We cleaned out the toy room today. Now just the sheer fact alone that we have to have a whole separate room for the toys points to the problem here. I've come to the conclusion that my children have every toy they could ever possibly need. Not want. Need. We found 6 different sets of blocks, 17 dolls (including Baby Chicken Pox, Baby Twinkling Star, Baby Diva, Baby I Can Cry, and 3 different Cabbage Patch Babies), and enough McDonald's toys to last a lifetime. There were bucketloads of toys that either sang, danced or blinked flashing lights, all with dead batteries. I dug up an old Barbie graveyard. Minus the Barbie clothes, of course. The horror stories go on and on. And yet my children insist there are still more toys they want for Christmas.
I think I've discovered the real culprits here. And they're smart, too. They wait until Saturday morning, when you're wiped out from a long week and enjoying the indulgence of sleeping in. Gratefully, the T.V. will entertain the kids long enough to catch a few extra minutes of much-needed rest. They have the whole morning programmed full of innocent cartoons to keep the little ones busy. So while we sleep, they cunningly fill our childrens' heads with visions of Beach Party Barbie (beach sold separately), Skateboard Kate (batteries sold separately) and of course, Harry Potter Potion Maker Things (complete with enough potion to keep your mop and your carpet cleaner busy for months to come). Don't give in. Don't listen. Or by this time next year, Harry Potter and Skateboard Kate, minus the skateboard, will be concocting something that looks suspiciously like Barbie Brew. And soon enough they will all three join the mess down in "The Toy Room". Meanwhile, your children will be outside playing...in the dirt.
So, here are some alternate ideas for gift-giving to and from the kids, guaranteed to be more fun than the wrapping paper:
• Take the children to D.I. and have them pick out a book they would like to read or have read to them. Have them come home and wrap it with a note saying that it comes with some cozy time to read it together.
• Wrap up your own favorite children's book with a promise to read it to them.
• Decide on a family outing that everyone would like to take, such as a trip to see Christmas lights, feed the ducks at a pond, go to the petting farm or some other family favorite.
• As a family, do a community project such as sponsoring a family in need in your community and providing gifts and food for them. Usually your local Food & Care Coalition will mail you a list of the needs of the people they serve. One fun activity for the kids is making sack lunches and delivering them to the homeless shelter.
• Give children a coupon for a trip to the dollar theater for a matinee.
• Give them a coupon to "do lunch" at their school. Pick a day when the school is having a favorite food. Good luck.
• Give them a roll of film and access to the camera for a fun day taking pictures of the family or the things that are most important to them. Then help them organize them into a scrapbook or make extra copies to send to grandparents.
• Visit a home for the elderly. Ask the people at the front desk which 'grandma' or 'grandpa' would most appreciate a visit. Go in and sing some songs, read some poems or a story or have them tell you about their family. Make sure you give them hugs and hold their hands to provide them with some much-needed love.
• Help a child choose some favorite songs or lullabyes to sing onto a tape or CD (this is where having a technical friend or spouse can come in handy). Record the child singing the songs for a brother or sister, parent or grandparent to listen to and save.
• Give a coupon for one long foot soaking and foot massage with your favorite lotion. The little kids love these too.
• Make paper bag puppets, finger puppets or stick puppets and wrap them up with tickets to your own family play. Take turns putting on plays for each other. Cheer loudly!
• Give a coupon for a family slumber party complete with videos, popcorn, and a pillow fight.
• Wrap a mitten or a picture of a mountain with a coupon to bundle up and find a good sledding hill to tackle as a family.
• Give the gift of a new weekly tradition of your own, such as popcorn and stories or hot chocolate and a sing-a-long. Practice your new tradition religiously.
There are so many gifts we can give that involve giving of ourselves more than spending money.
George Durrant once said, wisely, "If you were to ask one of my children, 'Which would you rather do-ride on the roller coaster at an amusement park or wrestle with your dad on the floor at home?' they'd say, 'Ride on the roller coaster.' But that's just because they don't really know what they are talking about. They just imagine that they'd rather ride the roller coaster, but they'd really have more fun wrestling with me."
No child will ask for a paper airplane race or a tickle-fest for Christmas, they'll ask for the latest and greatest toy they can think of. But when it comes time to pack them up and move them out, they won't be taking Baby Burp or their Tonka Trucks. They'll be taking their memories. And maybe some laundry soap. But mostly the memories. So make them good.