Nothing bothers me more than seeing my kids get excited over a new toy only to toss it aside a day later and never pick it up again.  This is how I know I’m getting old. I no longer look forward to Christmas. At least not for the presents. I am able to fall asleep without trouble on Christmas eve.  It’s sad.

As adults, we’ve forgotten the value of joy.  When I see my kids ignore one of their toys, I’m inclined to think they are ungrateful.  I work hard (let’s pretend) to give them what they have, and so do the other adults who give them gifts.  Also, I don’t want have to clean up all of stuff they don’t use or look at a pile of junk in the corner. Our kids need to acknowledge and appreciate our suffering with outsized joy.  We’re serious and miserable part-time so that they can laugh and play full-time. But somehow, I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way.

It’s reasonable to expect kids to be grateful.  It’s unreasonable to expect them to enjoy everything.  They can be grateful without doing exactly what we want.  I’m coming to realize that finding a perfect toy requires some trial and error.  Kids have to go through plenty of toys to find the one that sticks. You never can tell which one it will be ahead of time, no matter how sure you are they will love it.  My daughter sets down the princess doll and fluffy unicorn but latches onto a stuffed Grinch? Didn’t see that one coming. But part of being a child is disappointing your parents’ expectations.  It’s my own pride and neediness that is injured when my child doesn’t love what I get them.

But we misinterpret them.  We give them a choice so they choose.  If they only have one toy they would play with it.  Or, more likely, they would pick up sticks or papers or pans and play with those.  They love getting presents, the anticipation and surprise, but the reality doesn’t always deliver.  We all do the same thing. You may be excited to go to a new restaurant, but if you don’t like it as much as you hoped, you don’t keep going back just to prove a point.  You keep trying new places and only go back to the ones you really love. Unless you have a coupon, of course. The only difference is that no one gets upset at you for not picking up your restaurants or because they stepped on a restaurant hidden in the carpet.  If someone did, maybe we’d understand our kids a little better. We’d recognize you can be grateful for food without enjoying every meal, regardless of whether you cooked or cleaned up. To think and expect otherwise is to value a performance of misery over a true expression of delight.

When it comes to toys (and everything else, frankly), we want our kids to be happy only on our terms, with the things we give them, the meals we serve, the times we’re available.  If they aren’t, we see it as an affront, a sign of being spoiled, of ungratefulness. It’s not. Kids are like the rest of us. They have to try things out to find what they like, and we give them a lot of things to try.  Most would probably take less stuff and more of us, but we don’t give them that choice. So be happy with what makes them happy, and be ready to pick up, throw out, or give away the rest. That’s part of being a kid. Remember what it was like to be a kid yourself.  Enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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