Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Forty-Four

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are forty-four months old.

This month, it has really seemed that you and Christmas are made for each other. You are so social and love taking part in all the exciting activities at this time of year; you are thrilled to have any opportunity to dress in a fancy dress; and you are at a perfect age to really get what Christmas is all about: the Christmas story, giving to others, and of course the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. It’s been a really fun month!
You are getting more and more competent all the time. You have gotten pretty good at tidying, and often do it without me even asking (of course, there are other times when no amount of asking will accomplish anything). I wrote a while ago about how you are now able to go wash your hands and face after a meal; recently, you have learned to hang the hand towel back up after doing so. This may seem like a small thing to an adult, but it’s a tricky task for a three-year-old, and you’ve mastered it handily. It won’t be long before you’re better at tidying up after yourself than certain adult males who live in our house.

You are getting better at dressing yourself, and enjoy the opportunity to pick out your own clothes. Lately, it’s all about the dresses, the girlier the better. I’m not sure if this is just because of the seasonal-party influence, or if this is your new style, but either way I don’t mind. A few nights ago we went to an outdoor Solstice party at a friend’s house, and though I knew we needed to dress warmly, your ears heard only the word “party” and insisted that what was needed was a pink princess dress (complete with tiara). Well, that’s one battle I choose not to fight, so I merely insisted you wear a long-sleeve shirt underneath your dress and blue jeans over your leggings, and off we went. Similarly, you wore a mermaid outfit to decorate our Christmas tree this year. What can I say? That's a hill I'm not willing to die on. You have started to obsess just a wee bit with those enemies of the modern mom, the Disney princesses. A recent conversation:

Gwen: Can I be Sleeping Beauty when I grow up?Me: You might want to do something more interesting than just sleep all the time.Gwen: Can I be Jasmine instead then?Me: What does Jasmine do?
Gwen: She’s a princess.
Me: Yes, but what does she DO?
Gwen: Nothing. She’s a princess.
Me: Well does she go on adventures or play games?
Gwen: Um … no?
Me: Sounds pretty boring to me, what do you think?
Gwen: Yeah, maybe.
We also have numerous conversations about the concept of ‘pretty’. As evidenced by your preferred style of dress, you have become fairly invested in being pretty. You put on various dresses and then ask, “Do I look pretty now?” We tell you that you are pretty no matter what you wear, and I have also tried to make you understand that there are more important things than pretty: “You are smart, and funny, and kind, and gentle, and good at sharing, and friendly, and a great singer. Pretty is just one of the things you are.” I don’t know if you totally get the message, but hopefully it’s sinking into your brain and will be there when you need it.
We’ve also had a few big talks recently about paying attention. “Pay attention!” is one of the things I say numerous times a day, and it’s usually about paying attention to where your body is in relation to sharp and dangerous objects, other people, tripping hazards, or breakable things. It finally occurred to me last weekend to ask, “Hey Gwen … when I say ‘pay attention’, do you know what that means?” The answer, of course, was no, so we spent a bit of time talking about it while I demonstrated the hazards of not paying attention – for example, walking slow motion into a wall because I was looking the other way. I think you are getting a bit better at being aware of your body and what’s around you, or at least being aware that you SHOULD be aware. A couple of times when you have hurt yourself, you have told me it was because you weren’t paying attention.

The thing I struggle with most with you is your emotional outbursts. You go from happy and laughing to crying and distraught so quickly, and I can’t get you to listen to me enough to get you calmed down. It's so hard to balance disciplining you for inappropriate behaviour while still validating and accepting the feelings that inspired that behaviour; and while I want to comfort you and help you feel better, I don’t want you to think that whining, yelling, or crying is a good way to get attention. Sometimes you get yourself into such a state that you scare yourself – you cry out to me, “I can’t stop crying!” and you sound so sad and afraid that it breaks my heart. I hope this particular issue eases up as you approach four.
On the whole, though, we really enjoy our time together. With your dad working weekends, you and I have been doing a lot of activities with just the two of us, and it feels like we’re a team. We went on a trip to the Sunshine Coast recently to share pre-Christmas celebrations with your cousins, and for the first time the playroom on the ferry didn’t hold your interest. Instead, we toured the boat, looking out the windows as you started to understand for the first time that we were sailing over the water. You made a friend and played Memory and I Spy with him, while I sat nearby and read my book. It was delightful.

