn’t fit her freakishly unnatural figure, but if you wear the same clothes all the time, people are going to start talking.

In my early stories, Barbie, Francie, PJ, Malibu Barbie and an assortment of other Barbies I can’t remember never wanted to include Marie. At first, it seemed to be a result of Marie being mean to them, but eventually, the truth became apparent. Barbie and her blonde minions were acting like rabid pack animals. (Speaking of blonde minions... Did anyone else ever think Skipper was a result of an indiscretion in Barbie's younger years? Sister, my foot! Why did she live with Barbie? I never heard anything about their parents.) I saw their behavior as deplorable, and I wanted to cry on Marie’s behalf. I consoled Marie and promised I wouldn’t allow the mean girls to treat her badly again. In a later story, she’s the one that got the guy.

The Barbie Dream House wasn’t the real gift my parents gave me. It was simply the tool to manifest just two of the gifts that have stayed with me a lifetime: creativity and compassion.

The other day I remembered a true a story from when I was five years old. I loved to be outside in our large yard. It was filled with irises and lovely hiding spots created by bushes and trees. In my imagination, it was my pasture. I rode my horse, her mane flowing, my hair blowing in the wind, in search of magical treasures and fairies. I had the best time galloping across the grass, slapping my hands against my thighs to create the sound of horse’s hooves.

One day a little girl who came to visit her grandmother regularly came over to play horses with me. Her grandmother’s house was behind ours and shared a fence. We laughed and reveled in the joy of being young, energetic, and dreamy. It was a great day. But the next time I invited her over to play, she said something my five year old brain never forgot. “My grandma said I can play, but I can’t be running around flapping my arms like a chicken.” I was so hurt by this soured woman who probably never knew an ounce of joy her entire existence.

Later, I went to my mom and cautiously brought up what the lady had said. I was looking to her to see if it was okay to have an imagination. Was it okay to dream and live in the moment? She didn’t disappointment me. Instead she gave me one of the greatest gifts in life. Not only did she give me permission to indulge my creative side, she taught me that I didn’t have to allow other people’s beliefs or opinions to limit me. Now I look back and feel very sorry for my friend. I hope she had other people in her life that encouraged her like I did.

This memory made me wonder if my worries about whether my kids have enough at Christmas is really concern about if they will get all the things they really need for a full life. Will they know how to love well, work hard, and laugh even harder? Will they see the good in others? Will they recognize the value of friendship, loyalty, and compromise? At the end of the day, will they feel like enough?

Honestly, I think the answers are all yes. We have amazingly bright children with hearts of gold, which I think my husband and I can only take partial credit for. Our children are surrounded by loving family devoted to giving them the true gifts in life and in turn, our children have become gifts that keeps giving.

What gifts of a lifetime did you receive as a child? If you're a parent, what gifts do you hope to give your own child?


  1. Apparently blogspot is being a bit persnickety this morning. I'm hoping if I leave a comment it will magically right itself and let others participate too. :-)

  2. Now that my oldest is somewhat out of the house, I really hope and wonder that very same question. He's such a good kid at nineteen that I think I've done a pretty good job, considering I pretty much raised him alone. And now one down and two more to go, I hope I'm doing the right things and I think as parents we all wonder these things. I also think it's natural and your blog just brings this question back at the right time of the year. Thanks for reminding us of the right reason we buy our children gifts and the right reason we should celebrate this time of year. Family means everything and this was a wonderful reminder. Great blog, Samatha.

  3. Thank you, Suzie.

    Your boys really sound like exceptional young men. I think you've done a fantastic job and will continue to do so.

    Happy holidays!

    PS - I'm so glad you were allowed to leave a comment. Some days... Pow! To the moon, blogspot!

  4. I remember "Santa" brought me a wooden kitchen set one year. Apparently my father was really put out that the old fat man in the red suit got all of the accolades. :) He'd created it by hand and really wanted the credit. I do still remember it, so he gets the credit 35 year later. :)

  5. My parents gave me unconditional love and whenever I had an idea (not matter how crazy) or wanted to try something, I was always met with encouragement. I hope I have given the same to my children. So far, they seem to be filled with confidence and not afraid to chase their dreams.

  6. I am discovering that the gifts I really want for my children (and nieces) aren't something I can give. Things like happiness and peace of mind. But like Jane I can offer unconditional love and a hug when things are rough. Such a great question, Samantha!

  7. Ava,

    What a sweet gift! I can only imagine the time and love that went into building the kitchen for you. Thanks a lot, Santa! You are always stealing the glory. ;)

  8. Jane and Aileen,

    Unconditional love is priceless! One of the best gifts ever!

  9. What a great post, Samantha! I can clearly remember having my grandparents come to visit for a week, one year, I think I was also about 5 years old. My grandfather, who was a very unhappy man, bent down as they were leaving and said to me "I hope you can act a little more grown up next time I see you, young lady." I was expecting a hug or kiss, and was pretty taken-aback by the comment. My mother was so angry. She defended me right then and there, and considering that I was never a very rowdy child, I can't even imagine what he thought I should have been doing? Sitting and staring at the wall?!
    Anyway, I try to make it a point to foster my own kids imagination, I think it's absolutely vital to them becoming well-rounded adults. I do get a little snappish when this involves leaping over furniture and jumping from the top bunk, but I try not to stifle their creative flow. I love to watch my son draw and make up stories to go with his pictures.
    I also recall having tons of gifts to open, but don't remember too any of them. Cabbage Patch dolls one year, the Barbie Dream House another (loved it!) but none as lasting as the memories of our family spending the holidays together. :)

  10. Oh, Olivia! He must has lost control of his faculties! I'm so glad your mom defended you.

    You know, I try to foster creativity in my kids too. My daughter is especially creative, but sometimes that involves icky "experienments" frozen in my freezer or an accidental mess, such as paint on the wood floors. Thank goodness they looked awful when we moved in to our house. It's hard not to get miffed at times. But the funniest project she did was cutting her hair and gluing it to a Hot Wheels truck. She also put lipstick on the grill. Hilarious! She was 3 at the time.

  11. I think the one thing I've tried to instill into my kids is that at Christmas you can be totally silly regardless of your age. We have a hot Christmas almost every year (the occasional cool one) and I regularly give water guns to my own kids and nephews, ones with really large watertanks, of course. We have a long tradition, us parents and grandparents too, of getting in on the water fights after filling up on yummy lunch. LOL. It just makes the day so much more fun for everyone. Great post

  12. What a lovely post. We spent so many years in Germany where Christmas isn't so commercial. What my son, now 31 remembers is the traditions, leading up to Christmas and on Christmas Day,not the presents.

  13. Heather,

    It's so hard to imagine Christmas in the summer, but how fun it sounds. I agree that the gift of laughter and fun is one of the best. To be young at heart is a blessing.

  14. Ella,

    Thank you, and thank you for stopping by today. I would love to hear what some of the traditions are in Germany. Perhaps you will share them with me some time. :)