A Not-So-Boring Holiday Season

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After a half Saturday that includes early-morning team photos followed by Benjamin's soccer game, chasing after Jacob at the park, lunch at Burger King®, and a chess match, I need a parenting breather.

"I'm going to do a little work while Mommy and Jacob take a nap," I tell Benjamin.
"What am I going to do?" my six-year-old responds plaintively.
"Shoot some hoop," I suggest, indicating the adjustable backboard he got for his latest birthday.
"Too cold outside," he says.
"Play with your Imaginext™ knights," I offer, calling to mind his army of medieval figurines.
"I played with them yesterday," he pouts.
"How about looking through your Magic Treehouse books?" I say, referencing his collection of Mary Pope Osborne novels.
"You know I can't read that much by myself," he whines.
"Look - at - the pictures, " I growl in a manner that finally sends him sulking away.

I settle in with the PC for no more than five minutes when the little prince walks into the office and announces, "I'm bored."

Now, I ask you: Is there a statement that does a better job of simulating fingernails raking a chalkboard?

In the dark recesses of my mind, I want to respond bluntly with, "You ungrateful mini tyrant, weren't the hours at the soccer field enough? How about lunch at the burger joint for food I hate only to discover you hate it too and just wanted the kids' meal toy you ended up saying was stupid? And, if you want the truth, chess is boring!"

Of course, I say nothing of the kind. Of course, I relinquish my seat at the computer so Benjamin can play a round of I Spy™: Spooky Mansion, which occupies him until he sighs heavily, saying (of course), "I'm bored."

As we head into the heart of the holiday gift-buying season, this "boring" Saturday weighs heavily on my thoughts. I could always spend more time entertaining my child, but, realistically, I need to work and take a few selfish respites. But I also realize that I'm a major cause of Benjamin's lack of appreciation for an embarrassment of riches.

Even before my eldest was born, I bought him stuff. I purchased CDs, books, and developmental toys prior to him playing with anything but his umbilical cord.

The continuing onslaught of presents is certainly helped by Wendy, who makes up one-half of the Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Giraffe team that ladens our sons' closets, floors, and shelves with fun stuff. Then, there are the grandparents who show up at birthdays and holidays with humongous workbenches and kitchens, trucks of every kind, and playsets so big they should pay rent.

Still, I know the error of my own ways. I'm addicted to buying things to make my kids -- and myself -- happier. The toys are colorful evidence that I can provide for my children and, in some small way, give them the world. I also buy them things I like to play with.

So I am left with a simple conclusion. My kids are gloriously kind and understanding individuals and if they're a little cranky about getting the material things they want, I have to set the standards, scale back, and not feel guilty that I'm depriving them.

To help ease my kids into a leaner, meaner daddy, I pull out a favorite children's book called Beryl's Box. This out-of-print gem, written by Lisa Taylor and illustrated by Penny Dann, tells the story of Penelope, a girl with a bedroom stocked to the gills with toys. When Penelope visits a girl named Beryl, she scoffs at the fact that Beryl only has a cardboard box to play with. The two girls resist playing together until Beryl draws Penelope into a fantasy world in which that box becomes the passageway to a secret land, a boat to escape a flood, and a magic carpet to fly into outer space. Leading up to this holiday season, we're trying to reduce my sons' treasure trove to something between a cardboard box and King Solomon's mines. As we packed to move, we donated loads of games, stuffed animals, and forgotten superheroes. The boys didn't really notice what was missing and, when they did realize stuff was gone, they were slowly convinced that helping other kids was a fair tradeoff. Jacob even got a little carried away as he dropped some of his best dinosaurs in the giveaway bag.

I've also lessened my children's dependency on the toys that remain. Recently, after I rejected a request to play computer games (just ignoring the "I'm bored" comment really works too), Benjamin and his friend Arthur turned to making "secret potions" using plastic cups, strawberry Nesquik, and everything from ice cubes to tortilla chips. Left to his own devices, Jacob took Battleship™ game pieces and used them to build peg towers.

Now, with all the extra imagination being flexed, my kids know they can create excitement out of the air of their minds rather than the plastic of their possessions. And with their endless supplies of creativity, I've got a feeling that -- despite any further comments to the contrary -- they will never be bored again.