As we walked into the toy store I announced, “Remember, we are here to buy a gift. You will not be getting anything today.”
Within five minutes, Samuel had already announced a small list of things he wanted or “needed” and Tyler was walking around carrying a toy as if he already owned it.
Need is my favorite. He really needs - not wants - the 500-piece set of Zoobs at J. Christopher’s or a new Bakugans at Walmart to go with the other dozen he already has at home. But I guess to a kid, new toys really are a need.
We have a saying in our house when these little needs arise: “You have the gimmies.” The term comes from one of the classic Bernstein Bears books, “The Bernstein Bears Get the Gimmies” in which Brother and Sister Bear want everything they see and throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. But Mama and Papa solve the problem by teaching the cubs about a budget and how to appreciate what they already have.
This time of year is especially difficult for our household on this matter because everyone in our family of four celebrates a fall birthday quickly followed by Christmas. Our weeks are filled with birthday parties, trips to the toy store and gift buying. And as the closet doors and toy boxes burst at the seams, I continue to hear “I want…”, “I need…”, “Can I have…”
Mercifully in the middle of it all, comes Thanksgiving. A holiday with no presents and a time to remember and to be thankful for what we already have.
In America, many children don’t have a true understanding of what it really means to “need” something. Needing a new Hot Wheels car really pales in comparison to children in other countries who need clean drinking water and have never even asked for a new toy because it would never even occur to them to do so.
In the mist of all the gimmies in our house, we work to teach our boys about these true needs that other children have, how lucky we are to have the things we have and how to be giving. One of the ways we do this each year is through Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
For the past several years, our church, Highland Drive Baptist, has participated in the program that sends shoeboxes filled with toiletries, toys and candy to children around the world who would never otherwise receive such a gift. In fact, many of these children have never received a Christmas gift at all.
Each November, I have the opportunity to take my children shopping so that they can pick out items to fill our shoeboxes. Samuel also now colors a picture or writes a letter to the little boy who will receive his box. On Shoebox Sunday, Samuel gets to carry our boxes to the front of the church to place on the altar with all of the other boxes donated or packed during our Vacation Bible School week.
My husband and I have also had the joy of going to Atlanta to one of the distribution centers to help prepare boxes for going overseas. The first time I went, I explained to Samuel that I would be helping send the boxes we packed to the little boys for whom he had packed boxes. For months afterwards, he asked me about the little boys and if I thought they liked the toys we picked out.
This year we have another opportunity to teach about giving. Our church has recently partnered with a children’s home in Mexico and we will be packing and sending shoeboxes for specific children in the village around the home. But instead of our boxes going to the children in the home who already receive numerous gifts, the children at the home will take our boxes to the children of the village who would likely not receive anything. A double blessing!
There are many other ways to help teach children about giving to others, such as the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree ministry, making cards for patients in a local nursing home, or taking cookies to elderly shut-ins. The idea is simply teaching your child to be thankful and to think of others.