I am going to have to save writing about your adventures in the Christmas pageant for next month, Gwen, as there is no way I am cheating myself out of sharing the story with your Grandpa Ron in person when we see him next week. So you can look for that story next time!

Gwen, I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and three. It’s been a total joy to share this Christmas season with you and I can’t wait to see what the next month – and year – will bring.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Defense of Santa

To follow up yesterday's Santa pictures, I am reposting a blog from 2009 about Jesus and Santa because it's one of my favourite posts. Hope you enjoy.

It’s pretty hard to raise a kid in North America avoiding all exposure to Santa. Though some people are bound and determined to try. Frankly, I am still in the “I don’t see the harm,” camp. But to explain why, I have to share a little bit more about my own experiences.

I was raised as a Christian (Lutheran, to be precise). But we believed in Santa, too. I never saw these two figures as opposed: they each had their place in the Christmas rituals. Another important aspect of my fondness for Santa is that the myth was not taken from me in a sudden, traumatic way: that is, there was no older, trouble-making kid who spoiled all the fun by telling me Santa wasn’t real. No one ever said that to me. I came to the realization myself, very gradually and gently, and this allowed me to form my own ideas about what Santa was and wasn’t. I decided that Santa is a symbol: a symbol of kindness, generosity, love. Going the extra mile because “It’s Christmas”. Santa is the excitement of knowing something secret and special is about to happen, the joy of giving gifts to people you love. The wonder of it all.

For me, Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas as seen through childhood eyes. I don’t think that spirit is a made-up fairy tale, at all. I think it exists in all of us, and this time of year brings it out in us.

There are a lot of arguments against Santa. One is that when children find out that their parents lied to them about Santa, they will decide their parents lied to them about Jesus, too, and conclude that he doesn’t really exist either. I think that’s an oversimplification. I think if your faith in God is shaken by a man in a red suit, it’s not the jolly old man who’s to blame. There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to raise a Christian child in today’s world. Santa is the least of our problems.

Another argument is that the Christmas Story should be able to fulfill a child’s need and desire for magic at Christmas time. I believe with all my heart that all these things happened: that God came to earth and became a man; that Jesus was born of a virgin; that a star led the wise men over hundreds of miles to greet the new king; that a myriad of angels heralded his birth; that his birth and death saves me from my sins. I believe all of that – but it took me over 20 years of reflection, study, and discussion with others to get to that point. My daughter – forgive me – is not there yet. She can’t understand that it takes more than two seconds to turn bread into toast. I can’t articulate these abstract concepts to her yet. The Santa concept is a lot easier.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk about Jesus’ birth with my daughter. We have an unbreakable Nativity set that she looks at and plays with every day. She knows the baby is called Jesus, and that the female figure is his mother and the male figure his father. She’s twenty months old. That’s a good start.

(To be honest, if you are going to take a hard look at the Christmas story, none of it really means anything unless you also understand and recognize the Easter story. So what? A baby was born to some girl who claims she’s never had sex. BIG DEAL, right? Unless you accept that Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to die for our sins, the Christmas story doesn’t really contain any magic in and of itself.)

The post I referenced above asks, “I wonder if sometimes Jesus cries at Christmas.” I look around my world and I see so many reasons for Jesus to rejoice with his children on Earth. Millions of people raising songs of joy in His name. Shoppers giving coins to strangers ringing bells and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Children learning the value of giving, the importance of family. People all across the world making time for one another, gathering together to share fellowship and wishes for peace. Those are just the things I see – our all-powerful, all-knowing Lord sees so much more. You think Santa’s going to reduce Him to tears? What kind of God do you think He is?

So, yes. Gwen will be raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus. We will teach her about generosity, especially relational giving and giving to those less fortunate. We will teach her about Christ's birth, life, and death. We will teach her about the various meanings of Christmas - both religious and philanthropic - and eventually, when she realizes that the actual physical Santa is a myth, we'll help her to fill that void with her own conclusions about how she can still enjoy the things Santa represents. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Santa. And I believe in my daughter's ability to assimilate all of these cultural concepts and become an amazing, well-adapted person.


Related Posts with Thumbnails