Dear MPS Families,
I hope you are all doing well as December descends upon us. The shortest day of the year is approaching quickly. I both love and dread the darkness. The element of cozy and the opportunity to light candles, cook warm and soul nourishing foods appeal to me tremendously as does the opportunity to spend time with friends and family in commemorating traditions and celebrations. But the darkness can also weigh me down making it harder to rouse myself to the necessary tasks of daily life. Many mornings I just want to pull that blanket back over my head and squeeze out another 30 minutes of sleep.
Regardless of my wishes, though there is still so much to be tended to and if I procrastinate it, I wind up feeling worse later down the road. Ah. Adulthood.
I hope that you are all doing your best to take care of yourselves during this month filled with expectations and demands, hope and dreams. From reviewing your Family Background Surveys you turned in at the start of the school year, I know most of you do celebrate Christmas in some form. Some of you have additional winter holidays as well. My wish for you is that you are able to look at the traditions, expectations and trappings of the coming holidays and then create your own celebrations that fit your family in terms of time, financial commitments, values and available adult energy.
It is sometimes guilt inducing if we choose to let go of some traditions if we hear voices in our heads that tell us that we ‘should’ be able to do it all. I encourage you to use some of our mindfulness practices from the classroom and work to quiet the ‘shoulds’. The music we use in the classroom lately for relaxation and restoration has been Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Find it on youtube or something, put it on, light a candle and give yourself permission to just breathe and relax. Quiet your inner voices. Let the tension leave your body and focus on the light the candle brings you. Mindfulness practice will help you stay present in the many moments of your day. Choose the elements of holiday that speak to your heart and to your family values.
Many of you have been asking about how to create realistic expectations in children during the ‘giving’ holidays. It is hard for kids because we live in a consumer culture. Their little brains do not understand marketing and advertising – they only see the images that surround them and are repeatedly asked what they ‘want’ this time of year. Of course they want all the pretty and fun looking things. It is acceptable in our culture to market directly to young children. It is everywhere. Every story gets turned into a movie and from the movies and shows and videos come toys based on the characters. They are printed on clothing. They show up in meals as extra gifts. They are on backpacks and lunch boxes. Little kids are surrounded with artificially created desires.
Have empathy for your kids when they get a case of the gimmes. And then help them back away from the trough of consumerism. One of the best ways that you can do this is by looking at the example you live because your children are always watching and learning. Check your own consumer driven language. Do you ‘wish’ out loud that you had _______ or _________? It is only natural. But let them also hear you when you realize that while it looks nice, you don’t really need it. Let them hear that you already have what you really need.
Maybe you can refocus your family intentions around holiday gifts onto doing something for others and finding joy in that also. Making plans to make or create something for someone else can be super rewarding. For little people, simple projects are best. And even service opportunities can be rewarding. Raking up and bagging the rest of an elderly neighbors leaves, making soup and delivering it to a friend or relative, singing songs, making a storybook about your family and your adventures – all of these simple gifts when given from the heart have meaning well beyond the time it takes to rip shiny paper off of a box.
And then understand that the idea of receiving a present can be intoxicating for children. Help them keep their expectations realistic in terms of the number and types of gifts they can expect. It is easy to think that if I want a pony, I can actually expect to get that pony. Use empathy and understanding when they explain how much they really want a real rocket. ‘I can hear how excited you are by the idea of a rocket that you could ride to outer space. That would be so fun. Even though we can’t get you a real rocket, I bet we can make a rocket you can play with. What do you think we could use?”
You can explain that in your family, people usually receive ___# of gifts. Maybe one comes from Santa (or not if your family does not recognize Santa as a gift giver). Maybe two toys and some books? Whatever is a reasonable expectation in your family.
And remember that anticipatory anxiety is a real thing. When there is so much build up to the holidays and the one special day on which so much happens – it is enough to stress anyone out but especially children. If you have not noticed, waiting is not the strong suit of the preschool set. So try not to dangle the reward in front of their faces constantly. Focus instead during the month on the other parts that make your holiday season special. Enjoying the colors, lights, music and foods. Enjoying time together with family and friends when it is NOT focused on the constant refrains of “what do you want?”.
We keep it pretty low key in the classroom. We talk about holidays when the kids bring it up. We compare how there are similarities and differences in how and what people celebrate. We will be making some very simple winter themed crafts that they can bring home – and their participation in these activities is optional of course. We try to keep our environment calm, steady and predictable. Towards the last week of school before the break we will break out the bells and sing a couple of rousing rounds of jingle bells and I usually read Patricia Polacco’s Trees of the Dancing Goats to the 4’s and Pre-k (a Hanukah/Christmas Story). And I will read Mr Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake to all 3 classes. It is a sweet story about making something special for a friend. But other than that, it will be more of a focus on the arrival of winter and the change of seasons. We will likely make some bird feeders and go out and hang them in the trees to feed our little winged friends. Noticing the natural world can be an antidote for all the overwhelming hype that fills up our world.
In fact, I don’t know if you noticed but the folks at Tualatin Hills Nature Center are hosting a Park After Dark Owl Prowl on Saturday December 16th from 6:30 to 8:30pm. There is a charge of $10 per person. The first hour is indoors learning about nocturnal residents of the park and the second hour is a trip out into the park for a guided night hike. Call 503-629-6350 or go to www.thprd.org to register.
That’s it for me this month. I wish peace, hope, love and compassion now and into the new year.