Pop Tarts for Christmas

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I have too many toys in my house. With 3 young kids, it feels like we have every toy under the sun. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten so ridiculous that I can hardly come up with any good ideas for Christmas presents for them this year. I just feel like we have enough toys to last a lifetime. I hear that sentiment echoed to me every year by other parents. We’re constantly racking our brains and prodding our kids to tell us what they want for Christmas, all the while disgusted and ashamed that we are still looking for new toys when we just swam through a sea of them to get to the computer.  At least I did. I curse the day I ever went shopping when I bang my foot into a car for the hundredth time. This is a huge issue at my house. I have toys in almost every square inch of my home, with about 10% of them being played with on a daily basis. And keep in mind only ONE of my kids is in school full time. We have plenty of time on our hands to utilize some of those toys.

What’s worse is that my issue is even more pressing because not only am I racking my brain for gifts for my three kids who already have so much, I also have a birthday for my youngest 4 weeks after Christmas, a birthday for my second child three weeks after that, and then of course the birthday of my oldest 6 weeks after that in April. Not to mention cousins and friends who also have birthdays in the first few weeks after Christmas. And everyone in our family will continue to rack our brain for extravagant birthday gifts even after we’ve showered them with toys on Christmas. It’s disgusting, and I’m embarrassed. It’s not just the amount of toys, either. It’s the money spent on it. We are not struggling by any means, but what we have pumped out on shitty, plastic toys for our kids could feed, clothe and house multiple families in impoverished countries. Think about that. People are struggling to give their kids anything for Christmas, to even feed them, and I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and buy that new video game system, even though Steve and I would never use it, and even though our son only wants it for one game. Ugh. Those are the days when I realize just how privileged and “first world” we really are, and it makes me want to vomit.

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I have come to this realization before in previous Christmases, even before we had all three kids. Steve and I are both very fortunate to have families and close friends that also splurge on our kiddos when it comes to holidays and birthdays, so having too many toys and trying to think of even bigger and better gifts to put under the tree is not a new phenomenon. If your kids are anything like mine, they can open an awesome gift, throw it aside and forget about it immediately, only to move on to the next and do the same thing, then maybe play with the toy for a few minutes, or if it’s something they really wanted maybe it stays in circulation for longer, but the rest are just like..meh. I’ve created monsters and I just wonder how much longer until they’ve gone Dudley Dursley-birthday freak out. You know the scene I’m talking about.

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“HOW MANY ARE THERE?!”

For once, can I get some of the old school reactions kids like us use to have when we got awesome gifts?

I mean, can I get something like Nintendo 64 kid? That would be gratifying.

I got an American Girl doll when I was a kid and I was so excited and happy that I about shit my pants. Those dolls were *hella* expensive and I NEVER thought I would be lucky enough to care for one of those beauties. Yeah I still say hella. Get over it. Haters gonna hate. My mom still has my doll stowed away somewhere, and I still look back on it with very fond memories. Samantha, in case you’re wondering. I’m a Samantha girl.

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Well, last year, I finally decided to get creative. I needed a complete overhaul of Christmas and the way we did things around our house. That meant changing how much I bought for the kids, changing what kinds of things I bought for them, and changing the way our family viewed Christmas in general. I am going to share some of my ideas with you in hopes that maybe you can start transitioning out of the hamster wheel of Christmas shopping in order to spend less money, have less crap and maybe start having holidays where kids care less about getting gifts and more about giving back to others and being with family and friends.

My first change was the kinds of gifts I got. My kids didn’t appreciate huge extravagant gifts like I had hoped they would. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage that the child likes the box the toy came in better than the box? Well that’s what I tried to think of. I really wanted to think of little things that I know make my kids really happy. Little things that maybe aren’t $79.99 at Toys R Us. One thing I thought of immediately? Pop Tarts. Yup, that’s right. My kids go ape shit over Pop Tarts. Why? Because they are banned in my house. Go ahead and judge me as one of those snooty, holier than thou moms who doesn’t let her kids have fun. I don’t care. Pop Tarts are not a breakfast food, they aren’t even a food, and it pisses me off so much that it’s marketed to children for breakfast. And of course, my kids LOVE them. They can’t get enough. So for Christmas, I went to Costco and bought a huge box of Pop Tarts, and I have to say, it was one of the best Christmas decisions I ever made. They were thrilled. THRILLED!

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Good source of 8 vitamins and minerals….my ass.

