Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Woman With a Plan

As I wrote in A Modest Proposal, a Christmas season more focused on the gift of presence and perhaps a broadened sense of who our neighbor is requires not just stopping. Stopping overfilling the shopping cart, stopping overfilling the calendar, stopping the frenzied rush toward collapse on the 26th. It requires turning. Turning toward a new way, and especially if our homes include small children, paving the pathway well for them.

So about the time the toy catalogs thump into mailboxes, about the time the trees go up at Stuffmart, about the time turkey and cranberries go on sale, we sit down together. Over dessert after a family dinner, we ask our boys what their favorite things are to do during the holiday season. From that first conversation, we set the tone that what is most important about these precious few weeks to come is what we do together during them, not the things we give each other on Christmas morning.

The conversation ranges all over, from riding around to look at Christmas lights to when we're going to Poppop and Grandma's to watching Charlie Brown, to baking for neighbors and Christmas Eve service. We contribute ideas too, and before long we have an embarassment of riches in planned outings and evenings in together, and most of them free or nearly so.

Now, the boys are still pretty excited about those plump toy catalogs, and their heads can often be seen in early November, close together over a page of LEGO sets, Sharpies in hands. And we enjoy those shiny pages for a few days, and then recycle them. Just as I find that hanging out at Pottery Barn isn't good for my contentment level, weeks of ads for thousands of toys would make any Christmas morning look paltry to a child's eyes. Our boys almost never see television with commercials, and this serves us very well the last two months of the year. As we curb other media sources, I'm exposing them to sites like Advent Conspiracy, and we're talking about the service projects popping up at their schools and at church.

There is one place I'll be spending a little more. From past years' experience, I've learned that avoiding the Stuffmart is a really good idea for me from Thanksgiving to New Years. It is far better for me to pay slightly more for our food at the grocery store and skip the crowds and temptations "where Christmas costs less." (Ugh) So I'll be planning meals and clipping my coupons. By avoiding the big box stores, I avoid those impulse endcap purchases, that nagging sense that whatever I've purchased or made isn't "enough." The Wall Street Journal says retailers spent $17.2 billion on holiday advertising last year. Why put myself in a position to pit my willpower against that kind of funded message?

Of course, this is all the planning that the kids can see. Behind the scenes, we've set our budget, placed orders for the toys we will be buying, and gathered materials for handmade presents. But it isn't too late to begin those things now.

To recap:
A Plan of Turning
  • includes the whole family, and emphasizes shared experiences over purchased gifts.
  • sets kids up for contentment and gratitude by limiting exposure to advertising and gradually exposing them to empowering information about giving to the least of these, appropriate to their ages
  • is honest about temptations and stresses and creatively plans to reduce their influence
  • reinforces budget and spending plans already in place, or makes those first, thus limiting financial worries and beginning planning with an honest picture of what is possible for spending and giving
With a clear vision of how this year can be different, and the recognition that intention in the little things is what makes that vision reality, the turning can begin today.

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