Christmas is almost here. Do your kids have a list a mile long? Surprisingly, mine don’t this year. But, the few things they want are expensive.(oh, the journey from kid to young adult has begun.) This is not the year to be anything but frugal. At least, that’s the case in my house and in most of my friends homes.
To help my children understand how lucky they really are, I pulled out my photo album filled with pictures of my trip to Peru. I was about 13 and spent over a month living right outside of Lima during a trip with my aunt and uncle, a native of Peru. We stayed with his family and if only I’d had the 7 years of Spanish I took through high school and college back then.
I wish all children could have an opportunity like the one I had. We arrived in Lima via Lufthansa Airlines in the middle of the night. I barely remember the drive to Tia Maria’s house. I had on a thin long-sleeved shirt with no coat. It was July and very warm when we left the States I kept hearing them fawn over me that it was “muy frio”. They worried that I was cold. I did learn quickly that no means no in both languages to tell them I felt fine.
Over the month that I spent immersed in the culture, I did many wonderful things. I toured catacombs, ate my first real churro (not the bad knockoffs we sell here in the US), octopus, oysters and my absolute favorite-anticuchos (cow’s heart). Luckily they didn’t tell me what it was first because I would have missed out on something really tasty. I remember some very wonderful celebrations and may have been allowed to drink anise, if my memory serves correctly. We once stuffed 11 people into a Volkswagen Bug, a very popular car when I was there. I do not remember anyone’s houses having tons of toys for their children. We happily played together and spent time outdoors using our imagination even with my limited but gradually increasing understanding of the language.
We flew to Cuzco and went to Lake Titicaca and the ancient Incan ruins. That’s the first place I ever left my mark in the world, having thrown up violently after running to catch up to my aunt. I stayed behind on a large stone due to fatigue from the trip and several people had gathered around me offering their wares for sale (which I couldn’t translate at the time.) I didn’t understand altitude and it’s effects on the body back then.
I made the fantastic journey by train that takes you through just about every terrain possible going to Macchu Picchu. I watched as we left Macchu Picchu’s peak while young boys raced straight down the mountain to beat our serpentine traveling rickety old bus. When the bus stopped at the bottom, the boys brought out their buckets asking us for money if we appreciated their “trick”. That may have been the only money their family bought in.
Living in the two-story house in Peru brought several things to my young mind. There was running water, but no hot water. Once a week or so, we would travel to my uncle’s ‘rich’ friend, Tony Baella’s to take a hot shower. In between visits was just a cold water sponge-off. Water to drink needed boiled to be safe. Every day we traveled a few blocks to get bread and food for the day. I slept through a pretty big earthquake. I learned real fear for the first time as militant shots rang out a few streets away from our house. People in town often singled me out when I went out because of my fair hair and hazel eyes. It was an odd feeling to be pointed at and followed because I was different from everyone else.
This was absolutely the best trip I have ever taken and at the best time of my young impressionable life. I came home a completely different person. I was not the egotistical, bratty teenager as I grew older. I appreciated the little things as well as the big things that we have available to us here in our great (and imperfect) country. I did not grow up expecting or demanding things and money and to this day I work for everything I get. I give when I can even if I can only afford time.
I can’t take my children on a month long trip to another country right now …or even to parts of our own country that aren’t doing so well. I can only spread the message that they are already very rich because of the time and place in which they live. I hope to impart on them the real values in life and show them how destructive it is to be greedy.
I think as parents we sometimes feel guilty when we can’t or won’t give our children every little whim of an item they want. If we realize that we give them so much and encourage them to understand how their lives are infinitely richer than so many other children in this world, we can feel that scaling back on the “stuff” in life is a success.
In our home we are going to try some youth volunteer programs soon and possibly talk to service members who can share stories of children in war-torn areas. We are not sending Christmas cards to family and friends this year(Love you all- Merry Christmas!). Instead the kids are signing and decorating cards to send to local nursing homes and shut-ins. We are participating in toy collection programs and choosing gifts for kids in my own kids age ranges.
I would love to hear your ideas on how to show your children how much they really have- even when they don’t have it all or have what the next door neighbor owns. Any successful stories out there?
Simply Put- The Spirit of Giving, especially at Christmas, is not about giving the biggest, best, or most expensive but in learning to respect and appreciate the little things all year round.