My daughter is finally old enough to understand the concept of Santa. At 3 1/2, she can grasp the concept that a jolly bearded man in a red suit might bring her presents IF she is good all year. I have just started to capitalize on this fine new tool of behavior blackmail. At the dinner table during a whine fest. During a sleep-deprivation inspired meltdown on the kitchen floor. You better watch out...
The potential is huge.
But, I've been recently having second thoughts about this Santa-biz. I don't want Christmas to be all about getting. Sometimes, the way she acts, I think: wow, you have no idea how lucky you are. Sometimes, she is a complete brat. How to make her understand how blessed she is? To appreciate the joy of giving gifts (in all senses of the word) to others? Can they get that at this age?
And then I think of my friend Jen and her daughter M and know that they can. Jen runs a homeless shelter in the Bay Area and M, very close to my daughter's age, helps out at the shelter from time to time. Hearing about M at the shelter is inspiring. Her daughter is sensitive, loving, empathic, and so utterly giving it takes my breath away. I want that.
It may be cliche to volunteer at a homeless shelter during the holidays but what better time to start a family tradition of giving? I want my daughter to really understand that people out there don't have homes, don't have food, and sometimes, the only difference between us and them is luck. I want her to know this intimately, more than the times she asked me why I rolled down the window at the stop light to give money to the man standing at the island. (Why doesn't that man have a house?)
So I'm looking for local shelters where our whole family can go and help. The experience probably won't overshadow the receiving of Christmas presents for my daughter this year, but I'm hoping it will be a seed of awareness, of goodness, that grows.