Turn off the devices (and other rules of engagement)
Monday, December 19, 2016 2:45 PM
By Krestin Bahr
This season of holidays – Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, New Years, Saint Lucia, etc. –…has one thing in common, I have found: Children have very clear opinions about what should happen during this time of year.
I wondered about what the experts (meaning children) would have to say about this time of winter solstice, dark, long nights, snow/ice/rain, and impending vacations. As I mustered up the courage to read aloud to six kindergarten classes (115 children), I decided to ask them about some things. I asked several questions, things I was curious about.
1. How do you make egg nog? Help me with the recipe.
"It's a drink. Looks like milk." "Put a lot of eggs in it." "It's bubbly."
"Sugar, of course. A lot, maybe a bag." No, juice. Put apple or cranberry juice in it." "Cook it on the stove and drink it/" "My dad buys it and puts it in his coffee."
So, if any of you choose to follow this recipe, please let me know how this tastes. (And good luck!)
2. What is mistletoe?
"It's a leaf with cherries on it.They hang it on a door." It's medicine." "It's a toy I have, with missiles on it - like a Transformer." "Grass with a bow and berries." "No, they are fake leaves and berries."
3. How do reindeer fly? "They run so fast they just take off." "No, there's magic." (Now this was the hotly debated section: Where the magic is, who brings it, how it works. There was no consensus here, and depending on the class, there was heated lobbying, caucusing and discussion. Whew!) "There's a collar that you put on them that has magic." "Rudolph's nose has magic in it." "Magic comes from the hooves." "Santa has all the power. He has dust." "The star on the sled has magic." "Someone – maybe Santa – says magic words." "They fly by having dust inside, like glitter."
After this question, I became a bit concerned, yet also excited about my next question. Now as my husband and I are to become new grandparents this spring, I had heard about elves and Christmas, but having no context for this tradition, I eagerly asked the next question.
4. I've heard about “Elf on the Shelf.” Can you explain the rules? "Santa has one." "He kinda' creeps me out. I don't talk to him." "The elf looks for a family. He flies into the house at night." "He has a name (Trixie, Seymour, Sophia, Frog, Anna, Linus, Alexa, Elsa … You get the point.) "He reports to Santa." "If you touch him, the magic wears off. Only grown-ups can touch him. Don't ever touch him! It's trouble." "He leaves notes, cookies, candy, books, notes written on the mirror with toothpaste." "He does funny things - leaves footprints, moves things." "He reports back to Santa." "He is mischievous. He gets into trouble."
All of the students talked about the joy and excitement this elf brings every day in December until Christmas. Amazing! I certainly hope my new grandson will be lucky enough to have an elf visit next year.
Last, but not least, my last question really centered on what was the most important thing to these 5-year-old social scientists.
5. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?
Now, we know that we are all inundated daily with ads for every product imaginable at this time of year. Sheer capitalism at its finest. So, how did our experts respond? "Decorate the tree." "Ornaments on the tree." "Being with my grandpa." "Opening gifts in the morning." "Making cookies."
"Family come over for dinner." "When the elf comes." "Spend time with family.""Wrapping gifts with mom. I got gumballs last year!" "You have to go to sleep so Santa can visit." "If we touch the elf, we will get coal."
Hmmmm. This conversation was going a different direction than I had anticipated. I wasn't hearing anything about presents and stuff, uncontrolled greed and commercialism. Was it true that childhood wonder, innocence and belief in magic and “sugarplum fairies” really still exist?
Excitedly, I hastily threw out a question as I packed my bags. Really just to look like I had a closing question, not really expecting any answers:
So, what would you want your family to know if you could tell them anything?
"I love my mommy, daddy," family members. "I try my best. I really try to be good.""I love them so much." "I love our projects when we paint Santa ornaments and use glitter as snow." "I just love having my family together at this time of year. Ooh yeah, and cocoa with marshmallows." "I love when we play board games with candy canes." "I love my grandma and grandpa. They come over and are so nice."
No responses including lists of what they wanted, lists of “whosits” and “whatnots.”…Nothing. There was only gratitude and excitement for their families, their traditions, the love they felt for all the adults in their lives.
So as we near the holidays, please remember that you – just you, only you – are enough at this time of year, and the greatest gifts you can give don't cost a dime. The gift of time for:
• Being present.
• Laughter and storytelling.
• Walks in the woods.
• Frosting cookies.
• Family traditions.
• Singing (even terribly off-pitch) "Jingle Bells," etc.
• Attending events together, sledding, church, singalongs, dinners, tree-lighting, and on and on.
May you spend this season turning off the ever-present devices and enjoy each other, as time is our most precious gift to others. Listen to the experts and follow their rules of engagement.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
Krestin Bahr is superintendent of the Eatonville School District.