You know what else they go ape shit over? Lucky Charms. Fruit snacks. Hot chocolate. All things that my kids don’t usually get. Don’t pretend like fruit snacks aren’t anything more than gummy sugar. Many parents would look at me and say “You’re giving your kids groceries as presents? Wow. Poor kids.” Yes, I am. Because they aren’t just groceries for my kids. I don’t buy them that stuff normally, so why shouldn’t I buy them this time of year and stick them under the tree for Christmas? Those four things were pretty good-sized packages. I wrapped and put them under the tree, hoping for that look that we all hope for on Christmas morning. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where your kids wake up to a tree overflowing with gifts and you see that sparkle in their eyes; that excitement. I lived for that. I am going to tell you a story right now that I find pretty embarrassing, but I think it will resonate with a lot of you who are going through the same thing as I am. When Danny was just 2 years old, it was Christmas eve and I had finished wrapping all his gifts. They were all great gifts and I had spent quite enough on him. But you know what? When I put them under the tree, they looked positively puny. I panicked. No son of mine could wake up to so few presents scattered around the tree! That’s pathetic! So, on Christmas even at 8pm, I sent Steve out shopping. I told him to find a place that was open, any place, and pick up some toys to wrap and put under the tree. And despite him disagreeing with me about the amount of toys, he went. Walgreens was open. That’s it. And you know what? He splurged. He bought a shit ton of new toys to pile under the tree to make me happy. Because I thought that would make a two year-old happy. Do you know what he did on Christmas morning? He cried. He didn’t even want to open presents, he didn’t care at all. So I opened them all myself and pretended to ooh and ahh while he went about his business. Who’s pathetic now?

Anyway back to the present. Lucky Charms were on sale at Costco this week, so I picked some up. We had the kids with us, so I sent Steve to the food court with them and asked the cashiers to cover it up with another box so the kids wouldn’t see it. One of them asked me “Umm, is it supposed to be like…a surprise?” I just smiled. “Yeah, you could say that.” And I know among all the gifts they get this year, Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts are going to be among their favorites.

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Let’s take a moment to thank the one true god…General Mills.

Next I decided that instead of buying things, I would try to buy experiences. Two things came to mind: Science and art. Those are big things in our house. We are big on science experiments in the Hayes house, so I decided to put together a little “Science Experiment Kit” and found an awesome ingredient list on Pinterest with accompanying experiment ideas you could try with them!

Here’s the link: http://www.icanteachmychild.com/gift-idea-science-kit-for-kids-with-free-printables/ The author of the post said she got all those materials for under $20. Foster creativity, questioning and curiosity about the world for such a small price. Bill Nye ain’t got nothin’ on you! Actually, no, that’s not true. I would never blaspheme the god of classroom science. All hail the chief!

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Arts and crafts also take up a lot of time in our house. Drawing, coloring, painting, gluing, cutting, glittering, taping, folding, creating….we’re obsessed. We are always in need of new art supplies. So in keeping with the science kit above, I decided to make a cute arts and crafts kit as well. Keep in mind, the kits that you can buy at the store from Crayola are not nearly as cost effective and aesthetically pleasing as putting one together yourself. Do the normal stuff like crayons and markers, but throw in some other cool stuff like puff balls (pom poms for some of you folks), popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, cheap stamps – those are the best inspiration for sudden creativity and they’re so good to just have around. You can also find a lot of stuff at the dollar store that will bring just as much fun as the crayons. Here’s an idea for a kit you can make yourself:

http://www.yourmodernfamily.com/gift-for-creative-kid/

Another thing we love doing around our house is pretend play and dress up. Steve took a giant box we got from a high chair or something of Katy’s, and put another smaller one on top and turned it into a robot costume. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t even painted or special (we were pressed for time) but the kids LOVED it and it lasted a surprisingly long time. This year I am thinking of maybe picking up some funny hats and glasses and clothing second hand and seeing what the kids can come up with. I know a feather boa and a fake strand of pearls would never go amiss in my closet.

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It’s Coronation Day!

Something else that happens at our house pretty much all the time is dancing. One of our favorite things to do is have dance parties. We turn off all the lights, grab a flashlight or whatever is handy and blast the music like we’re at a rave. The kids just go bananas. A while ago we had one of those cheap, flashing wand things from Great Wolf Lodge that we used to dance with, but as I’m sure you can imagine it died shortly after, so this year I ordered a cheap disco ball off of Amazon. That is something I am super excited about giving them because the dance parties have become such a positive force in our lives, such a fabulous way to make memories, and having those flashy, strobe light things going around the room just makes the kids lose their minds. I can understand that. I spent a good many nights at raves when I was a teenager. As a parent I am now happy to host nice, clean, safe, drug and creep-free raves in my own home. No need to pay $5 for a bottle of water or have strangers sweating on you and telling you their life story. Oh, now I’m becoming nostalgic.

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Tag yourself, I’m the guy in the tank top

And of course we buy books. Always, always books. We always buy as many books as we can because that actually is something I know we spend time on every single day. We have story time every night and usually read something throughout the day as well, whether it be as a family, or just one or two of us. We are always reading. Right now we are kind of obsessed with Chick ‘n’ Pug. Thanks to some close friends of ours buying us the book awhile back, we have now read it probably a hundred times, and bought the second and third editions as well. One of them is called Chick ‘n’ Pug meet The Dude. Yup. That’s a Big Lebowski reference and its badass. I highly recommend it. It’s adorable, and as owners of pugs ourselves, we love it all the more.

