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The holidays, the real version

2017 January 5
by Rachel Turiel

This holiday season has unfurled a little like how I imagine those encounter groups went in the 1970s – everyone getting empowered to air their uncensored feelings. So much honesty! So much raw emotion! Dan and I have been standing by like volunteers on a 1-800 hotline, taking shifts, soothing and empathizing and being available to the young callers.

The kids felt some disappointment about our Christmas festivities. When Rose opened, as one of her bigger presents, a beautiful, pristine winter jacket and said with breathtaking diplomacy and politeness, “Oh. This is Iris’ old jacket,” I realized we had failed to provide a spangly, America-approved Christmas. When Col tore the wrapping off his most toy-like gift: a 1000 piece puzzle, you could almost hear the gong sounding in the distance.

This is no surprise really. In the hierarchy of my time and resources, shopping and holiday decorating thud right to the bottom. Also, not having grown up celebrating Christmas, I admit, I’m still a little unclear on the concept. Kids make a list of what they want and we provide? We skip the list, surprising them with the toy of their dreams? We buy a pile of stuff no one needs because a man with pioneering kindness was born?

Special holiday visitor.

Even if the next new shiny thingy isn’t cherished in our house, empathy is. And bless them, the kids know this. Once Col understood that he wasn’t going to hurt our feelings he told us about his jealousy imagining his friends’ big lego sets and electronic devices; he shared his embarrassment thinking about reuniting with his cronies and having little more to report in Christmas dividends than a puzzle, a game, and some long underwear.

Painful feelings need care. Being able to sit with discomfort rather than seek the quick fix of entertainment, sugar, or some temporary hit of pleasure is a skill I want my children to get really good at. So we model this for them, allowing expression without judgment, providing understanding for their positions, letting their unpleasant feelings dry on the line of our support and presence. Col noticed that with no balm other than empathy, his feelings began to transform.

First night of Hanukkah: a Mediterranean feast to honor my Spanish and Greek roots.

With empathy washing over the children’s brains, the encounter group switched to full blown gratitude. (And back to disappointment…and back again to gratitude, multiple times) Col burrowed in close for snuggles, announcing how much he loved us. Rose made me and Dan a spontaneous card listing nine things she appreciated about us, including “you are great at helping me and Col solve conflict,” “you play games, do puzzles and sword fight with us,” and “you guys save money for fun trips and cool adventures.”

My current most cherished possession.

Behind the attraction towards quick hits of happiness is the deeper human need to belong, to connect, to be seen and heard. Much of the rest of our holiday was spent satisfying these needs. We sat on the couch, the kids leaning into me like two protective bulwarks as I read the Hobbit. We spent six completely absorbed and giddy hours putting Col’s 1000 piece puzzle together. We celebrated Hanukkah in a frenzy of greased up latkes with dear friends. We sledded and made soap with deer tallow. We hosted gatherings of Col and Rose’s buddies at our house where we played board games, made art and food together.

Child powered greeting cards: take catalogues, magazines and coloring books, cardstock, glue sticks and scissors. 40 cards for $2.00

Jan 1st. Back to the festivities I can understand: roadkill, scrabble and coffee.

It is not my job to provide the next hit of short-lived happiness for my children, but it’s my great honor and privilege to attend to their needs for joy, belonging, community and connection.

 

Related posts:

orbiting a more peaceful planet
Guest post from Dr. Laura Markham
the chasm


6 Responses leave one →
  1. January 5, 2017

    Andy and I had big talks about not wanting to buy the kids what they wanted. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $100 on a giant stuffed bear…and I tried. I went to Costco 3 times to get the beast, the thing Ruby has been coveting for a year. And Margot wanted a phone watch so that was an easy no. In the end, we bought the kids a camp hammock. It fell a little flat at first but Andy anchored it to our living room walls and they came around. That list Rose made? Best gift ever. xo

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 5, 2017

      Last year Rose wanted a $60 stuffed hippo she saw at a bookstore. Had she not seen it she never would have known she wanted it. But for a week she wanted it like I want coffee at 7am. I wrestled with it, almost bought it for her, but I’m glad I didn’t because it would have been forgotten by now. There’s no much promise (for my kids at least) in The Next New Thing. We’ve been playing a controlled version of 4-person indoor soccer in our livingroom with a small ball and a laundry hamper and I swear that brings more joy than a stuffed hippo would have. :)

  2. January 5, 2017

    Read a great blurb this Christmas, in a discussion on minimalism and gift giving. The line was “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read”. I thought it was a lovely mix of practical/useful with a dash of joyous indulgence thrown in.

    Me, I’ve pretty much abandoned the entire Christmas holiday as practiced by modern day Americans. I try to practice gratitude, and not get a contact high (or low) off of everyone around me as they wrap themselves around the axle over the whole thing. This year, it really worked. I found more grace around accepting everyone else than I normally do, and we escaped to a warmer clime as our own reward for surviving 2016 intact.

  3. Michelle Ellis permalink
    January 6, 2017

    Your children seem to have beautiful hearts and time and love are so much more important than material items that just leave you in debt. You guys are doing it right!

  4. Solyssa permalink
    January 9, 2017

    Good stuff! Thanks for tackling these issues. The holidays are always a bit challenging for those of us who try to live with less and decrease consumption and waste.

  5. Ellie permalink
    January 14, 2017

    Rachel,
    I’ve been “subscribed” for quite some time now, but I have not gotten your posts for the last few months. I tried resubscribing two times, and I am told that I can’t because I am subscribed. Sigh.
    Thank you for this post. Here in Silicon Valley the tug of Unnecessary Stuff is very strong. Like one of the previous commenters, we bought each kid one thing they wanted (thankfully, one wanted “64 Crayola Crayons”), plus a couple of items from us, plus necessary clothes and lots and lots of books. We could have done better, but I feel that with each year we get closer to the Right Way, which people like you are following.

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