We have a really cute advent calendar that is made of little knitted mittens and stockings and caps - one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. We've had it for a couple years but I can't for the life of me remember where we got it. Isn't that sad? I'm sure it was a gift, one that I really love, and yet it has completely escaped my mind as to who gave it to us.
(If it's you, please let me know! That way every year when we're like, "We love this thing!" we can also be like, "_____ is so great! How lucky are we to know them?!")
Last year I went a bit overboard stuffing each day full of candy canes and Hershey's kisses and ring pops and Reese's trees and Pez dispensers and, really, as much Christmas-themed sugar as I could fit. It was like I was trying to outdo myself and by the time Christmas rolled around I completely regretted it. Not only did I give my child permission to eat several pieces of candy for 25 days straight (why?), I also totally jacked up his expectations.
If he discovered the mitten for the day only had, say, three little chocolates and a mini candy cane, he would actually be ticked off. "Uh...yesterday I got five chocolates and a ring pop and today all I get is this?" I would just stare at him speechless like, "Is my child really giving me attitude about eating candy?" But there was no one I could blame but myself.
So this year I decided to do things a little bit different. Instead of trying to give him diabetes (the gift that keeps on giving!), I was going to see if maybe, just maybe, I could help him tap into his sense of appreciation. Our advent calender would be sort of like the anti-holiday pepper spray. Less wish list; more thank you note.
On the first day I wrote a little note on a Post It and rolled it up inside. When he reached in and felt the paper the look on his face said, "A note? Are you freaking kidding me?!" But when he read it - After school, let's make a gingerbread cake! - he said, "Mama, what a great idea! I can't wait to come home and bake together!"
Yes, I was still appealing to his sweet tooth, but it felt like we were moving in the right direction. An experience, preferably with someone you love, is always better than a thing. Even if that thing is chocolate. We talked about this while we measured and stirred and in trademark Liam fashion, he took it about twelve steps further than I was anticipating. When I told him I valued experiences over things he said, "Do you know what I think is is even more important than experiences? Life. Because without life, nothing is possible."
Okay kid, slow down. I'm just trying to get you to appreciate your candy canes!
I thought maybe our little experiment was already a success but the next morning when he reached in and found another note he was genuinely pissed off. "A note again? Seriously? This is the worst advent calender ever!" Even though he was actually pretty stoked about what the note said (Dinner = your choice!), I was glad he had had such a negative reaction initially. It's easy to be grateful for things you want; the challenge is finding a way to appreciate everything else.
The next day he got to go to the Adventure Science Center with Dada (he asked me to stay home...) and the day after that we made it a "no electricity except Christmas lights!" night (he equally loved and hated this one but complained enough that I felt like it was a pretty good choice).
This morning, I kind of forgot about the calender (I'm filling it up day by day) so when we got home from school I quickly found a quarter and slipped it in stocking #5 before he checked. At first he thought it was empty. "Hey, you forgot to give me anything! Where's my note?" I told him to look a little harder and when he discovered the quarter, I think it actually made him appreciate the notes!
"A quarter? You DID forget! No fair. I don't want a quarter, I want something good!"
"Well, you're in luck. Because you don't just get a quarter, you also get a lesson."
"Join me on the floor," I said from my spot in the hall, "and I'll tell you all about it." He reluctantly plopped down next to me. "Seriously, dude, we need to work on appreciation."
"No we don't! I already know how to appreciate things."
"I know you do, bud. You do. But something like this quarter can help you practice being grateful for the things in your life that maybe aren't so exciting."
"Like this dumb quarter?"
"Hey, it's twenty five cents you didn't have two minutes ago!"
"Alright, well, if nothing else I want you to think about your attitude. I mean, what do you think will happen if you're never satisfied with what you have?"
"Or with my life since that's what's most important."
"Right. What do you think happens to people who look at their life and think, That's it? I want something better! More, more, more! Do you think they're very happy?"
"I don't think so either. When someone is ungrateful like that do you think it helps bring more good into their life?"
"No because of the golden rule. Whatever you put out is what you get back."
"Ahh...that sounds like even another reason to be appreciative! A positive attitude will probably give you even more to feel good about. And a negative attitude, well, it will probably do the opposite."
At that very second, the quarter he'd been passing back and forth between his hands fell to the ground, rolled down the hall and disappeared into the heather vent. It was COMPLETELY GONE. And Liam was really, really bummed. As I held him and he cried I couldn't help but think, Damn! I couldn't have planned that better if I tried! I didn't say that, of course, but the coincidence was so uncanny that we had to talk about it. He told me that losing the quarter made him realize how much he appreciated getting it. Then he asked if he could go back for a minute and thanked me for the quarter.
When Bill came home with a big cheese pizza for dinner (Liam's favorite!) I looked at him and raised my eyebrows like, "Dude! You appreciated that quarter and look! More good!" He nodded and gave me a wink. And when we remembered that Street Corner Symphony (another favorite!) was going to be on The Sing Off tonight, he didn't even seem that surprised. He was like, "That's right! I felt grateful for what I had and now I have even more to be grateful for!"
I wonder what that means he'll get tomorrow...