Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raise up a child...?

Community service is a huge part of myself, and I was raised with it in my home.  My mother didn't work, but spent hours a week out in the community.  She went back and got a Masters degree to use it in volunteering.  There was a very Kennedy-style sense of supporting the community...appreciating what we had...and using our resources to help others. 

So I've seen that you can surround a child with that and create an expectation and appreciation of giving, instead of an aversion to it. 

But I am still very conscious about making service a positive in our children's lives.  When I've chosen ways to get involved in the community, I make sure my children can be a part of it.  For one, I can do more of it.  When I visit with Sudanese families, they come with me.  Meals on Wheels, the kids were an integral part of that.  I drove, but they wouldn't even let me carry any of the food to the doors. When I make meals for a new mom, the kids come with me and we talk about helping families when they have a new baby.  

I want that to be part of the fabric of their views on life. 

But I keep watching them, wondering if it will ever start to seem like a plus-one-minus-one situation.  Like if we give to the Sudanese or other persons, it will take away from them? 

Giving away clothes that are too small is one thing.  But buying Christmas presents for them, I watch that one really carefully.  

We're very simple with the things we buy our kids, but I'm different with the Sudanese families.  When you come from Plenty, the drive is often to scale-back...simplify and streamline.  When you come from Want, it makes you crave things (even hoard, at times).

So while I'm trying to scale back the expectations of gifts at Christmas in my own house, I'm creating this Christmas program that's about the very commercialization of the holidays that I'm trying to avoid.

Tricky situation, eh?

To be accurate, my kids get Christmas presents.  It's not like that.  We think really carefully about who our child is and a need to fill in their life.  Andrew is getting a climbing dome.  The boy needs to climb.  Simone is getting a dollhouse. She needs something she can entertain herself with while the boys wrestle in the next room.  It's not like my children get nothing...or even just token gifts...but we downplay the toy part of it, while I'm working to build that up for the Sudanese.

We spend most of the holidays talking about what to give others...making gifts for grandparents...doing Christmas outings...and having the presents be in the backseat.

I feel like it's one thing to opt out of having a big festivity of presents...and another to feel like an outsider to the American culture, and have this sense like everyone else is having this holiday experience you're not able to give your child.  The Sudanese have so many pressures on their finances - supporting family back in Africa, sponsoring family members in the boarding schools, paying for flights they took under refugee status to get here, etc.

We went shopping for one of our "adopted" children today, getting him the gifts I outlined here. Simone helped me pick out the gifts from TJ Maxx, so I wasn't sure how Andrew (especially) would feel about seeing these cool gifts, and knowing they were for the Sudanese children.  I picked out Mayuen's gifts specifically as things Andrew would like, since they were close in age.

I had nothing to be concerned about.

I happened to have my camera nearby, and snapped it as they were gathered around the gift, saying things like: "This is going to be GREAT for Mayuen!  He is going to LOVE this!"  And then all begged to help wrap it for him. 

I love these little buggers for so many reasons, but their giving hearts might give me more joy than anything else I see in them. 

Yes, they might debate who gets which color of bowl, whose song comes next in the car, and bicker over whose pancake was bigger...but whatever. Siblings will be siblings, and sometimes, I think they get a wee bit sick of each other. The way they treat other people is what means so much to me. 

Sudanese Christmas Program

This post is so I can send a link when there are questions about the Christmas program for the Lost Boys.  Sometimes people ask about the types of gifts to give to the Sudanese children, and this way, you can see one example.  There are many ways to do it, this is just one concrete example.  I know some people find that more useful.

We have a 3-year-old boy as one of ours, so we went to TJ Maxx to get the "large" items.  A large stuffed frog ($7), a Spiderman toy vehicle ($15), and a Melissa and Doug musical instrument set ($15).   

Our focus was on the largest size gifts for the amount of money budgeted.  There were quite a few smaller items that were also 7ish dollars, like some matchbox car sets, but I wanted something that looked larger.  Many times, these families can swing the small items... but not much money for bigger toys. 

For this child, we also included a down gray winter vest, bought for $9 at TJ Maxx, because it's his first winter in America.  Also, a package of 6 white socks in his size (clearance at TJM).  Not much fun for Christmas, but lightens the expenses for the parents a bit.  I don't wrap them, because that just seems mean ;)...but I deliver them at the same time.  Underwear is another good one, because even if they get hand-me-down clothes, new underwear is appreciated.

The kids and I went to the Dollar Tree for the stocking items, and even bought the oversized stocking for $1.  Stocking stuffers were a mix of fun things and useful items. 

The Lost Boys' motto is "Education is our mother and father" with gifts for them, I try to include teaching things, like alphabet items.

All these items listed were $1:
  • Spiderman toothbrush
  • Children's flossers
  • Toothpaste
  • Cookies with alphabet stamped on them
  • Animal crackers
  • Juice boxes
  • Sippy cup that he can decorate himself
  • Coloring book with Elmo (teaches letters)
  • Coloring crayons
  • Markers
  • Winter hat
  • Italian ices (not frozen, of course, but they can stick in the freezer)
  • Snoopy tissues
  • Dinosaur puzzle
  • 3 bottles of bubbles (set for $1)
  • Magnifying glass (plastic)
  • Superhero Squad coloring book
  • Santa hat
  • Hershey bar
Including the large stocking, this achieved my $20 budget for the stocking. 

Regarding wrapping:  I tend to pre-wrap the items (other than stocking), but include a note about what's in them for the parents.  That way, they don't have to get wrapping supplies or figure out HOW to wrap...especially the ones who've just arrived, and might be unfamiliar with the wrapping custom.

Hopefully that helps?