Most of our 3-year-old's favorite things aren't things. She likes painting and hiking, racing and bike riding, baking and card-making. She's never really formed affinities with objects nor does she get particularly excited about playing with toys. She would much rather "exercise" in the front yard or "go barefooting" or chase the sunset.
Our 8-month-old, of course, is equally disenchanted by all of the bling-bling baby gadgets and toys in the aisles at Target. She much prefers to laugh as her big sister jumps on the bed or to go for walks with the breeze blowing through her hair.
This way of living, this state-of-BEing is something that we have intentionally nurtured.
For example, we are extremely choosy about the gifts that we give our daughters at Christmas or on their birthdays. Sometimes, we opt to not BUY them anything at all (GASP!).
That doesn't mean we don't GIVE them anything. We give them plenty of love, hugs, kisses, tickles, memories, and...things that money can't buy.
When we do make purchases, we tend not to give them the typical Toys R Us fare (blah). Instead, we select handmade and/or practical products...or, better yet, "experiential" products that require a certain degree of interaction and reflection.
Here is our reasoning:
1. We DON'T want to encourage "excess." Oftentimes when my husband and I go to dinner at the homes of friends' and acquaintances, we are taken aback by all of the "stuff." Bookshelves and toy boxes and closets and floors...overflowing. Our typical response to such an evening is actually opposite of the "keeping up with the joneses" mentality. We usually walk away with the desire to live even more simply, to have LESS.
Simplicity allows ample room for imagination and creativity. I have discovered that rooms full of toys and media actually tend to detract from quality time, from innovation, and from happiness.
As it is, our girls receive plenty of gifts from family members on special occasions so adding yet another toy would be madness.
2. We DON'T want to encourage commercialism. Several months ago, my husband took our 3-year-old daughter to Walgreens to buy a new toothbrush. When they returned home, he recounted how the cashier had asked our daughter who was on her new toothbrush. She looked at the brush and then back up at the cashier, and said quite confidently, "A Girl!" "But who is the girl?," the cashier persisted. "A girl with brown hair," she said observantly. The "girl" was Dora.
Since we watch a very minimal amount of TV, my daughter probably wouldn't be able to tell you who most "characters" are. Shockingly, she doesn't know who the Disney princesses are (She's just now beginning to differentiate between a few of them because we have started reading Disney books), she's never heard of SpongeBob, and she doesn't know what a Barbie is.
We like it that way. When we DO buy clothes or toys or toothbrushes, we try our very hardest to stay away from characters and branding (which is yet another reason that we are contemplating a switch to cloth diapers, by the way...it's pretty much impossible to find disposables that aren't plastered with Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, or Sleeping Beauty).
3. We DON'T want to spend money unnecessarily. Since our girls are very young, they are as mesmerized by flowers, rocks, and ice cream cones as they are by toys and electronic gadgets. In fact, I am quite certain they actually prefer the former to the latter.
Think about it. Will your 2-year-old be more thrilled by the leaf you found while out exploring or by the sweater/DVD/talking doll that you bought? Sometimes less expensive (or free) gifts are the very best for young ones: a cupcake, a collage of magazine cut-outs, a small stack of quarters, tickets to the local museum, etc.
When our kids are older, we may feel differently. For now, however, it seems silly (and downright frivolous) to dedicate our hard-earned dollars to toys and gadgets for a baby and preschooler when they are just as excited about the process of unwrapping the gift as they are by what is inside.
4. We DO want to champion the importance of people rather than things. THINGS are so overrated. Things get tossed aside and put under the bed and - eventually - given away. People stick around. People matter. As such, the gift of time is a thousand times more valuable than the most expensive present.
5. We DO want to make memories rather than allowing presents to shape occasions. Instead of concentrating on presents, I think it's fun to focus in on special experiences. Rather than purchasing a gift, plan a special camping trip or a fancy dress-up dinner or a picnic in the backyard. Spending money on good hiking boots or brilliant watercolors or ingredients for making a cake (WITH your child) is money that is well spent.
I am interrupting my Christmas Gift Guide to write this because you may end up wondering why the gifts in my children's category are somewhat unconventional. This post shares the reason. It is because I am uninspired by Elmo Live, Zhu Zhu Pets, Twilight Barbie, and The Littlest Pet Shop. Truth be told, I wouldn't take those toys if they were offered to me for free because it doesn't fit our family's philosophy (oh, wait...a lot of them WERE offered to me for free...and I turned them down).
The gift ideas that I will offer are going to be practical, handmade, and/or geared to the whole family. Stay tuned...
YOUR TURN: What kind of gifts do you give your kids on Christmas?