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I like to look for learning opportunities anywhere I can, and one thing I have really been enjoying teaching the kids about is other countries and cultures. I splurged and bought them a $50 globe off of Amazon (for just a globe, a plain, old globe. Wtf.) and we like spinning it to find a random fact about what we land on, or possibly cook a meal from there. I also picked up some HUGE wall maps that are just for kids, so we can pin things we like or are interested in. I am excited for them to see it!

If you want to buy more toys but don’t want to spend a fortune, consider picking them up secondhand. There are also many websites you can visit that have used items you can buy for your kids that are in perfect condition. I used to have to shop at thrift stores with my family when I was younger, and because of that they have always left a sour taste in my mouth. They feel dirty and shameful, so I don’t step foot in them unless I absolutely have to. Which is never. I actually only just started buying things secondhand through this site (varagesale.com) thanks to my sister in law, who started something similar via social media. Because of my upbringing, previously the mere thought of buying things used made me sick. But the websites and groups I am part of online are with people from my own community, and many times they are selling things that are close to new and sometimes even things that are new that their kids didn’t like or just never got around to opening. This is a great way to save money, save packaging, save time on assembly and reinforce the idea of reusing, or upcycling things before you decide to just buy them new. For like….the trees man. Save the trees.

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Save the trees…also smoke them!

For the record, I have also bought them other “normal” toys that I am confident they will get use out of. Legos, for one. We are always looking for more Legos, mostly because I have a death wish, I guess. I also got some other stuff that may or may not end up forgotten in a corner somewhere, but I tried really hard to be creative this year and not spend/buy as much. If you have any more creative suggestions, shoot them my way, I would love to hear your ideas.

So the last thing I recommend of course is trying to change the way your kids view Christmas. Instead of them insisting on giving you a list with a hundred items on it, go to a store and have them choose toys for a charity or donation drive in your area. Show them that they are more fortunate than 70% of the world’s population with the kind of Christmases and holidays they enjoy. Ask them what they would choose if they could only get one small gift for Christmas, because that’s what a lot of families experience at Christmas. Take some of that money you were going to spend on gifts and candy for them and sponsor a family. If you spend hundreds of dollars on your kids every holiday for gifts, surely they will survive if you take 100, or even 50 of that and give it back to those in your community. Bonus points if you can get to the point where you give more toys to others than you give to your own kids. Volunteer in a shelter or a soup kitchen, at the food bank or at your local community center. Show them what many people go through every year, and teach them to empathize with those who need extra help to care for their own families this season. And I’m not talking about dropping some change in the Salvation Army tin. People have to make some tough choices this time of year. Ask your kids how they would feel if their only gift was getting a winter coat to stay warm. Ask them if they think it’s fair that there are millions of children out there who aren’t going to get to eat a meal today, or have a place to live. Our kids should not be ignorant to the suffering of those around them. It is too easy to turn the other cheek and pretend like we are in our own privileged world. Whatever you believe about the meritocracy of our society, one small change in your life could have you and your family in the line for government assistance and charitable donations, and you would likely be singing a different tune.

Last year I tried to get my two older kids to learn more about those in our community who need extra help. I gave them an allotted “allowance” to give to whatever charity they wished. My intent was to go through and research different issues people deal with (not having money for gifts, hunger, the need for shelter) and let them decide where they wanted to “spend” their money. Unfortunately I think maybe they were just too young to grasp the idea, or I did a poor job of explaining it, because it just didn’t happen like I wanted, so I did most of the work myself. I went shopping and bought a ton of gifts for many different ages and we drove them all to the fire station for the Toys for Joy program. I also had another charity event that I donated to, but they didn’t really know anything about it. Ideally that would be something we could do as a family every year, allotting certain amounts of money for each member to donate to the charity of their choice, in addition to some volunteer work. I would hope that these practices would instill a sense of social connection with those in their community and a desire to help those who are less fortunate. They are still pretty young, so I’m not sure how quickly it will happen, but I want to have kids who feel more fulfilled by giving and bringing joy to others rather than raking in gifts for themselves.

If you want more information on volunteering with your kids, check out “Doing Good Together” at  http://www.doinggoodtogether.org/.

Everyone has their own definition of the true meaning of Christmas. Whether it’s religious, family-oriented, giving back to others or about the thrill of watching your kids light up when you got just the present they have been wanting all year makes no matter. Whatever you believe, I think that this time of year is about bringing joy to others, more than just those in your immediate family. I think that as parents we should demonstrate that being devoted to helping others and making our society better for everyone is the surest path to personal fulfillment.

Oh and Pop Tarts.

I’m all about them Pop Tarts.

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