Thursday, December 3, 2009

Presence or Presents

“Presence or Presents” reads the headline that caught my attention in the local section of our daily newspaper the other day. I anxiously read it thinking this would be a Christmas article that might reflect my views on holiday spending and gift giving, but instead it talked about a group that promoted attending church on Black Friday. A noble idea, but not what I had in mind.

A later conversation with my daughter, who wanted to know what kind of a budget we had allocated toward her clothing etc. while she was growing up, turned into a discussion about holiday gift spending, which caused me to go on a rampage, which I continue here.

Truth is that we had no budget for Lauren’s clothing, toys, etc., because when Doug and I got married we were pretty broke. He had just filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy (and was determined to pay back all his creditors), and I was about $10k in debt. For the first 5-7 years of our marriage we had NO money. The last thing we wanted to do was running up more credit card debt – which we never did, and to this day, all my bills are paid in full by the due date. Those years were not easy and we often fought over money, but we managed, saved, paid our house off before Lauren went to college and we were able to pay most of her tuition without getting loans (she paid the rest).

Yes, Lauren was clothed and there were presents under the tree, but we did not go overboard. Clothing was bought on sale or at discount stores and she did not get everything she wanted. Poor kid had no TV or phone in her bedroom until she was in her late teens. Same thing with stereos, Walkman (remember those), etc. She didn’t get a car until her senior year and even then it was a very old used Volkswagen with over 125k miles – and a manual transmission! She worked through high school as well as college, and paid (or helped pay) for those expensive, trendy items that kids need to have to be cool, etc.

I realize this philosophy sounds incredibly old fashioned, but the truth is, I believe, Lauren really appreciated what she had (and has). Today, parents fall all over themselves making sure their kids have all the latest (iPhones, iTouch, iPods, game gadgets, flat screen TVs, Wii’s). When I say kids, I am talking about children up to 15 years of age. Oh, of course, they have all the trendiest clothes from boutique stores. There is no question that these children have absolutely no appreciation for these “things”, as they are expected and are considered life-style musts that parents feel compelled to buy.

There is nothing more appalling to me than to see parents who can ill afford to spend $500+ each on their kids for Christmas, and are willing to go deeper in debt just because they feel they have to as proof of their love – for the kids – and so their kids will be accepted by their peers.  I wonder if those parents who have the money, and spend thousands on their children at Christmas, even consider that there may be alternatives that would have more of a far-reaching impact on their children’s lives and emotional (if not spiritual) well-being. I wonder if any of these parents sit back on Christmas morning as their children open up package after package, and watch their facial expressions and their attention span with each item once opened, and a few days later as the toys lay scattered and broken all over the house. Especially small children, who themselves are so overwhelmed by the number of items, that they can only focus on one thing at a time – and who soon forget about the majority of their toys within hours.

I am not a religious person. I love Christmas, I love giving and getting gifts, and I love the spirit of the season – giving and rejoicing. My philosophy on gift giving is to give something as a token of appreciation and something that the person would appreciate, use and perhaps remember me by (ego). My family decided they did not want to give gifts a long time ago (which was a hard nut to swallow), so now we throw money in a pot and have a family wine tasting, a great tradition now in its 4th year. Presence: laughing, getting tipsy, and just being together for pure fun.

None of us need anything, so it frees us to concentrate on annual gift giving to non-profit organizations.  Other things we do include picking a needy family and buying gifts for each member, or donating winter jackets for toddlers, putting gift baskets together, and once a bunch of us worked in a soup kitchen (what fun we had). There are so many families that have nothing. Some of them can’t afford clothing, food or medicines. One group we worked with was eating their meals on Frisbees. I am not trying to sound noble; I am just trying to show the dichotomy between families’ needs and wants. Presence: being aware of the needs of others.

Presence: being aware of ourselves and others around us. For those of us with children, by being present, we will be better listeners and more aware of the things that trouble and influence them. We can instill in them a sense of value and moral purpose, and help build their confidence. By being present when we are with our family and friends we will let them know they are important and how much we appreciate having them in our lives (even if it means forgetting about our differences for a while). The smallest change in our attitude may make a significant difference in our relationships. By being in the moment we can live each day to its fullest and hopefully make it a better one – and perhaps most days for you will become a good one, just like today was for me!

1 comment:

ann mcn said...


as always, you inspire us. Thank you for being you and reminding us of what's really important in life.